July 12, 2010
Posted: 12:59 PM ET
Editor's note: Wyclef Jean will appear on Larry King Live tonight,
In the six months since an earthquake devastated my homeland of Haiti, on Jan. 12, I have been working with my wife, Claudinette, and with Yéle Haiti, the organization I co-founded more than five years ago, to try to put right some of the terrible conditions that now exist there. Every time I go back, I hope things will be better—and they are, but just a little bit, never enough. We have to keep hoping, for Haiti’s sake, that the world won’t forget how much help is still needed.
We’ve found that for the people in Haiti, who have so little, the smallest things bring them joy. In the care packages we distribute, for instance, the refugee women in tent camps are so happy to have the windup flashlights. Such a minor thing to us, but I’m sure you’ve read stories about the assaults the women in Haiti are suffering, the rapes and kidnappings. Some of the women in the camps we’re working with have told us those flashlights make them feel safer; they don’t have to walk in the dark anymore. So the flashlights actually make their faces light up, too!
Of course, we know there’s a lot more to be done to ensure the safety of all the women and children there—provide houses with doors that lock, help shape better economic conditions so that desperate people don’t feel the need to resort to crime and violence—but for now, the simple windup flashlight that fits in one hand gives these women some hope.
Think of this: In the heat wave that’s hitting the U.S. East Coast this month, temperatures are reaching more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It regularly gets that hot in the summer in Haiti, where 1.2 million people are still displaced, still living in tent camps, without enough food or water, or barely any shelter from the sun—and certainly no air-conditioning. Considering the awful conditions in which they live, maybe it’s not so hard to understand why the people are so joyous to accept things that most of us take for granted: care packages with basic items such as clothing, first-aid materials, shoes, canned foods. And water.
Yéle delivers up to 36,000 gallons of filtered water a day to the people in tent camps, with a fleet of 14 tanker trucks. With each day of operation, we’ve been able to help about 7,200 families enjoy the “simple pleasures” of cooking some food, or washing up. And we’ve distributed drinking water, too, first in bottles, and soon in individual 10-ounce pouches—they’re smaller, more portable that way. So again, sometimes it’s the little things that can mean the most.
We want to give the Haitians more, though. We want them to not have to be happy with a small flashlight when really what they need is a house that keeps them safe. We want them to not have to be grateful that they have any water at all when what they really need is better living conditions with a safe water source conveniently located nearby. That’s why Yéle is building temporary housing for the tent camp residents and why we’re including a school, latrines, showers and a water source on each site.
We want the people of Haiti to be able to dream big, not to have to settle for the least they can get by on. Their joy and gratitude are the fuel that’s kept us going in our efforts to bring them some relief in the six months since the earthquake hit, and it makes us want to fight for them, to make sure the world knows they deserve better than to have to live in these dire conditions brought about by circumstances beyond their control. If we would all help, all our small efforts could add up to very great changes. So let’s appreciate the little things, like the Haitians do, but let’s aim for making bigger improvements for these great people.
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