We are all Haitian

Posted on 01/27/10

Half a world away from each other, and with very different geo-political histories, Haiti and Rwanda have some demographic and cultural similarities—and are both home to PIH sister organizations. Both have populations of close to 9 million, with densely populated capitol cities, and economies that are about 1/3 agricultural. Prevalence of TB is the same in Haiti and Rwanda (660 per 100,000) and rates of HIV are also quite close (3.8 % in Haiti and 3.1 % in Rwanda). In both countries, slightly more than half the population lives on less than $1 per day. And both have cultures in which “family” extends far beyond those related by blood and generosity is nearly boundless. Their response to seeing someone in need is to help—as much and in as many ways as possible.

It was that feeling of solidarity that led the staff of PIH’s sister organization Inshuti Mu Buzima (“Partners In Health” in the local Kinyarwanda language) to take up a collection for their Haitian colleagues in this time of crisis—donating a percentage of their own salaries to Haiti relief activities. “[Donating our salaries] was raised after the IMB Rwandan staff had a meeting last week and [we] took some time to pray for Haiti,” said Daniel Mungwarakarama, project manager at Inshuti Mu Buzima (IMB). “We are still fundraising some more money outside of IMB,” Daniel added.

Not only have IMB staff agreed to donate financial resources to relief efforts, they have also offered to travel to Haiti to provide psychological support. Almost 16 years after the genocide that killed nearly one million Rwandans, survivors have a deep understanding of what it is like to live in a country in which every person has lost someone close to them. It has become all too clear that this is the situation in Haiti: the earthquake has left no one untouched. “Rwandans feel like they are somehow related to their sisters and brothers in Haiti and [we] wanted to do something to participate in the earthquake relief action,” said IMB Chief Financial Officer Odile Nzirabatinya.

This is not the first time the Haitian and Rwandan teams have reached out to one another. In the early days of IMB, members of the Zanmi Lasante (“Partners In Health” in Haitian Creole) clinical team traveled to Rwanda and helped to set up the IMB hospital in Rwinkwavu. More recently, a group from the psycho—social support team at Zanmi Lasante came to Rwanda to help IMB develop a mental health program. In fact, many of the techniques they plan to use with survivors in Haiti will be those taught to them by Father Eddy Eustache, Director of Zanmi Lasante’s Psychological Support Services. Their offer to return the favor is deeply appreciated—by all of us.

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