Forgotten Voices: Haitian Millennials Speak on the Impact of Hurricane Matthew

Haitian millennials in the diaspora too, have felt the fury, pain and loss that Hurricane Matthew left, despite the geographic divide.

In October, Hurricane Matthew raged through Haiti, leaving destruction along its blaring path. With once-standing towns obliterated and thousands of lives lost, the most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade, severely affected the country—especially the city of Jérémie, with 80 percent of its buildings demolished. The province of Sud also experienced critical devastation and loss, with over 30,000 homes destroyed.

Moreover, the storm catalyzed increased health risks due to outbreaks of cholera, which according to Haitian officials, was associated with contaminated water and lack of hygiene. Food insecurity is also a major concern, as the storm affected 30 percent of the country’s agriculture and eliminated 80 percent of livestock in various regions. According to a United Nations news report, more than 1.4 million people required immediate food assistance.

The aftermath of Hurricane Matthew still gravely affects the country; the storm also hits home for many Haitian millennials—both in Haiti and in the United States—who had to watch the wreckage from near and afar. In wake of dwindling and biased media coverage, Haitian millennials are still affected by the outcome of Hurricane Matthew; as towns have been decimated, family members and loved ones lives have been lost, and pieces of home that were once so familiar, are now just memories.

Three months later, four Haitian millennials share their perspectives on the storm; the impact it has had on their family and friends; the historical and contemporary stereotypical reporting surrounding the country; and what they want the world to know about their beautiful Ayiti.

Photo courtesy of Andye Sanon.

Name: Andye Sanon

Age: 25

Occupation: International Development Professional

Hometown in Haiti: Port-au-Prince

Current Location: Brooklyn, NY

How has Hurricane Matthew impacted you and your family? Do you have any contact with your loved ones?

Fortunately, my family has been accounted for with minimal damage in Port-au-Prince. My maternal grandmother is from Fonds-des-Blancs, a town in the South Department of Haiti. Her siblings have announced that some trees fell on their house but everyone is fine. We are always grateful when there are no losses of life, as one can always recover from material losses.

While you are in the United States, many of your family and friends are struggling. What has it been like to watch all of the destruction and loss from afar? How are you coping with this?

It is always hard to watch the struggle that Haitians encounter in Haiti. Personally, as I watch from afar, I deal with a feeling of inadequacy; a feeling that whatever I do is not helping. Then, when I watch the resilience of the people, I also deal with a feeling of hope; a feeling that Haitians can unite and do something in the future in order to prevent the natural and manmade struggles that occur in our country.

My method of coping is by spreading information about Haiti and educating people about the situation. I also cope by planning ahead, by brainstorming ideas about how I can contribute to the amelioration of certain aspects in Haiti in the long term.

It seems as if the media’s coverage on Haiti has dwindled. What is your take on Haiti, as a country, which seems to be on the back burner of news coverage and international intervention and aid? Is it an intentional oversight or just simply, lack of global concern or attention?

Is there a lack of global concern for Haiti, media-wise? Absolutely. I think it has to do with the setup of western hegemonic structures. I believe that Haiti is on the back burner for news coverage, that there is a disparity in the proliferation of information when comparing the incidents in Haiti to those that occurred in Paris. However, I have learned to stop expecting the media to provide continuous news coverage on issues concerning black and brown people.

Therefore, it doesn’t shock me or surprise me when coverage about Haiti is not sustained and this leads me to believing in self-accountability. When an individual is invested in a particular topic, I think s/he should be accountable and proactive. The person should not wait for the media to provide information. Thus, I developed the habit of doing my own research instead of relying on the popular news sources. Once my research is done, I make sure to share the information I find with others.

I don’t think Haiti is on the back burner as far as international intervention and aid are concerned. As a country with a lot of international interventions (MINUSTAH, USA, etc), with “the highest NGO per capita in the world,” it can be argued that Haiti is a humanitarian dumping ground without political and economic sovereignty that is used for poverty porn. In fact, I think there’s too much international intervention and international “aid” in Haiti. First, I think the term “aid” should be used carefully in the context of Haiti (and many other “developing” nations) as it has created system of dependency that is not really “aiding” the country in need. This system of dependency also perpetuates an environment where the Haitian government is not held accountable for the people, especially when disasters such as the hurricane or earthquake occur.

What is your fondest memory while in Haiti?

I think one of my fondest memories of Haiti relate to the simplicity of the life I lived there. I remember my grandmother would take me to Fonds-des-Blancs to spend my summer vacations when I was younger. I would spend the days gallivanting in the property where all my grandmother’s siblings lived in different houses. I would drink coffee that is freshly grilled and brewed in a mortar in the morning, go from house to house, go to the river, ride a donkey, and hang out with my mother’s cousins who were around my age. I loved that I could knock on a stranger’s door on the way if I were thirsty. I loved that we always cooked extra food, just in case a stranger stopped by, just in case a neighbor came over unannounced. I loved the solidarity, the humanity I witnessed in the community. And I think it’s something that Haitians should strive to not lose, or strive to regain if already lost in some communities.

Photo courtesy of Annie Aime.

Name: Annie Aime

Age: 24

Occupation: Catering and Facility Sales Manager

Hometown in Haiti: Jérémie

Current Location: Philadelphia, PA

How has Hurricane Matthew impacted you and your family? Do you have any contact with your loved ones?

Hurricane Matthew devastated my parent's hometown of Jérémie, Haiti. A pilot from the Haitian Health Foundation surveying the damage said Jeremie is "wiped out.” Barely one percent of houses are standing. We were able to finally get in contact with my grandfather and the rest of our family in Jérémie. Luckily, they were safe and their homes are still intact and they have the resources to get back on their feet.

Has it been hard to see/hear the impact of Hurricane Matthew while being in the United States?

“More than I can describe. I just feel helpless, sad, and angry. Haiti hasn’t been able to catch a break and the world seems to have stopped caring especially since billions donated after the earthquake was so horribly spent. And then organizations such as the Red Cross who have promised to help Haiti use the half a billion dollars donated to them to do everything but what they promised. Watching devastation after devastation, losing trust in charities that are supposed to help, watching their government misuse money and having to experience this far away from my family is incredibly overwhelming.”

It seems as if the media’s coverage on Haiti has dwindled. What is your take on Haiti, as a country which seems to be on the back burner of news coverage and international intervention and aid? Is it an intentional oversight or just simply, lack of global concern or attention?

I read an article on the hurricane and one of the commenters in the article said, "Haiti's gonna Haiti,” with other commenters expressing the same sentiment. The whole article in detail explained the horror and destruction that Haitians are gonna face for the next decade and everyone's just like, *shrugs*.

When tragedy strikes a majority white group of people, the media covers it for so long because their lives are more valuable and their stories are more important to them. As you see with Haiti and the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and countless deaths of Black people in police custody in America and the rise in murders of Black trans women—and I can go on and on and on—the media and the public just expect tragedies to happen to us and it happens so much that they all grow numb to it and are no longer interested in hearing about it.

What is your fondest memory while in Haiti?

My fondest memories in Haiti came from when I went a couple years ago. I've been there a dozen times but I think that was my most memorable visit because it was my first time going as an adult. I got the most value out of that visit because I finally fully understood all my parents and grandparents went through to give us a better life and I just developed a new love and appreciation for Haiti. It was a life changing trip. I remember everything in such detail. For example, how much better meals taste when they are grown in your grandpa's backyard, how blue the water is; seeing a billion stars in the sky at night. It is the little things.

Photo courtesy of Perry Benjamin.

Name: Perry Benjamin

Age: 31

Occupation: Political Consultant/Entrepreneur

Current Location: Jérémie

How has Hurricane Matthew impacted you and your family? Do you have any contact with your loved ones?

Hurricane Matthew has personally impacted the day-to-day of life my family here in Jérémie. The first impact we and many others face are property loss and damages to infrastructure. Many of the homes that are near the ocean line have been lost. Roofs ripped off, walls pushed down and there has not been any electricity in the central village of Jérémie since Matthew.

Although the loss of homes and property had impacted many families, the lack of food (land provisions and livestock) have been the biggest daily challenge. Food prices have skyrocketed as the demand is high. USAID has done great work providing food and other resources, however many of the locals complain that those who need it the most, often don’t get the resources.

Has it been hard to see/hear the impact of Hurricane Matthew while being in the United States?

As I am on the ground in Jérémie now, I see the personal struggles daily. I visit the impacted areas, I have stood on lines with friends as they have received USAID and resources for their homes; it is a constant struggle for them. I cope by working with local orphanages. I have an existing partnership with a local orphanage to provide a monthly food pantry to the 30 orphans that are residing within.

The orphanage once had 50 orphans, however due to the lack of adequate resources, they were down sized to 30 orphans. If many of the millennials within the diaspora community took on similar initiatives, we could collectively improve the quality of life here and in many other parts of Haiti.

It seems as if the media’s coverage on Haiti has dwindled. What is your take on Haiti, as a country which seems to be on the back burner of news coverage and international intervention and aid? Is it an intentional oversight or just simply, lack of global concern or attention?

My take on Haiti as a county is like that story we all knew as a child of “The Little Engine That Could.” However with Haiti, there’s never a happy ending. It is a perpetual story of oppression, social challenges and political noise both in Haiti and abroad that keeps Haiti in a “could mode,” however it never achieves. Media will cover the poverty in Haiti, but seem to never cover the source of poverty. Media will share a story of hardships, yet never seem to find the cause of the hardship.

This is a generational problem that has a downward spiral on the people of Haiti. The lack of insight is not coincidental. It is where the little engine that got its independence first, is kept in poverty to show all the other little engines you should never aspire for more.

What is your fondest memory while in Haiti?

My fondest memory of me in Haiti are the road trips I used to take with my dad, prior to the earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew. My father and I would drive from the capitol, through all the small villages and towns. We would eat the food, we would engage with the people and would bath in the white water rapids of the underdeveloped areas of the road. It was home.

Haiti is a beautiful locomotive that can! It must first think it can. That thought process must be shared with the millennial diaspora community to offer insight, social awareness and finally action to provide the resources Haiti is so desperately in need of.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Toussaint.

Name: Stephanie Toussaint

Age: 25

Occupation: Systems Support Analyst

Hometown in Haiti: Cap-Haïtien

Current Location: Washington, D.C.

How has Hurricane Matthew impacted you and your family? Do you have any contact with your loved ones?

I thank God everyday that my family members were not heavily affected by the Hurricane because they live in Cap-Haïtien and Port-de-Paix. But when I spoke to my mother she informed me that many of her friends have lost a lot their homes and everything in it.

Has it been hard to see/hear the impact of Hurricane Matthew while being in the United States?

It’s been extremely hard to hear about the impact of Hurricane Matthew while living in the United States because I feel so helpless. But it is a reminder of how blessed my family is and that the best thing to do right now is to be a blessing to those still in Haiti. My family and I have donated money, clothes, and household items to help.

It seems as if the media’s coverage on Haiti has dwindled. What is your take on Haiti, as a country which seems to be on the back burner of news coverage and international intervention and aid? Is it an intentional oversight or just simply, lack of global concern or attention?

It is a lack of global concern. The first thing that is mentioned about Haiti is that it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Not that it is the first nation to gain its independence from the French. A meteorologist even suggested that the people in Haiti were so hungry that they eat trees. With coverage like that, it is no surprise that Haiti has always been on the back burner.

Haiti is in need of a lot of international aid and it seems as if no other nations are that concerned. Haiti has been trying to rebuild itself since the January 2010 earthquake. Now that the hurricane washed away all of that progress, what will happen next? I do not foresee any drastic changes.

But for Haitians, strength is built in the struggle. I have no doubts that Haiti will get through this, despite lack of global concern.

Jaimee Swift is a journalist and Ph.D student at Howard University, who is obsessed with Pan-Africanism and the African Diaspora. You can follow her on Twitter @JaimeeSwift.

Photo by Elliott Ashby

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