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8708: Haiti Stuns Veteran Of Poverty (fwd)
From: Max Blanchet <email@example.com>
Haiti Stuns Veteran
Few people know poverty like Frank McCourt.
But even McCourt, whose now classic and Pulitzer Prize-winning "Angela's
Ashes" detailed a gruesome life of Irish squalor in the mean and hungry
lanes of Limerick, was stunned on a recent visit by the desperate conditions
"Walking through Port-au-Prince I was astonished by the dire poverty,"
McCourt says of his four-day fact-finding tour of Haiti for Concern
Worldwide, an Ireland-based, disaster relief agency.
"They say that 80% of Haitians live in dire poverty, but I'd say more.
Walking into the shantytown of San Martin is like going to hell. Everything
is compressed. Narrow little alleyways. Gutters running down the middle.
Anyone with a few dollars - and all of them are the ruling mulatto class -
lives in the mountains behind high iron gates and high walls to keep out the
masses. Meanwhile in San Martin people wanted to proudly show off their new
latrines that had been installed by Concern Worldwide. Then they wanted to
compare them with the old latrines, ancient, overflowing. Buzzing with
McCourt says he used those kinds of outdoor latrines as a kid in Ireland.
"But in Haiti, on hot days - and all the days there are roasting - it makes
you gag," he says. "But you move on, past the local canal that is swimming
with plastic bags filled with human waste. No one has any running water. No
such thing as a shower. You buy buckets of water from entrepreneurs who own
locked cisterns. In New York, we have nothing to compare this kind of
poverty to. It makes Bushwick look like Southampton."
McCourt went to Haiti at the urging of the Rev. Aengus Finucane, an Irish
priest who has dedicated his life to Concern Worldwide, and whom McCourt
says is a living saint. But McCourt was not feeling very saintly the other
day, after returning from Haiti.
"We have a huge Caribbean community in New York, many of them Haitian, and
we never hear a word from our two Democratic senators, [Chuck] Schumer and
[Hillary Rodham] Clinton, or our congressional delegation," he says. "We'll
never hear a promising word from this White House about Haiti, so it is up
to us to pressure our other elected leaders to initiate some kind of
attention to this nation of 7 million that is on our doorstep. The entire
national debt of Haiti last year was $985 million, or the price of one -
ONE - United States Stealth bomber. It's simply an outrage that we are doing
nothing! The country that gives Haiti the most aid is Cuba, and we have a
goddamned blockade around it!"
McCourt says Haiti's state-run school system is chaotic or nonexistent, so
in the mountains people have set up their own schools, essentially
corrugated metal sheds with no walls and benches where hundreds of kids must
walk an average of 3 miles each way.
"But none of the children I spoke with had had any breakfast," McCourt says.
"If a kid is hungry, he doesn't learn. All he thinks of is food. No wonder
illiteracy is 70%. These private schools charge $9 a year, but many parents
can't afford it."
He says there is a galloping AIDS epidemic in Haiti, but the medical
facilities are a shambles. Dental clinics use 20-year-old drills, without
Poverty, and especially famine, are part of Ireland's dark history. Concern
Worldwide was born in 1968 as Ireland's response to famine in Biafra.
But the good heart of the organization has since spread, 3,500 volunteers
providing emergency relief and long-term development to 24 nations on four
continents in those places where hunger, squalor, illness and desperate
"I've traveled to other places like Caracas and Bombay, but nothing compares
to the hopelessness I saw in Haiti," McCourt says. "[President
Jean-Bertrand] Aristide is doing his best, but his opponents just paralyze
him. So nothing filters down to the people. When it does, the gangs of
thieves usually rob it. My trip to Haiti was simply unforgettable. The next
time I hear someone complain about anything at all, I'll tell them to shut
up, you could live in Haiti."
To send contributions or to learn more about Concern Worldwide, call (800)
59CONCERN or e-mail www.concernusa.org.
Original Publication Date: 7/15/01