The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Journées du réseau français dans le monde 2010 in Paris

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Journées du réseau français dans le monde 2010 -
First plenary session entitled "Haïti se relève"

Paris, Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Allow me to begin by telling you how important it was for me to speak to you and be with you today, at the Journées du réseau français dans le monde 2010. Many thanks to the French authorities for inviting me.  

This first plenary session, entitled “Haïti se relève”, or“Haiti on the path to recovery”, is an opportunity for us to reflect on the alarming situation that has existed in Haiti since the devastating earthquake of this past January. 

Is Haiti actually on the path to recovery? No, at this point in time, it is not. 

And the situation is all the more serious because the massive earthquake, of a magnitude rarely seen, merely added to the depth of all the misery that had so long and so heavily burdened the Haitian people. 

Generally known for their resilience, for being able to bounce back from every blow—as though this were a historically hereditary trait, a trait that has defined them as a people, as though they could never be otherwise—the people of Haiti, are more shaken and at a greater loss than ever before. 

The “shock” suffered by the Haitian people at precisely 4:53 p.m. on January 12, 2010, actually dealt hope a fatal blow…  

Hope, which has always been the ethos of the Haitian people, “with no day of rest to ease the pain,” to quote poet and writer René Depestre. 

Hope, even when hanging on by nothing more than a thread. 

Hope, even when that thread has continued to wear thin, though not broken. 

Make no mistake: Haiti will not be able to recover without the spirit of solidarity that existed immediately after the catastrophe.

While the tragic images of unimaginable suffering, destruction and devastation were being broadcast non-stop for weeks around the world, aid came pouring in from everywhere. The whole world immediately mobilized, with the United States, Canada and France leading the way. 

Indeed, I was very moved when, on July 14, I saw a parade of members from these French aid teams that had worked with such expertise in the emergency operations in Haiti—teams mightily driven by a keen sense of duty to assist an afflicted people, with friendship and compassion. 

Several are still in the field. I would like to use this opportunity to recognize their merit and say, “Bravo!” 

Similarly, we in Canada collectively and unanimously refused to turn a blind eye to the lot of our sisters and brothers in Haiti. 

Canadians, from individual people to different levels of government, institutions, associations and the private sector, answered the urgent call, and today continue to show exemplary generosity in support of reconstruction efforts. 

Because, in these turbulent times, the most immediate, and certainly most promising, response to the burning question, “how can we help an entire country rise from destruction?” is to continue to show unwavering solidarity—through our words and through concerted, coordinated, precise, targeted and responsible actions with a single major goal in mind: to “reverse the spiral of vulnerability,” as so aptly stated in Haiti's Action Plan for National Recovery and Development. 

At the International Donors’ Conference, held at the United Nations on March 31 of this year, a conference which Canada co-organized after hosting the Ministerial Preparatory Conference on Haiti, in Montréal, on January 25, the Haitian government, Haitian civil society and the international community agreed on a global approach. 

In addition to the need for emergency measures, such as procuring food and safe drinking water, relocating the people affected by the disaster, erecting temporary shelters, and preventing the spread of disease with the approach of the rainy season, a serious threat to the one million people still living in tents, there is an equal need for the reconstruction, some are even saying the refounding, of Haiti, testing our usual ways of doing things. 

I believe that it is time to put an end to the kind of aid logic that has turned Haiti into a vast laboratory for aid experiments and for trial and error approaches, with all kinds of faulty strategies that have never produced, never generated any truly lasting results. 

Solidarity means co-operation, in a spirit of partnership with the Haitian state and with Haitian civil society, using a systematic and continuous approach that can fill the voids, turn things around, and yield tangible, lasting results.   

And we must not allow our attention to waiver. 

It is important that we remain ever vigilant, to ensure that the common good comes before personal or individual interests, in the best interests of the Haitian people. 

What is needed is nothing more, nothing less than an economic and social framework that places human dignity at the heart of all systems, all strategies for action and all joint efforts. 

What is needed is a new ethic of sharing. 

On March 8 and 9 of this year, I was in Haiti to witness the extent of the damage, but more importantly to better understand, to listen and to comfort the people that had been deeply wounded and also reassure them that they were not alone. In my capacity as governor general and commander-in-chief of Canada, I also had a duty to gauge the effectiveness of the assistance lent by the Canadian Forces, which among other things, and in record time, were able to set up two hospitals on an extremely urgent basis outside Port-au-Prince, in areas of heavy devastation where help was slow in coming, enabling them to treat, operate on and save over 10 000 patients. 

It also struck me as essential to identify priority areas for action for the next steps, for reconstruction, in consultation not only with Haitian government authorities and representatives, but also, and to a large extent, with Haitian civil society.  

Among the many encounters I had in the two days I spent in the country, I must say that March 8 stands out in my mind. I marked the day alongside the women of Haiti, women whose courage, organizational skills, inventiveness and conviction are among the country’s greatest strengths, women without whom the reconstruction and refounding of Haiti would be unthinkable, impossible even. 

While no more than 400 women were expected, given the very difficult, even nightmarish conditions for moving around Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area, more than 4 000 women came to greet me in the tiny interior courtyard of what remained of the buildings that used to house Haiti’s Ministry of the Status of Women. 

These women needed to come together and wanted to be heard, so that life could once again triumph over all adversity, they said—look at us, we are still alive and standing. 

And this cry from the heart was all the more moving because these women were all in mourning—in mourning for many dear ones. In mourning also for the many sisters who had valiantly and tirelessly led the fight for women’s rights in Haiti and for a more just society. 

The incredible daring, tenacity, strength and originality with which the women of Haiti find solutions to the most difficult social problems are truly remarkable. 

And that is what makes me firmly believe that civil society is the most stable foundation for sustainable human development in Haiti. Haiti’s civil society must be taken into account; otherwise, it will not be possible to achieve anything. 

I cannot stress this enough. Haiti cannot recover without the full engagement of the country’s women, men and young people. 

Haiti cannot recover if the concerns, perspectives, initiatives, creativity and abilities of its lifeblood are ignored. The people must be included in every action, every plan, as never before. 

I would like to share with you three observations I made based on what many Haitians told me during my time in the country and on what I saw and experienced when I visited disaster areas, standing amid the rubble and makeshift shelters, where people were trying by every means possible to organize their lives in the midst of chaos. 

The first observation is that education is a crucial development tool. 

I often think of this one little girl, standing in front of me in the dust from the rubble, whose primary concern was where and when school would start up again. And I will never forget the teenagers, inconsolable at the loss of friends and teachers, who shared with me their worries about not being able to get back to their studies. 

These young people’s concern for their schools and for their education was a powerful reminder that showing solidarity with Haiti, helping the country and giving its people back some hope means giving priority to education. 

All of the representatives of this key sector whom I met on the ground insisted on this, telling me of all the losses sustained both in human terms and in terms of infrastructure. The toll was horrific, truly appalling: thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and hundreds of staff members died, and over 89 percent of schools and educational and training institutions, including two universities in Port-au-Prince, were destroyed in the earthquake. 

Knowing just how enormous the needs will be in the coming years, the primary concern is ensuring that Haiti can count on the next generation, today’s youth, to meet the many complex challenges of reconstruction. 

Hence the need for investment and action to ensure elementary education, professional and occupational training and higher education. 

Hence the need to help Haiti finally develop a high-quality, accessible, universal education system across the country. 

Hence the urgent need to support the 2010–2020 Operational Plan for implementing the mandatory and free education provisions developed, then reviewed this past May by the Government of Haiti in light of the situation in the aftermath of the earthquake. 

Over half a million children in Haiti are not in school. And nothing in the Operational Plan has been left to chance. It covers everything from the strengthening of governance of the education sector locally to the organization of the academic offering and reception of the children; programs of study; reconstruction in accordance with earthquake resistance standards of elementary schools destroyed or seriously damaged in the earthquake; construction of new public schools in communal areas without them; certification of school teachers and principals; and assessment of needs across the country and of associated costs. 

Education is of course necessary for any growth-oriented country, but it is especially necessary for any country trying to rise from the ashes. When all seems lost, when it is necessary to start all over again, access to education heralds a new dawn. 

This can be seen in Haiti. When the people of Saint-Domingue gained their freedom from slavery and, in 1804, established the Republic of Haiti, the first ever Black republic, education was at the heart of the first constitution of the Haitian state, that of June 27, 1805. 

No emancipation or true freedom would be possible without the acquisition of knowledge by these men and women who, for entire centuries, were stripped of their humanity, their ancestral ties, their names, their memories, their languages and their histories. 

Haitians, who had to forge an identity to more successfully remake themselves, have this hunger to speak out, to put a name to things, to educate themselves, to assert themselves, and to create.

The abundance of Haitian artistic creation is testimony to this. Arts and culture are an integral part of education and even of daily life in Haiti, as essential resources. 

And now all the heritage and historic sites have been completely destroyed! How incredibly sad. Without all these landmarks that cemented the Haitian identity, the people of Haiti are at a serious loss. 

Artists and creators are ready and eager to work with the means at their disposal to assemble, list, file, safeguard and protect, and thus participate fully in the collective efforts needed to restore the country’s spirit. 

Throughout their history, when faced with adversity, Haitians have turned to creation, to all artistic and cultural forms of expression, to song, dance, rhythm, poetry, painting and sculpture, as a way to renew and refocus their energies. 

After the earthquake, during the long nights without shelter, in physical and emotional pain and fearful of further quakes, Haitians still raised their voices in song in many parts of the city, as groups answered one another to ward off further tragedy.  

Today, as in the past on the plantations, art is a way of resisting and conquering the death drive. 

Haiti needs its creative forces to recover. 

My second observation is that the regions must be included in the national reconstruction strategy. 

There is much talk of decentralization, deconcentration of resources and powers, and relieving congestion in the capital, which is dangerously overpopulated because of rural exodus. So what is urgent is not only to relocate people from Port-au-Prince and the other earthquake-stricken communities, but also to rethink governance. This higher level of awareness has resulted in a vital role in the national recovery plan being given to Haiti's regions and rural areas, which, frankly, have long been ignored by the capital. 

In fact, Haiti’s different regions must play a full part in the development of the country as a whole, in all fields, be it the economy, education, science, culture or the environment.  

Only a decentralized approach can be productive in the short, medium and long terms. 

The civil society representatives I met in Port-au-Prince, Léogane and Jacmel all agreed that it is imperative that local capacities be strengthened and that the regions be connected and decompartmentalized by means of a new road network; they spoke of building “villages of life” with infrastructure, services, job opportunities and economic and social development; they stressed the importance of supporting the expertise of small farmers and farm production to fight food insecurity; they consider it urgent that environmental protection measures be introduced, notably to slow down the tragic process of erosion. 

To do all this and to ensure that land is distributed fairly, there is an urgent need to establish a national land register to define property rights, rules and occupancy standards. 

Incidentally, barely three weeks ago, I spent several days in China on a visit. I had the opportunity to visit Sichuan Province, which, in 2008, also suffered heavy damage and many losses as a result of an earthquake that took tens of thousands of lives. The reconstruction was expected to take three years, but was remarkably completed in just two. Canada was among the contributors. I asked the Chinese people what the key had been to the speed and quality of the work. The answer confirmed my own beliefs: involving the people. 

They said that the key had been consulting with the communities, working with the people to make plans, establish needs and set goals. Reconstruction requires joint discussion about where and how to rebuild: from cleanup operations to waste management; water lines and water management; construction of social housing and safe residential neighbourhoods; establishment of a public marketplace in a clean, dignified place sheltered from the sun and equipped with sanitary facilities; construction of schools with playgrounds, media centres and libraries; construction of health clinics and community and handicraft centres, public gardens, and so on.    

Reconstruction must create work, keep the people occupied, produce opportunities to develop skills, encourage small and medium-sized enterprise, put everyone’s know-how to use, and cultivate pride and a sense of community. 

This sends strong and encouraging signals that things are getting done, that everyone is contributing and making a difference, that the work is not being done for the people of Haiti, but with them, and that what is being built is theirs and, consequently, needs their protection.  

At the same time, this leads to a common vision, cohesiveness and greater social harmony. 

My third observation is how committed young people are. And yes, it is on purpose that I come back to youth. After all, the majority of the Haitian population is under the age of 20! 

It is our responsibility to get this large and willing generation involved in all the reconstruction efforts, which also serve as learning opportunities and opportunities to firmly establish active and constructive citizenship.  

Asking the youth of Haiti to contribute to the reconstruction efforts means strengthening their feeling of belonging, recognizing that they are part of the solution and supporting their desire to take action. 

This amazing source of energy must be channelled before others capitalize on it! When young people are without hope, without goals, without anything to look forward to, and are crushed by poverty, they quickly fall prey to organized crime and all the traffickers, all the predators that profit from human misery. This, we know, is a very real danger, with disastrous consequences. 

Many of Haiti’s young people told me that they don’t want to be left on the sidelines, doomed to a sad fate. They don’t want to forever depend on the charity of others or fall between the cracks. They are creative and have a lot to offer, not only tomorrow and in the future, but also right now. 

We need to give them a chance, to open up a whole wide array of opportunities for them. 

Education and jobs, space for recreation and creation, healthy, dignified and safe places to live: this is what they are seeking.  

In closing, dear friends, I want to say that we need to support and encourage the Haitian people, in their hopes and in their desire, and in their efforts to help their country’s recovery. It is imperative that we succeed and show what can be done when we decide to work together. 

To this end, we can look to what philosopher Gaston Bachelard so aptly stated: “the will must imagine too much to be able to achieve enough.”