Disaster Brings Haitian Americans Back Home

Young people with Haitian roots were drawn to their homeland after the earthquake two years ago.

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For many Haitians, Jan. 12 invokes a somber mood. It marks the anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Haitians two years ago and left millions more destitute and displaced. In the aftermath of the heart-wrenching devastation, Haiti experienced unprecedented global support as humanitarian assistance and volunteers poured onto the island in throngs to join search-and-rescue missions for survivors and to help out any way they could. 

The whole world was fixated on Haiti, a nation that was already considered to be the most economically indigent population in the Western Hemisphere.

But the work that needed to be done was incalculable. The damage seemed infinite, beyond dollars and cents. Yet it set the stage for a cross-generational response that many Haitians haven't seen in decades.

With more than 1 million Haitians living in the United States alone, and another 2 million in neighboring Dominican Republic as well as Canada and France, much of the nation's most potent human-resource pool is largely outside the land.

Since the earthquake, however, there has been a renewed sense of patriotism within the Haitian Diaspora. First-generation Haitian Americans in particular, whose associations to the island derived primarily from stories heard or media images seen, suddenly became active participants in the reconstruction efforts and seem to have gotten more involved in Haiti than in decades past.

On May 12, 2011, in a meeting with the Haitian Diaspora Federation at the Karibe Convention Center in Port-au-Prince, then-President-elect Michel Martelly touched on the need to join arms by calling on all Haitians -- young and old, domestic and abroad -- to come together to organize economic and social contributions into a single fund designed to stabilize the country's future. Though news of this endowment being officially established has yet to be reported, some political observers believe that it is one of the motivating factors behind Martelly's pledge to reverse Haiti's long-standing ban on dual citizenship -- to forge a more genuine bond with an overseas community that contributes more than 25 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product with allowances sent to relatives back home. That is nearly $2 billion each year.

Whether this reversal will ever be realized or be enough to meet the extraordinary challenges the country currently faces remains to be seen. But the surge in involvement by the Diaspora has become visible.

Today, people from all over the Diaspora are traveling in and out of Haiti for the first time to contribute their talents to the island in ways they haven't before.

Some have returned permanently. Young Haitian Americans like Samuel Darguin, 25, and Fabrice Armand, 29, represent the spectrum of participation that Haiti has been witnessing from its sons and daughters since the earthquake.

Darguin, who is the founder of the Haitian American Caucus, returned to live in Haiti in March of 2010. Originally from the island, he's a graduate in political science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and now works as the country director for HAC, where he develops sustainable community programs for families in Port-au-Prince that are facing challenges in employment, education and professional development. Using École Shalom des Frères, a primary school in Croix-des-Bouquets, as home base, Darguin and HAC have housed more than a thousand foreign volunteers to help him implement these programs since the earthquake in 2010.