On Haiti

With Leno-Conan drama, the Golden Globes, a New York Jets AFC Championship appearance, and a critical Massachusetts senate race dominating this week’s domestic news, it could be easy for Americans to forget about the unparalleled, ongoing tragedy in Haiti. Thankfully, however, this hasn’t been the case.

Millions of necessary dollars are being raised to help the relief efforts and Haiti’s struggle has appropriately been the predominant story covered by this country’s news media. The giving and press coverage are equally vital for this nation and its people.

In 2008, I traveled to the Gulf Coast on an Alternative Spring Break trip. While living in Mississippi and working to rebuild a home in Louisiana’s Saint Bernard’s Parish, I saw first-hand how Hurricane Katrina affected (and still affects) the families who were displaced by this powerful natural disaster. The devastation was so terrible that those who only lost their homes were considered to be the “lucky ones.”  Sadly, what’s happening in Haiti makes Katrina look like child’s play.

The wall of a home I visited in Post-Katrina Louisiana

An inside look at a home I visited in Post-Katrina Louisiana

Another look inside...

Another look inside...

During my freshman year at Syracuse, I was very fortunate to meet and have dinner with Dr. Paul Farmer, a world-renowned physician and medical anthropologist. Dr. Farmer has dedicated his life to treating individuals in some of the world’s poorest countries, and his organization “Partners in Health” has done wonders for many people lacking essential medical care, health resources, and most importantly, hope. Having done previous philanthropic work for the Global Fund (an organization that raises money to combat HIV/AIDS, T.B., and Malaria in impoverished African nations), I was granted the amazing opportunity to discuss global healthcare with Dr. Farmer (a close friend of President Bill Clinton and the subject of Tracy Kidder’s inspirational book “Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer”).

Dr. Farmer and President Clinton in Haiti

Dr. Farmer and President Clinton in Haiti

When speaking with Dr. Farmer, I learned that his early work in Haiti inspired him to confront significant problems in other places around the globe. It was clear, then, that Haiti held a special place in Dr. Farmer’s heart, and I immediately thought about him after learning about last week’s earthquake. To no surprise, I learned that Dr. Farmer is currently in Haiti with President Clinton, scrambling to organize important life-saving medical efforts and lobbying for international support. He has already written a column in the Miami Herald, and  Partners in Health has been at the forefront of Haiti’s long road to recovery. Today, Haiti’s struggles make Dr. Farmer one of the single most important leaders on the planet. Having met the man, I am confident that he will rise to the occasion.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “American Idiots,” which criticized several cultural icons for abusing the “power of celebrity.”  I wrote, “While many celebrities do use their wealth and fame to positively change the world (Bono, Oprah, Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong, Brad Pitt, etc.), the majority of our heroes end up abandoning or abusing their unique positions of influence. Leading lives of excess can certainly be difficult, but we need all of our revered public figures to lead by example.”

On Friday, the George Clooney-organized Hope For Haiti Now telethon will air on a variety of networks to support important organizations like Oxfam America, The Red Cross, and of course, Partners in Health. The over-150 celebrities performing/donating their time for this great event are exemplifying the very leadership I previously called for. I encourage all to watch, and give money to the telethon…every contribution will make a difference.

The world is a funny place. It sometimes paradoxically takes the breaking down of a nation (or a people) to bring us all closer together as one. While it’s impossible to tell how long Haiti’s recovery will take, we all need to unite in order to speed this process up.

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