Haiti’s Agony

Reading the stories and seeing the heartbreaking images in the media about the calamitous humanitarian disaster in Haiti is indeed humbling.

One story reported was of the life-changing experience of the 17 teenagers from British Columbia who had hoped to spend two weeks on a mission to set up a goat farm and arrived just a mere 45 minutes before the devastating earthquake struck. Stranded for five days, traumatized and struggling to survive in the midst of death and destruction, they were finally rescued by Canadians.

Their arrival at Trudeau airport in Dorval Monday morning reminded me of another story, involving a group of students at a local high school, a politician and a humanitarian organization. (The story was reported in the West Island Gazette on Sept. 1, 2005.)

In 2005, 1.5 million teens worldwide (160,000 Canadians) participated in "30-Hour Famines" (in Australia, 40 hours). The purpose of these "famines" was to raise public awareness of world poverty and to raise money to alleviate some of the suffering that many people endure. Participation in a "famine' encourages students to demonstrate altruistic behaviour by accentuating social compassion.

As an incentive and as a token of appreciation the humanitarian organization, World Vision, offers gifts to students for their fundraising efforts. The most popular gift is a hand-woven bracelet specifically made by the locals for those students who took the philanthropic initiative by demonstrating a sense of global citizenship.

Nonetheless, after completing a successful "famine" (we raised $7025), my students and I noticed an inexplicable oddity: these gifts are allowed in every state and every province in North America - except Quebec. Gifts of this type are prohibited under provincial regulations.
Although community needs are more important than individual benefits, these small tokens serve to encourage and reward fundraisers. The more we encourage global social responsibility, the more likely it will be that in the future no child on this earth will have to live in misery.

Anyway, this exclusion for Quebec students to receive these tokens of appreciation was simply not fair. We decided to do something about it, and thanks to the involvement of our local MNA Yolande James, the misunderstanding that existed for many years between the organization and Quebec was finally cleared up.

That said, here is a thought. There is a strong connection between Quebec and Haiti. The majority of Canada's Haitian population live in Quebec. Next Monday, international officials, the Friends of Haiti Group, meet in Montreal to set up "long-term goals to rebuild Haiti." Immigration Minister James is very busy helping out. Yesterday, the Charest government promised $3 million dollars in emergency relief for Haiti.

Wouldn't it be great if all of Quebec's high schools - French and English - participated in a "30-hour famine?" All monies raised would go directly to Haiti. What a learning experience that would be. The Sept. 1, 2005 Gazette article was titled: "Rewarding experience for Quebecers." Indeed!

Now, one can only wish that Mother Nature spare Haiti any further sorrow.

Chris Eustace
Montreal