“An ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve…” – Nelson Mandela
I have found purpose in my life, even during the current upheaval in Haiti’s story, in what Nelson Mandela declared before and after those few words. Mandela said in 1960 address, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela didn’t die after he gave his powerful address. He did spend 27 years of his life in a hard labor prison for his beliefs and his actions. I think often about Mandela’s response to the injustice of Apartheid. In the beginning it was with violence. Anger and oppression fueled his thirst for justice. And then, decades later, this great President of South Africa led with peace and forgiveness, working towards political, social and economic stability.
It is the “equal opportunity” part from Mandela’s speech that has been ringing in my ears all week, because that is that part left out of the media stories.
If you tuned into the weekend news, you likely witnessed Port Au Prince, the capital city of Haiti, in mayhem. Smoke, fire, protests – it all fits a narrative that is easy to subscribe to. Haiti has long had an unshakeable reputation of being a volatile nation.
The reasons behind the riots, and the feelings of the people are something I cannot pretend to understand completely. But here’s something I do know - people living in extreme poverty are often silenced, even when governmental decisions are made that can be life or death for their families. Those who read my blogs know I tend to have alternative views to popular opinion. Because of my experiences over the past decade, my reputation precedes me on this issue.Try to imagine you don’t have access to a debit or credit card because you are extremely poor, and credit does not exist for someone like you. Imagine you can’t read, like 50% of Haiti’s population, so forget worrying about the sugar content of your favorite snack, you can’t read the news, can’t write a letter to your representative, write a FB post or a blog expressing your opinion. All you have is your voice.
Try to imagine you are a person who is barely surviving because the currency of your country has been slowly devaluing every day, so the little you started with is worth even less with every moment that passes. Even though you are young and able, you can barely afford rice and oil to feed your family because there are no jobs available in your city. No jobs anywhere. And now petrol prices have just been increased 37-50%. We are now talking about you and your family facing a possible starvation crisis.
I am not and will not justify the actions of looting and violence. I never have and never will. Not in Haiti, and not in the US (I’m sure many of you may have witnessed these actions on our own soil during time of disaster.) But this human response is one I just cannot comprehend. I am however, offering you an opportunity to feel from someone else’s perspective, what it must be like to have very little choice or opportunity. To have been systematically kept poor and illiterate so that a chosen few can profit. I am not referring to the “Chosen few” as a class of people, but countries and political systems that are self-serving.
The rioting that you see is not targeted at orphans or missionaries or small business. As a matter of fact, educated oppressors all over the world use their own people as their own greatest weapon. But can we do better? Should we be better? Of course, these actions are chaotic and disruptive. Countless dollars of investment, and thousands of jobs have been threatened. No one can benefit from the craziness of this week. What you are seeing on FB today is a reaction to the long-term symptom of poverty and a lack of access to education. Remember please, this is an outcome of a broken system, one that in some way we all play a part. How will the first free black republic rise above when the world insists it be kept down?
- JULIE COLOMBINO. FOUNDER & FOUNDER, DEUX MAINS