Monday, March 15, 2010

Haitians Speak Out: An Interview with Pierre Imbert

Two months after the Jan. 12 earthquake, Haiti struggles to find its footing in a world irrevocably changed. Plans for Haiti's future are being constructed, but the voices of Haitians are often missing from the discussion. In a series of one-on-one interviews, I attempt to reintegrate Haitians and Haitian Americans into the debate. These intereviews explore a side of Haiti foreigners too often miss, and it examines our hopes and fears for Haiti's future.

"What makes me angry is the degree to which we have failed the Haitian people." Pierre Imbert chokes back tears as he considers the plight of Haitians trying to survive the aftermath of January 12, 2010. "We allowed Haiti to descend into chaos. We allowed unscrupulous people to run Haiti into the ground." Although Imbert left Haiti decades before as a university student in search of a better life, he never truly lost his connection to his homeland. Just one month after the earthquake, he felt compelled to head back to Haiti to lend his support and bear witness to the devastation. What Imbert saw there moved him beyond words.

"It was an unbelievable scene," he said "and it hit you all of a sudden that you were entering a war zone." The images are ones Imbert is not likely to forget: children playing among the chaos of destroyed buildings, makeshift tents, and deep crevices in the land evidencing the enormous seismic shifts brought on by the earthquake; women with packs on their heads wandering aimlessly in the streets; and the long, endless and often dehumanizing queue of people standing beneath the harsh, unrelenting Caribbean sun in hopes of receiving a packet of rice from the aid trucks. Strangely, these sights gave Imbert hope. These people who had so long been mistreated by their own leaders, ignored by the international community, and forgotten by some of Haiti's more successful expats, were heading off in search of life. It mattered not that they did not know where they were going or how they were going to get there; it mattered even less that they did not know what they would do once they finally arrived. For Imbert, hope lay in the journey.

"What gives me hope," Imbert concludes "is that Haiti has sons and daughters that have labored through and survived . . . Haiti has sons and daughters all over the world that are finally focusing on it . . . with a renewed determination to build a new society."

You can find my full interview with Pierre Imbert here and here (video).

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