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Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Opens International Symposium on Haiti

mardi 6 avril 2010 par William Toussaint

Governor General Opens International Symposium on Haiti

April 6, 2010

Governor General Opened the International Symposium “Haiti Today, Haiti Tomorrow : Contrasting Perspectives” at the University of Ottawa

OTTAWA—Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, delivered today remarks at the opening session of the International Symposium “Haiti Today, Haiti Tomorrow : Contrasting Perspectives”, which was presided over by Mr. Allan Rock, President of the University of Ottawa.

Organized by the School of International Development and Global Studies (SIDGS) of the University of Ottawa, the event aimed to initiate a dialogue between guest lecturers from various disciplines including governments, co-operation agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities and the Haitian community.

Governor General’s Speech for the International Symposium “Haiti Today, Haiti Tomorrow : Contrasting Perspectives” :

In these turbulent times, the immediate, and certainly most promising, response to the burning question ‘what do we do in the face of an unprecedented catastrophe ?’ is to show unshakeable solidarity through our words and actions.

In a letter published in L’Actualité magazine addressed to Haiti, my native country, when the tragic and unbearable images of suffering, destruction and devastation caused by the January 12, 2010 earthquake were being shown around the world on a daily basis, I spoke of an almost fatal blow to hope, which had always ruled life in Haiti. Hope, even when it was hanging by a thread, even as that thread continued to wear down, but never break.

I began by thanking—and would like to once again thank—Canadians for their immense and exemplary generosity, for collectively and unanimously rejecting indifference when it came to the fate of their sisters and brothers in Haiti.

I am all the more proud to represent a country where everything is possible—as I said in my installation speech when I was sworn in as Governor General of Canada—, a country of great compassion when it comes to human dignity and the responsibilities of friendship.

Although we are still in a state of shock, and showing the same degree of solidarity we did in the first days after the disaster, the time has now come—as I am sure you will agree—to help an entire country rise from its destruction and, as Haiti’s Action Plan for National Recovery and Development states, to “reverse the spiral of vulnerability.”

I have just returned from the International Donor’s Conference held at the United Nations—which Canada helped to co-organize—and I would like to share the global approach that the Haitian government, Haitian civil society and the international community, including governments, non-governmental organizations, institutions as well as the private sector, all decided to build on.

While there is certainly a need for emergency measures to provide food and drinking water, to relocate disaster victims, to erect temporary shelters and to prevent the spread of disease—especially as the rainy season approaches, posing a serious threat to tens of thousands of lives—we must also, and perhaps more importantly, ensure that Haiti’s reconstruction is planned and carried out as a test of our ability to put solidarity for the greater good before personal or specific interests.

When speaking at the United Nations, the President of Haiti, René Préval, was right when he described the disaster that destroyed his country as an opportunity to dream of another kind of humanity, one in which the spirit of sharing triumphs over corporate greed.

It would be no less than a development framework that places human dignity at the heart of all systems, all intervention strategies, every joint effort, one that urgently calls for a new ethic of sharing.

I was in Haiti myself just three weeks ago. I was there to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 with Haitian women whose courage, mobilization, inventiveness and conviction are one of Haiti’s greatest strengths, women without whom reconstruction in Haiti would be unthinkable, impossible even. Nearly 3,000 women came to welcome me.

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

This is what makes me also and quite firmly believe that Haitian civil society is an extremely stable foundation on which sustainable development in Haiti can be built.

I would like to share with you three observations I made based on what the people of Haiti told me and on what I saw with my own eyes when I visited disaster areas, standing amid the rubble and makeshift shelters, where people are trying to organize their lives in the midst of chaos.

The first observation is that education can be a development tool.

A little girl standing in front of me, surrounded by dust and debris, wanted to know where and when her classes would resume. The thirst for knowledge shined in that child’s eye like an oasis in the desert of the ruins at her feet. Haiti’s self-sufficiency will rise from this oasis.

This child’s concern for her school was a powerful reminder of the importance of re-establishing Haiti’s education system. And all the education sector representatives I met on the ground insisted the same, recounting all the losses to human life, as well as to the infrastructure. The toll is horrific : over 4,000 students and hundreds of teachers and staff members died, and over 89% of schools and educational institutions, including two universities in Port-au-Prince, were destroyed in the earthquake.

When contemplating reconstruction, the first thing we must do is ensure that every system—from the elementary to the professional training and higher education levels—is built on the notions of accessibility and quality.

We must not forget how much arts and culture also contribute to education, and to daily life in Haiti. A number of heritage and memory safeguarding sites collapsed in the earthquake, essential landmarks that have always cemented the Haitian identity. Artists and creators are working to assemble, list, file, rebuild, protect and participate fully in collective efforts so that life triumphs over misfortune and the country’s spirit can catch its breath. Throughout their history, when faced with adversity, the people of Haiti have always turned to song, dance, rhythm, poetry and painting as a way to group and meditate so as to better regain self-control. Today, as in the past, this is an essential resource.

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

It is mostly a question of decentralization, deconcentration of resources and powers, and relieving congestion in the capital, which is dangerously overpopulated because of rural exodus. It is a question of urgently relocating people from Port-au-Prince and the communities hardest hit by the earthquake. This awareness has restored the vital role that Haiti’s regions and rural areas have in the national recovery plan—areas that, frankly, have been ignored by the capital for a long time.

Haiti’s regions must play a full part in finding solutions for and developing the country as a whole. Only a decentralized approach will be productive in the short, medium and long term.

In this regard, the civil society representatives I met in Port-au-Prince, Léogane and Jacmel all agreed and said that we must strengthen abilities outside the capital and decompartmentalize the regions ; build “villages of life” with infrastructure, services, development and employment opportunities ; support the expertise of small farmers and agriculture production to fight food insecurities ; put forward environmental protection measures, notably to slow down the tragic process of erosion. Designing viable living conditions with a national vision will also strengthen local governance. To do all this, we must establish a land register to ensure that land is distributed fairly and especially take the time to consider the situation and the needs in Haiti in collaboration with its people, fully acknowledging that their initiatives are part of the solutions.

My third observation is how committed young people are.

The danger of seeing a generation of young people falling victim to organized crime and those who prey on human suffering is very real. It is our responsibility to get this large and daring generation of young people involved in reconstruction efforts and to engage them by developing their ability to act and supporting their willingness to work. Over half the Haitian population is under the age of twenty !

A number of people I met at the conference in New York—people who have also been to Haiti since the earthquake—told me they have the same concerns, and that it is essential we respond to the disaster with an approach that both respects the priorities and expertise of the Haitian people, and could be used as a model for development.

This is something sincerely hoped for by all the leaders I spoke with, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Edmond Mulet, the United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti, Bill Clinton, and the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I am delighted that this Symposium here at the University of Ottawa would like to reaffirm our commitment—through reflection and action—to a development model that provides so much hope.

Because there is no doubt that what we are doing is taking stock of what we can accomplish, as a species, when we decide to all work together and reinvent life.

This is the dream the people of Haiti speak of.

It is also my dream.

That is, in the words of sociologist Edgar Morin, “to learn to be, to live, share, communicate, commune as humans of Planet Earth.”

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