Here are the top 10 questions we are asked most often about rebirthing Haiti.
On January 18, 2010, less than a week after Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake, 60 Minutes ran a story that changed the course of my life. In the segment, “The Tragedy of Haiti,” an untold number of dead Haitians scattered about the landscape; some were stacked like human lumber, some were heaped together in the scoop of a backhoe and dropped into the back of a waiting dump truck. In the story, we are told they are heading to a mass grave outside of town. I was saddened and sickened - my heart became as broken as the mangled bodies waiting their turn.
Later that evening, after Googling “Haiti” and “Mass Graves,” I discovered that Haiti’s fallen had been taken to a landfill just outside Port-au-Prince. Here they were unceremoniously dumped on top of existing garbage and entombed by rubble and debris from the earthquake. I began to envision how I’d feel if my own family and friends were treated like garbage. Would I turn my back to this truth? Would I write a check to some charity and then head off to meet some friends for dinner? Turns out, my answer is no.
As a result of the 60 Minutes story, I put aside my selfish and comfortable life and established this company, Haiti Recovery and Development Company (HR&DC), with the sole purpose of helping Haiti and its people. For myself, personally, I am dedicating the remainder of my life to the unyielding completion of two main goals:
1) To convert the mass grave/landfill into a national memorial for the Haitian people, and
2) To establish five new modern cities strategically located throughout Haiti.
There are two different answers to the “why now” question. I’ll first begin with “Haiti’s” why now, and then I’ll address “my own,” personal why now.
Throughout history there are numerous examples of where something good has actually come from something horrific. In Haiti’s case, the cataclysmic result of January’s earthquake has actually fostered the type of transitory moment whereby meaningful attention and commitment can join as one. If the right recovery and development plan is formulated, funded, implemented and managed, and if the world community will prosecute those who arrive in Haiti to plunder, Haiti could actually emerge from the rubble of their present existence stronger than ever before.
As for my own personal response to the “why now” question of Haiti, my commitment to Haiti and its people boils down to this: In the days since I watched Haitians being thrown away like garbage, I have come to realize that I have been a selfish and self-centered pedestrian throughout most of my life, and the shame of this realization will no longer allow for such detachment. From this day forward, everyday will be a “now” day.
What are you referring to when you talk about a “Haitian Renaissance"?
To answer this question, I must go back to the beginning on my personal journey for some perspective. When I founded the company I did so with the sole purpose of helping Haiti and its people. That’s why I named the company Haiti Recovery and Development Company, and not Jim Lange International. It is all about Haiti and her people and this focus will never change as long as I am alive. As for the term “Haitian Renaissance,” I must confess that I am not a very clever person, and I wanted to establish a rallying cry that immediately referenced who I am serving (Haitians) and what I am dedicating my life to accomplish (the rebirth of a country). I also wanted to, unequivocally, establish an “arc of possibility” for Haiti’s future by referencing the original Renaissance -- its impact on humanity and the development of civil society. And, if the original Renaissance was a matter of choice, why can’t Haitians chose a Renaissance over more rubble? They can, and we’re here to help.
How do you even begin to help fix a country that is as broken as Haiti appears to be?
While there are hundreds of thousands of issues that will need to be addressed and results if Haiti is to have a legitimate chance of joining the modern world, the key factor to Haiti’s recovery and development is the creation of a new identity, a new sense of nationalism. To my thinking, Haitians need to feel more like free people who have a future and purpose in life, and not simply the victims of one type of disaster or another.
The first formal step in this process for me and for HR&DC, is to raise the necessary funds and international awareness to convert the mass grave/landfill into a national memorial. Haitians are not garbage and no rebirth of the country can occur while they are being treated as such.
What makes you think that you, or anyone for that matter, can actually make a difference in Haiti?
If it’s true that one bullet started World War I, why can’t one shovel start a Renaissance?
How do you get around the corruption problems that have plagued Haiti for years?
It would be naïve to believe that Haiti’s corruption issues -- or the world’s for that matter -- would ever go away. This is especially true, today, with unprecedented amounts of money flowing into the country. HR&DC’s mantra will be to establish full disclosure and transparency policies, across the board, and all who deal with us will know our rules and restrictions. Undoubtedly, this mantra will cost us some funding and relationship opportunities, but so be it. We are here with the purpose helping the Haitian people therefore it is our obligation to do whatever is necessary to assure that every resource possible is directed toward that purpose.
What are Haiti’s most pressing needs?
Besides an improved sense of self, Haiti needs to develop a self-sustaining economy where it can create, consume and sell for a profit some of its own products. A first step in this process should be the development of an enterprise (manufacturing) zone similar to the one created between the borders of the United States and Mexico, in Juarez. This would establish a manufacturing engine that could turn out construction and consumer-oriented products for Haiti’s own use and resale, and provide a forum for the creation and mentoring of a pool of skilled trades people.
Is rebuilding the city of Port-au-Prince Haiti’s first priority?
No. Port-au-Prince was never master planned to house 3-4 million people, and any effort to rebuild to such a population level seems misguided. Also, it bears mentioning that the city was reduced to rubble because it sits on a fault line. When taking both of these truths into account, it seems only prudent to foster Haiti’s rebirth in numerous “disparate” locations throughout the country.
Who’s going to pay to fix Haiti?
That’s a very straightforward question that doesn’t have a very straightforward answer. While $5-6 billion dollars have been pledged for Haiti’s recovery and development, (you can go to http://www.haitireconstructionfund.org/hrf/members) to learn more about the donors) it’s difficult to say how much of the pledged funds will actually arrive in Haiti, and even more difficult to determine who the recipients of this money will be. HR&DC will reach out to every conceivable funding source, for as long as it takes, to secure the capital necessary to convert the mass grave/landfill into a national memorial for the Haitian people, and to establish five new modern cities strategically located throughout Haiti.
What’s in it for you (Jim Lange and HR&DC)?
HR&DC was established as a for-profit company.
There are two main reasons for such a decision and both merit mentioning. First, it is our intent to develop an economically solvent entity thus proving to others that Haiti is more than just a charity case. Second (and vastly more important in the grand scheme of things), when I established HR&DC I did so with the mindset of being its steward for 20 years and then placing the company into a public trust expressly for the Haitian people. As far as I am aware, this stewardship and transfer of ownership is quite unique in the world and is designed to show the Haitian people that I am there to help, not to plunder.