Avoiding a Counter-epidemic

Dr. Moise Baptiste:
(Dr. Mo Baptiste is a Haitian-American Professor at Ithaca College.  He is in Haiti and is helping World Water Relief on this project.)

I arrived in Haiti on the 21st of October and I knew nothing about the cholera outbreak until my former dissertation chair sent me a message on Facebook. My initial thought was “how ironic, I’m now in Haiti working with World Water Relief and this happens.” The work we have done so far has been tiresome and frustrating but all of that frustration came to a climax today. As we visited the schools to make sure the water systems that we installed were working properly, we noticed the stations were not being used correctly by the children. I personally had to stand guard and serve as enforcer in order to make students wash their hands before drinking water. On several occasions, I was asked “what’s the big deal anyway?” or was told “Nothing is going to happen to me because I’ve been drinking water from the river all my life and I’m fine. Besides, Haitians don’t die from germs.” It was then that I realized that the very resiliency that Haitians have always been known for is the very reason this travesty has reached epidemic proportions.

After a full day of instruction, confrontation, and frustration, I had to remind myself and my colleagues that we are trying to undo over 200 years of a certain way of life here in many parts of Haiti. We have a lot of work to do and we have to be in it for the long haul. We are specifically targeting Haiti’s future (the children) for a reason. That is where the hope of the country begins and ends. Because we are a small group with very few resources, we have to target the older children and rely on them to serve as teachers as well. In other words, as a community, we have to adopt the phrase “Each one, teach one” and put it into practice. We can help start a counter-epidemic; one where the basics such as washing one’s hands and practicing alternative persona hygiene is the new norm. After this takes hold, then we can begin to concentrate on larger issues such as water and environment conservation. At the end of the day, we are trying to help change a culture but any critical change that will occur in Haiti must happen at the grassroots level (the very base of this country). We as outsiders can only be a resource for existing initiatives started and created by the masses. We need more leaders from the margins such as Jean Baptiste Jean Wisnel who has a pulse on every aspect of his hometown of Mirbale. The people of Haiti can NOT depend on political leaders right now, especially as Haiti approach it national election in a few weeks. All critical change such as reversing this deadly epidemic and the creation of a sustainable and functioning society MUST start at the very foundation of this country, THE PEOPLE!!

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