Haiti, Earthquake, University of Miami

A nation still in turmoil

University of Miami experts said Haiti continues to deal with the scars from the earthquake and new political problems.

A nation still in turmoil

University of Miami experts said Haiti continues to deal with the scars from the earthquake and new political problems.
by Barbara Gutierrez

If you were to ask a six-year-old Haitian about the devastating 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced more than a million in their country 10 years ago, the child would talk about it even though they were not alive to experience it.

“The earthquake is forever ingrained in everything that is related to Haiti,” said Marie Guerda Nicolas, professor at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development, who has been doing work and research for decades in Haiti, her native country.  

Today, ten years after the tremblor shook the island on Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti continues to deal with turmoil. Demonstrators are demanding the ouster of President Jovenel Moise for corruption, growing inflation, and scarcity of common goods. But Moïse has refused to resign, and more than 40 people have been killed and dozens injured in protests that have closed many businesses and schools across the country.

“Haiti is going through a deeper crisis than when the earthquake hit,” said Louis Herns Marcelin, associate dean for program development in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Global Health and Society Program at the University.

“The international community has put in $15 billion in aid, but we can hardly see the impact of that aid in the country,” said Marcelin, also a native of Haiti.


 Central committee members of six cooperative groups meet in Chambellan, Haiti. Louis Herns Marcelin, Toni Cela and Father Betrance Lafleur, head of the Chambellan Catholi Church, top left.

Marcelin and Nicolas are two of the many members of the University of Miami community who are helping Haiti recover and rebuild.

Nicolas, through her organization Rebati Sante Mentale, is training teachers to teach their peers throughout the country about mental health care. In the past seven years, 6,000 teachers have received training on how to spot the signs of stress, depression, trauma, anxiety, and grief that schoolchildren may endure and how to help them cope. 

Nicolas lost several relatives during the earthquake and knows how difficult it is to cope with any stressors, such as the current political demonstrations, which have convulsed the country. Certainly, the anniversary of the horrific earthquake is a stressful time, she said. 

“Every year we see that as the anniversary day approaches some people are not sleeping in their homes or they will not be sending their kids to school, remembering what that day was like for them,” she said. Nicolas has also worked closely with the Haitian Psychological Association to disseminate information on how to access mental health care, a topic that was taboo to many in the country.

On Feb. 21, Rebati Sante Mentale, along with 10 other Haitian organizations throughout the U.S. and in Haiti will host a two-day Haitian Mental Health Summit in Port-au-Prince. Participants will take part in  informational and experiential activities and will leave with a booklet containing the names and contact information of mental health resources available throughout the country.

For Marcelin, who founded the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED) to groom new leaders in Haiti to carry out research around pressing social issues that can inform policy development, the current state of affairs in Haiti requires major transformation.  

“When you see young people making their voices heard in times of political and social upheaval, usually you have some kind of change,” he said. “The problem here is that the youth are poorly trained and poorly educated. So, they are asking for better education, access to jobs, and health care. But there is no comprehensive plan to help them.”

 Deputy Mayor, Rose Marie Point-du-Jour addresses the cooperatives (orange shirt) with Cela and Marcelin seated at the far right of photo. Solèy cooperative accounting book and seed money contract on the table. 

INURED carried out a major study of Haiti’s higher education system to orient reform efforts. Study results will be published this year. The earthquake decimated a large part of the educational system in Haiti, where hundreds of schools and universities were leveled, and scores of professors and students lost their lives, while others fled the country.

The study, implemented over a three-year period, surveyed more than 1,000 students, 110 professors, and 100 entrepreneurs to assess the state of higher education. The study included GIS mapping of all higher education institutions, an analysis of the sector’s governance structure, resources and services, and its role in the country’s rebuilding and development.

“In the past five years the educational system has been rebuilt, but that does not mean that it has performed,” said Marcelin. “Even before the earthquake, the country’s educational system was a problem. It has not adapted to the country’s needs.”

Since the disaster, the lack of access to quality education, employment, and health care has resulted in a "brain drain" with more than 300,000 young Haitians fleeing to Latin America and the Caribbean. Between 2014 and 2017, INURED conducted a national study of out-migration and is currently implementing a three-year study of Haitian migration to Latin America.

INURED will disseminate study results to government officials, international organizations, and civil society organizations with the hope that relevant policies will be adopted to stem migration and address human rights issues that migrants face in destination countries. 

One major stumbling block in Haiti's development is how aid is granted and distributed by the international community, said Marcelin.

Every time Haiti has weathered a disaster, international aid flows in. Often it is in the form of water, canned goods, and other staples that do not meet the needs of the people. It seems every country and NGO has a vision for Haiti, but they do not take into consideration the voices of the Haitian people and their particular needs, said Marcelin.

To counteract this, both Marcelin and Nicolas believe in empowering grassroots organizations. Nicolas’s workshops take place in the towns of Arcahaie, Cap Haitien, Petit Goave and Grand Goave, areas to the north and south of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

From 2016-2017, Marcelin’s institute conducted a study of post-Hurricane Matthew recovery. The results have led to an intervention that works with female-led cooperatives in the southern region that was most affected by the hurricane. The cooperatives are often the only safety net available to these rural residents with very limited resources.

During the first week of January 2020, Marcelin and Toni Cela, a post-doctoral associate at the University of Miami, began Phase II of the study-intervention, delivering $10,000 in seed money to 12 cooperatives (doubling the total number of cooperatives supported) which will help increase their entrepreneurial investments in agriculture and livestock.

Seed funding for phases I and II was provided by an anonymous donor. In lieu of repaying this funding, each cooperative was given 12 to 18 months to invest the funds, turn a profit, and pay the capital forward to another cooperative. The increased capital has inspired more creative investments that generate greater profits while holding these community groups accountable.

INURED provides training to cooperative members in bookkeeping and resource management, disaster risk reduction, and health with the goal of maximizing profits and developing strategies to protect their investments.

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