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Let the healing and rebuilding begin

The suffering in Haiti forces us to face the world's inequities

By David Wilson

I am writing this in January, seven days after the earth shook and Haiti crumbled. Across the room, the TV flickers soundlessly. For the first time since the disaster, the all-news TV networks have begun to intersperse their 24/7 Haiti coverage with other stories. You might conclude that things are returning to normal. You would be wrong.

There can be no normal as long as bulldozers continue to pick bodies up from the street and load them into dump trucks at a rate of 10,000 a day; as panicked mobs beat and kill looters; as doctors who have worked for days without rest perform amputations without anaesthetic; as a tent city for 400,000 takes shape a stone’s throw away from the huge pits where nameless bodies are dumped. I don’t pretend to know what evil is, but it must be something like the Haiti earthquake. It is hard not to ask why a God who is good would allow something as indescribably bad as this to happen.

Haitians are the victims but disaster has affected us all. It has forced those of us far away from the epicentre to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Some of what we see we like. For example, we are genuinely caring and generous. Canadians have enthusiastically joined in the global effort to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Haiti relief. The United Church’s special appeal for Haiti (Interview with Jim Hodgson) is part of a remarkable outpouring of support.

There’s a temptation to pat ourselves on the back. We must resist it. Being generous is the very definition of what it is to be a follower of Jesus. If you are able to donate something to Haiti relief but haven’t, ask yourself why not. If you have already given money, ask yourself why you haven’t given more.

The suffering in Haiti forces us to face up to inequities we know exist in our world but would rather not contemplate. For a lot of us, Haiti is only a three-hour plane ride away, but for years we have ignored dire problems: 80 percent of the population living below the national poverty line; one of the highest infant mortality rates on the planet; and more than half the adult population unable to read or write. The earthquake that flattened buildings in Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel has shaken us out of our complacency. It is not possible to turn a blind eye to Haiti anymore.

No good can ever come from a disaster like this, but I think it is safe to say that Haiti has been seared into our collective consciousness. In the months and years to come, what we do with what we have learned — about ourselves and about our relationship with the Western Hemisphere’s poorest of the poor — will test our personal faith and collective character. If we in the privileged world commit ourselves to helping Haiti heal and rebuild — for starters, by joining the global movement to cancel Haiti’s foreign debt — the terrible suffering of its people will not have been entirely in vain.

• Our annual reader survey appears this month. (It’s also available for download here.) This year, it focuses on the relationship between pulpit and pew. Lay people and ministers are encouraged to participate — it’s all anonymous.  We need your responses mailed to our offices by March 31. That will give us time to crunch the numbers, make sense of what they say and report the results in July.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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