Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Please Treat Haitians with Dignity

Wall Street Journal

Dear Editor,

Down the street from the house where I have lived in Port-Au-Prince for a year and a half (which thankfully survived the earthquake unscathed, though most of my neighbors homes did not), is an IDP (internally displaced people) camp. As in camps all over the city, residents of this camp began to organize themselves immediately after the earthquake. A residents’ committee is securing food and relief supplies for the 400 people there, digging latrines and building temporary shelters. Food distributions to this camp and hundreds of others like it have been respectful of residents’ dignity. Decision-making is done through community-selected leaders.

Articles like Gina Chon’s “UN Faces Mobs at Food Aid Sites” not only do not reflect the greater reality of what is currently happening in Haiti, but stereotype victims of this mind-numbing tragedy as criminals. Food distributions that do not respect local and communal structures rob disaster victims of their dignity and incite the kind of sporadic violence that the media portrays as the norm.

It’s unfortunate that images of looting, fighting at food distributions and reports of violence make for sexier news than people helping each other survive. This kind of reporting insinuates that the situation in Haiti is somehow the fault of Haitians. On the contrary, Haiti has long been subjected to external interventions such as international trade policies, food dumping, military interventions and paternalistic charity that have perpetuated the nation’s structural poverty.

We have never seen such a staggering outpouring of solidarity as we have over the last two weeks.Our neighbors rescued each other, comfort each other and share with one another. Most of the Haitians that have been rescued from damaged buildings, received food aid and been given shelter have been helped by other Haitians. I would ask that in your coverage of this catastrophe, The Wall Street Journal tell these stories. Please do not cast Haitians as criminals. Instead represent them fairly and tell their stories with the dignity they deserve.


Alexis Erkert Depp

Mennonite Central Committee Haiti


Anonymous said...

That is AWESOME!!!! Thank you for adding a voice of reason and respect to all of the drama. I hope it gets heard loudly and clearly. Love, MED

Donna Hildebrand said...

This is so beautifully put. It echoes what Kurt has told us, and some of the CNN reporting has said the same thing. Thanks for this, Alexis.

Jessica said...

Lexi, thank you for writing this letter. I'm proud of you for raising your voice, as I think it is much needed. You and Ben are in my prayers, as well as the people of Haiti. Thank you for making time to keep us updated on your blog. Much love from Nepal, Jess

Karen said...

Go, girl.

How do you be so smart?

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

This resonates very much with what I have seen in Port-au-Prince. Hopefully enough voices from the ground will be able to drown out the misrepresentations by major news outlets.


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