Sean Penn can perhaps make the load lighter for our people in Haiti, but thinking this is his cross to bear will invariably lead to failure. Haitians are grateful for the many good-hearted people around the world who lend a hand to our beloved country. We understand the sacrifice it takes to do so, however, spending enormous amounts of money without any long-term impact does not help Haiti, it leaves us even worse off.
The title of Penn’s latest op-ed “Our cross to bear” demonstrates the reason why for decades, organizations like JP/HRO have not been effective in Haiti. It’s the idea that we, Haitians, are not capable of carrying our own cross. That Haiti’s burden rests on their shoulders, while somehow forgetting those whose daily lives consist entirely of that burden. From my experience working in Haiti as a member of the Haitian Diaspora, I could never bring myself to look at my brothers and say that I was bearing their cross. It is the most delusional thing you can think of as both I and Penn have the ability to catch a flight to our homes, where the grass is greener, at any point during our work in Haiti and for any reason.
The title: “Our cross to bear” paints a picture of Penn carrying this heavy cross, while the 10 million plus Haitians are just standing around watching him, like Jesus on cavalry. Maybe it’s time to paint a different picture.
While Penn should be grateful to the Red Cross for providing him with nearly $3 million in cash and greater additional sustained support, an inquiry into how the organization spent $500 million shouldn’t be labeled narrow minded. See Sean, if the Haitian government or any Haitian group had messed up with even the minutest portion of the funds the Red Cross had been entrusted with, it would not have been labeled “misuse” or “mishandled” it would’ve been denounced as corruption.
This isn’t the first $500 million loss for Haiti. We have seen this movie before, the cast may be different this time but we know how it ends. As someone said to me: “The money was not misused or mishandled at all. It in fact did exactly what it was supposed to do: provide investment opportunities for others, build up some resumes, provide life changing experiences for those who get the chance to see poor people in real life, and for the well-connected, even build an industry on which they can keep capitalizing to raise more money to advance their personal interests in Haiti.” This sentiment rings true with a large majority of Haitians, but for some reason the world does not seem to notice.
I can’t count how many times Americans have asked me what happened to the billions donated to Haiti? But they fail to realize that we, Haitians, have nothing to do with the receiving or spending of funds raised on our behalf. We are merely the poster child.
There is no doubt that the development of Haiti is not the responsibility of the Red Cross or JP/ HRO, but the responsibility of Haitian men and women. But if the Red Cross or any other group decide to lend a hand, they should at least make sure that their involvement isn’t more damaging than it is useful. Sometimes you could try to help but inadvertently get in the way.
Marli Lalanne is a graduate of the University of Miami and a Haiti ambassador for Color of Hope, an organization that works to plant knowledge, opportunity and pride in local Haitian communities.