Amid Haitian Devastation, Green Shoots


In the wake of a natural disaster, especially one that hits a poverty-stricken country like Haiti, there is a tendency to view the survivors as helpless victims who can do nothing but wait passively for international assistance. The New York Times offers a snapshot of the Haitian city of Léogâne that belies that impression:

Commerce was thriving at the warrenlike shantytown that has sprung to life on what was once this city's main square. Shoeshines and hairstyles, coal and soap, Casino brand chocolate and Comme Il Faut cigarettes, even new homes constructed from salvaged wood and sheet metal — each could be had for a price. …

Not a donated tent is in sight, but Carmalite Henry, 51, was watching as two men built a small shack, about eight feet square, for her family of four. She paid them about $50, money borrowed from friends.

Gerome Julie, a mother of four, said she had built her own small hut, digging holes for the posts and spending about $60 on nails, wood and metal. Asked if it was watertight, she said: "I don't know. It hasn't rained yet."

She was selling toilet paper, laundry detergent and soap from an inventory she had before the quake, making a quarter in profit on each item, she said.

Léogâne was the city closest to the earthquake's epicenter, but its people are already getting back to work with very little help from the outside world. People are restarting their businesses, and buying and selling the goods available at the prices the market will bear. Haiti's development has been stifled by decades of misrule, but its people are as capable as any country's of working to improve their own lives.