Friday, September 21, 2012

International Day of Peace: September 21

Construction workers pause for a blessing on the campus of New College Bird, where reconstruction of a secondary school began this month.
PHOTO CREDIT: Landon Taylor

While visiting Haiti recently for UMCOR, someone commented to me that she thought the country was getting back to about the state it was in when the earthquake struck nearly three years ago. Truth be told, during the week our delegation was there we had no trouble getting around the streets of Port-au-Prince, unobstructed by rubble. We saw Haitian men and women crisscross the capital city with purpose, and heard the pounding of hammers and heavy construction equipment like the sound of progress. Things are getting back to something like normal.

But in Haiti, to “get back to normal” is to return to a state in which 80 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty; more than 40 percent of the workforce is without a job; and only about half of all Haitians over the age of 15 can read and write. It is to get back to a state in which there is little tax base to sustain infrastructure and services, and where standardized health, sanitation, and education systems do not exist. It is to get back to a state of instability and impermanence, where only nine of 54 presidents in the country’s 200-plus years of independence completed their terms.

Like a patient already battling a debilitating condition who is struck suddenly with a heart attack—or an earthquake—Haiti is struggling not to get back to its “normal” state of survival but to arrive at a state of vigorous and productive national health. No matter how challenging the conditions of development, “there is always a way forward,” an UMCOR staffer told me on my visit to Port-au-Prince. “But it will probably be slower and look different and happen in a different way” than one might expect in another context with different challenges.

“If you are really committed to walking with the Haitian people, you must recognize that it will be a long journey; one that will require patience and endurance; one that must be guided and directed by the people themselves,” the staffer went on. Today, as the world marks International Day of Peace, it occurs to me that these requirements of the long, dusty road to development—solidarity, mutual consideration, and respect for self-determination—are also requirements of peace.

By Linda Unger, staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR