What Haiti needs … now

first_imgShelter from the season’s pounding rains, a jump-start for earthquake-stalled classrooms, and employment for those robbed of work by Haiti’s Jan. 12 quake top the list of needs in the disaster-stricken nation, a former prime minister said during an interview while visiting the Harvard Kennedy School.Michèle Pierre-Louis, who was the island nation’s prime minister for a year until last September, said Haitians should salute the international outpouring of aid for her country. But she added that, despite the aid, many people remain homeless, and their frustration is rising. During a trip to one of the smaller displaced-persons camps in Port-au-Prince in early March, Pierre-Louis said several people told her that she was the first nonmedical person to visit.Pierre-Louis, who runs the nonprofit Knowledge and Freedom Foundation, was at the Kennedy School on a weeklong visiting fellowship. She said Haiti’s most immediate problem is what to do with the million or so people made homeless by the quake, many of them huddled in makeshift settlements that have sprung up around the city. Making their plight worse, she said, is that the rainy season has begun, making the camps a muddy mess and the leaky shelters uncomfortable.“It’s a big problem. To me, that’s urgent,” Pierre-Louis said. “People are extremely frustrated. Nobody speaks to them except for the doctors.”Beyond the housing problem, Pierre-Louis said another important concern is education. Five thousand schools collapsed, she said, and the quake affected more than a million students. All of the nation’s universities were damaged.“How are we going to restore education? Is it time to rethink the educational system in Haiti?” Pierre-Louis asked.Jobs are another critical issue, she said. Haitians are willing to work — and to spend what they earn to stimulate the economy — if only they can get jobs. She said international organizations in Haiti should conduct their operations with a mind to employing Haitians whenever possible.“Frustration will grow if people are sitting in the mud doing nothing,” Pierre-Louis said.Overall, she said, the quake’s toll of many thousands dead and wounded shows how inadequate everyday conditions are in Haiti. The many deaths, the large number of buildings that collapsed, and the inability of social structures to function properly all need to be addressed in a nation prone to natural disasters.Several such issues are likely to be addressed at a donor conference scheduled for March 31 in New York, she said. The “International Donors’ Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti” will be held at the United Nations and will feature representatives of Haiti’s government and of several major donor nations. They will discuss Haiti’s development needs and priorities for future aid.In addition to the many dead and the large number of damaged buildings, Port-au-Prince lost 600,000 residents who left the city to live with family members in the countryside. Pierre-Louis said the capital city has lost nearly a third of its pre-quake population.Despite the tragedy, Pierre-Louis said that Haiti in the end will have an opportunity to renew itself. As donor nations plan future aid, she said, they should consider infrastructure upgrades. The limitations of Port-au-Prince’s small airport and lone port were clearly illustrated early in the catastrophe. The poor condition of the nation’s roads also is well-known. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, Pierre-Louis said she was surprised at the strong interest from entrepreneurs willing to do business in Haiti.“I said, ‘My God, we should not miss that opportunity.’”last_img read more

Alumnus reflects on experience as gay, Catholic

first_imgChristopher Damian, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame class of 2013, discussed the intersection of homosexuality, Catholicism and theology in his presentation “Gay and Catholic,” hosted Thursday evening by the Gender Relations Center and the Institute for Church Life.Damian spoke about his journey toward reconciling his sexual identity with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Damian recounted his struggle to understand his identity throughout his undergraduate years.“How could I see my studies through a unified lens, if I couldn’t see myself as a unified person?” he said.Damian said one of the most difficult aspects he encountered while accepting his sexuality was how to understand the Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality and intimacy. Damian said he frequently questioned whether or not he would be able to fully engage in relationships with others, a question which poses a significant problem for LGBTQ-identifying Catholics.“I was worried that I couldn’t have friendship with anyone,” Damian said. “I wondered if my life as a Catholic was doomed to failure.”Damian said the language and rhetoric of the Catechism regarding homosexuality tends to be misrepresented and misunderstood by Catholics, specifically passages that refer to homosexuality as an intrinsic disorder. Damian said the focus on condemning the identity of LGBTQ individuals often leads to unnecessary rejection.“We should be careful about the things we say about sexual-minority students,” he said. “If Christians make claims about these people that seem blatantly untrue, this will cause others to question these issues and Christianity as a whole.”Damian said there is a need to define adequately the nature of the celibate vocation established for gay Catholics as well as address the definitions of friendship and intimacy for LGBTQ Catholics. He said celibacy allows others to engage in a life of self-giving love and reflect on the true nature of desire for intimacy.“The Church’s limitations are not meant to close us off, but rather, to open us up,” Damian said. “The Church places limitations so that we may be drawn deeper into reflection on where our intimacies and desires can lead us.”Damian said the definition of homosexuality can be highly misunderstood within the broader cultural context. Although sexuality and sexual orientation are frequently understood to be rigid and focused purely on sexual intimacy, “sexual attraction is very fluid and contextual,” he said.“I’m going to argue that the way in which the Catechism treats homosexuality is actually quite different for how it’s understood in the broader culture,” Damian said. “The more I’ve thought about it, it seems to me that while the desire for sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex is a significant part of the gay experience, it is only one aspect of it.”Damian said understanding homosexuality and identity requires understanding the transformative nature of the Church.“Catholicism never leaves things as they are,” he said. “It deepens, purifies and transforms all things it comes into contact with. So history becomes more than just history. For the Church, it can be deepened into salvation history.”Tags: Christopher Damian, Gay and Catholic, Gender Relations Center, Institute for Church Life, LGBTQlast_img read more