HURRICANE MATTHEW left pure havoc along its trail this past week.
When the Atlantic cyclone bypassed Barbados, it was just developing into a tropical storm. It had us in an uneasy and uncertain state, fearful of what it could do the economy, our homes and our personal well-being.
Fortunately, we got away without a worry. Haiti wasn’t so lucky. The death toll there is approaching 1 000 and the damage to property and infrastructure in some places is horrific. A cholera outbreak is real.
This is an unfortunate situation for our Caribbean neighbour. You will recall that it was on January 12, 2010 that a devastating earthquake struck. The death and destruction caught the world’s attention at the time. Unfortunately that attention has not remained even though impoverished Haiti still needs help.
Its political system remains unstable and weak, its health system needs extensive attention, and its education structure needs a lot of help. Of course its political parties need to recognise and adhere to democratic ideals and respect the rule of law.
But the immediate thing the country needs now is help in tangible ways.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Haiti is a member, needs to respond and not sit back and wait on United States and the European Union to lead the recovery initiative.
As a member of CARICOM, the government of Barbados needs to take its own measures, in whatever small way it can, to lend assistance. We did it with Dominica after Tropical Storm Erika created widespread damage there just over a year ago. Now is the time to show Haiti that we care.
Yes, the language may be a barrier but it shouldn’t be a hindrance. Yes, we don’t have the helicopters and much of the specialised equipment needed. But, we can work with the Regional Security System and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency if we feel it is an undertaking we don’t want to do on our own.
The key point is that there ought to be no excuses.
Yes, things are rough financially for many Barbadians, but if we all cutback a little on spending on fast foods and more so on cellphones, then many Barbadians should be able to donate at least $20 to the Haitian cause. It is money which could be used to buy Bajan products to distribute to deserving and needy families. It will show we are compassionate while at the same time promoting the brands of Barbados.
Our government should offer a few scholarships at the Barbados Community College, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, Erdiston Teachers’ Training College and the Barbados Vocational Training Board (Skills Training) to a few hundred Haitian students over the next five years. Members of the RSS, including Barbadian soldiers and police, should be used to help maintain law and order across Haiti.
We need to stop seeing Haiti as some pariah or a country inhabited by lepers. It is not cursed, but simply a country which has been bedeviled by megalomaniacs as political leaders, systemic corruption and a lack of credible institutions.
Yes, this is an ideal opportunity to show that CARICOM foreign policy can be truly united and work in a meaningful manner. It is our duty and moral responsibility to reach out and help the people of Haiti in ways which show true brotherly love.
It is a cause which our small but vocal pan-African community ought to champion rather than some of the non-issues on which they devote and waste so much energy. Amongst themselves, they should be able to send meaningful donations to some of those in need even if only in a small town. They need to put their money and efforts to a worthy cause.
Let the appeal begin in our schools, in our churches, at our workplaces, amongst the service clubs and the various organisations, whether the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association and even the credit unions.
In the Caribbean, it is true the sea separates us, but there is so much which defines us. By helping Haiti we show that we are truly one people.