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Spot the differences

Leonicka Valcius: Spot the differences

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spot the differences

Let's play a game. The title links to the article The Varsity published entitled "Do more than donate' The following is the the second draft of the artcile I wrote. Let's see if you can spot the differences.

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I cannot pretend to be impartial. My heart grows heavy as news from Haiti filters in. The Haiti I heard about growing up, the Haiti of my parents' childhood was "La pearle de les Antilles.". The Haiti of today is much battered but still resilient. Every image compels me to do something, to take action, to get involved.

Luckily there is no shortage of response here at U of T. Following the quake, President David Naylor issued a statement and held an event in solidarity. UTSU, in conjunction with both the Scarborough and Mississauga campuses, has formed a coalition of student, faculty, and community members to launch a campaign in support of Haiti. Other student groups have hosted (and continue to host) smaller events that shed light on the crisis in Haiti.

One such event was "Haiti up against Neoliberalism." Hosted by the Women and Gender Studies Student Union on Wednesday January 27th, the event was an important part of the re-emerging discourse on Haiti. In an email, Savitri Persaud, Co-President of WGSSU, highlighted the many dimensions of Haiti's social and political history: "The events in Haiti are directly linked to the WGS curriculum because this interdisciplinary program asks its students to critically assess and engage with world issues, and to analyze them as issues that are apart of a much larger web of interlocking multiplicities, whose matrix is connected to matters not only concerning gender, but race, colonialism, imperialism, globalization, and poverty to name a few."

The event was part film screening, part discussion. First was "Aristide and the Endless Revolution", a film that examined the coups d'etat in 1991 and 2004 that removed Haiti's president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. The second film, "Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy" explored the experiences of a group of Haitian women and how neoliberal policies (what is known as the Washington Consensus) has affected them.

The heart of the event was the discussion facilitated by Dr. Rachel Gorman, a professor in the Women and Gender Studies program whose courses include WGS385: Gender and Neoliberalism. More than anything, the event was successful in creating a space for learning. Sitting on couches and pulled-up chairs, munching on pizza and other snacks, students were able to share their thoughts, insights, and knowledge surrounding the current events in Haiti, the many factors that precipitated it and and the implications it has for the future. More than anything however, they were able to ask their questions. The key here was that they were not experts, nor were they expected to be. The students genuinely wanted to learn more about a situation that affects everyone.

What was conspicuously absent from this event was a donation jar. When asked why, Persaud answered, "It was a conscious decision not to collect donations. ‘"Haiti up against Neoliberalism’" was intended to educate. Ultimately, the decision to donate is a personal one and our hope is that through awareness raising, people will make informed decisions about where to donate should they choose to do so."

The earthquake itself may be a natural disaster, but Haiti is going through a man-made catastrophe too. Understanding the underlying issues requires time, energy and a conscientious effort. Haiti's problems did not begin on January 12th 2010. They can be traced much further back to political instability, foreign occupation, unequal terms of trade, resource extraction, imperialism, colonialism, slavery and beyond. I challenge everyone to attend an event with depth—one that will reshape your conceptions of the country the ignorant so often write off as "the poorest in the Western Hemisphere." Such events are not hard to find, especially now. If your group or organization is not already planning something about Haiti, tell them to.

By no means do I frown upon donating money; Haiti needs as much money as the can get. But sometimes giving money is not enough. With collection jars popping up everywhere and the words "proceeds will help Haiti" appearing anywhere, it is easy to lose sight of what is at stake. A Sex and the City theme party does not help Haiti. Haiti has reached a tipping point. Whether this earthquake becomes an opportunity for Haiti to start fresh or a chance for the exploitation and strangulation to become more complete will depend not on how much cash is raised, but by how many people stand to defend Haiti and work to see her rise as the Pearl of the Antilles once more. L'union fait la force—In unity there is strength.


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Needless to say I am unhappy. My next post will explain why.

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