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Calling Haiti home

The extent of my knowledge about Haiti, the country now ravaged with the prospects of civil war, is minimal to say the least. A logical person would assume the same for most Americans.

How Haiti suddenly captured America’s attention raises interesting questions about our news only-when-it-has-reached-disaster culture. Cities are being burned, and people are being killed, and we are just now hearing about the widespread problems in this country of nearly 8 million?

Eighty percent of the inhabitants in Haiti live in poverty and have been for some time. It’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and not much is being done governmentally to change that. Fuel prices recently soared to six dollars a gallon; we complain here when they hit a buck fifty.

Armed anti-government rebels have taken over the northern cities of Gonaives, Cap Haiten and Port-de-Paix and are heading toward the capital. Diplomats from a range of countries throughout the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, are working with the Haitian government and opposition leaders to broker any semblance of peace. Meanwhile, Haiti is making headlines in every major newspaper and nightly news broadcast.

As a mass communications major, I understand that there is a lot of newsworthy coverage in the world and that one can only cover so much on a half-hour television program. But Haiti isn’t halfway across the world; it’s right around the corner. Does it take over 70 people to die just to get our attention? When this column is published that number will undoubtedly be higher.

The question has thus changed from what will happen in Haiti, to what we should be doing to help the situation.

I know our military is spread thin. We have troops fighting for a cause that changes every day in Iraq, soldiers all but forgotten in Afghanistan and thousands of other military personnel spread across the globe.

America has a responsibility in the world to recognize a sickness before it becomes an epidemic. It took us years to realize that our country of vast wealth and knowledge could help the millions of people dying in Africa. Is Haiti really any different?

The problem in Haiti does not only alter the lives of the millions of people who call that small island nation their home. It also affects many Haitians who came to the United States for a better life as well as those likely to hit our shores as refugees.

Elsie Kifle is someone who once called Haiti home. Kifle was born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and left before she was old enough to drive. When I spoke to her she said she doesn’t agree with President Aristide but added that nobody “should have complete power.”

Having lived in Haiti, she isn’t sure the rioting will accomplish much good.

“It will always be that way,” Kifle said. There are no jobs, she said, and the people of Haiti “need something to cling on to.”

Kifle is a good example of the Haitian population in this country. Their presence here in Florida stretches from Miami to our very own campus. Club Creole is a student organization at USF and, according to the organization’s Web site, was founded to “promote the Haitian culture through social and cultural interactions in the university and throughout the community.”

What will happen to the situation in Haiti has yet to be determined. Will Haiti become a place children will be proud to call home? Will more people like Kifle leave Haiti for a better life in America?

In American culture, we complain about the effects of negative news stories. The harsh reality is that most of what is happening in the world today is negative.

In the end, it might just be the negative news and wounding images will inspired change and give the people of Haiti something to cling on to.

Kifle said Haitians need help building self-esteem. She added that the best thing we can do here “is teach them to love each other.”

No one really knows if that will ever happen.

Charlie Eder is a sophomore majoring in mass communications and political science.