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 Haiti's best and brightest lost in the ruins

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Localisation : Canada
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Date d'inscription : 02/03/2007

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Haiti's best and brightest lost in the ruins Empty
MessageSujet: Haiti's best and brightest lost in the ruins   Haiti's best and brightest lost in the ruins EmptySam 13 Mar 2010 - 1:10

Haiti's best and brightest lost in the ruins

AP

Friday, March 12, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- They kept the books, had the training and fixed the computers. They were the educated few of Haiti, an up-and-coming generation of nurses, technicians, office managers and college students.

Now they're gone -- just when their struggling country needs them most.

A worker of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council stands on the rubble of its building in Port-au-Prince, Wednesday. The January 12 earthquake struck just before 5:00 pm, destroying office buildings and disproportionately killing young professionals like Gaston Vilvens, a 29-year-old computer technician for the electoral council, which was organising the legislative elections scheduled for February. (Photo: AP) 1/1

The January 12 earthquake struck just before 5:00 pm, destroying office buildings and disproportionately killing the young professionals who were going the extra mile to make Haiti work. Many were crushed at their desks.

"It is a generation that decided not to leave the country. They chose to work for the country," said Dieusibon Pierre-Merite, a Haitian sociologist with a United Nations anti-gang programme that lost several staffers in the quake. "They are the ones who died."

Compounding the loss is a quickening brain drain, as people with the ability and means to leave abandon a ravaged country where more than 1.2 million people have lost their homes.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told The Associated Press he has watched with dismay as educated youths board planes to the United States and elsewhere. They leave because Haiti, always a difficult place to live, became impossible after the quake.

"I was looking at their faces: They were escaping a country and they had no intention to go back," Bellerive said. "I feel love for the people that have lost family... but I believe it's even harder for the country to see living people that could do so much to rebuild Haiti, leaving Haiti."

Haiti has gone through such losses of talent before, usually in times of political upheaval. Many fled or were killed under the father-and-son Duvalier dictatorships from 1957-86. People also escaped reprisals under the US-backed junta of General Raoul Cedras in the early 1990s, under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and in the violent chaos that followed Aristide's 2004 ouster.

But the losses this time are far more significant.

The destruction was so widespread and so instantaneous -- gutting the capital and its institutions at precisely the moment when help, guidance and new ideas were most needed -- that the absence will be felt for decades.

"It will impact our culture, the future of Haiti," said Pierre-Merite, who sent his wife and three daughters, age two, seven and 12, to Chicago days after the quake.

Nobody knows how many professionals died in the magnitude-7 quake. Nobody knows how many people died, period. The government estimates around 230,000, but has never revealed how it reached that figure. In a country where two-thirds of eligible workers did not have formal jobs before the quake, and few finish high school, the losses at universities and office buildings are stark.

Gaston Vilvens was a 29-year-old computer technician for Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, which was organising a legislative election scheduled for February. Hardworking and polite, he was a valued member of the team.

"If anything went wrong with a system, you called Gaston," said Gaillot Dorsanvil, president of the council.

By 4:50 pm on January 12, most of Vilvens' colleagues had left for the day, hurrying home through Port-au-Prince's notoriously tangled traffic about an hour before sunset. Like government ministers and other top officials in the city, most of the council's senior staff had gone home, too.

But Vilvens stayed on to fix the security chief's computer -- important for a council that faces constant threats from political opponents. About a dozen other colleagues were meeting down the hall, trying to figure out who would work at polling stations.

Their dedication cost them their lives.

At 4:53 pm, the earth heaved, the concrete building collapsed and Vilvens and the others were crushed where they sat.

"The people who really worked were the ones who stayed past 4 o'clock," said Vilvens' supervisor, Philippe Augustin.

The election was cancelled. Along with staff, the council lost offices, computers, vehicles and records. Most planned polling stations in the quake zone were damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of voters were killed, displaced or left without ID cards.

The council -- stripped of some of its most capable staffers -- is now struggling to arrange a presidential contest before President René Préval's term expires early next year.

Across town at the State University of Haiti, Pierre Vernet was teaching about 100 students in the Faculty of Applied Linguistics. A founder of the department and a member of France's National Centre of Scientific Research, his three decades of advocacy were in large part responsible for Haitian Creole's recognition as a full-fledged language.

His students came from all over Haiti, the best and brightest of their villages sent to the only city in the country with major universities. They were a rarity: Only half of Haitians ever see the inside of a classroom and only two per cent complete high school, according to UNICEF.

The professor and his students died together in a building reduced to concrete rubble.

The lists of those lost are long. They include judges who investigated basic violations of law in a country where street justice still rules; the Foreign Ministry's point man on relations with the neighbouring Dominican Republic; at least 10 agronomists working at the agricultural ministry to restore Haiti's farm sector.

Three of Haiti's leading women's rights advocates -- Magalie Marcelin, Myriam Merlet and Anne Marie Coriolan -- were killed.

Preparations for the next disaster will have to go on without Ginna Porcena, the dynamic director of the National Geospatial Institute, who was part of a group of scientists who wanted to establish seismology stations in Haiti.

The earthquake also killed many foreign aid workers and businesspeople who cared deeply about Haiti and would have been the first to pitch in after a disaster. The United Nations lost 101 staffers, including the mission's top two officials.


AP

Friday, March 12, 2010


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- They kept the books, had the training and fixed the computers. They were the educated few of Haiti, an up-and-coming generation of nurses, technicians, office managers and college students.

Now they're gone -- just when their struggling country needs them most.


A worker of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council stands on the rubble of its building in Port-au-Prince, Wednesday. The January 12 earthquake struck just before 5:00 pm, destroying office buildings and disproportionately killing young professionals like Gaston Vilvens, a 29-year-old computer technician for the electoral council, which was organising the legislative elections scheduled for February. (Photo: AP)
A worker of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council stands on the rubble of its building in Port-au-Prince, Wednesday. The January 12 earthquake struck just before 5:00 pm, destroying office buildings and disproportionately killing young professionals like Gaston Vilvens, a 29-year-old computer technician for the electoral council, which was organising the legislative elections scheduled for February. (Photo: AP) 1/1

The January 12 earthquake struck just before 5:00 pm, destroying office buildings and disproportionately killing the young professionals who were going the extra mile to make Haiti work. Many were crushed at their desks.

"It is a generation that decided not to leave the country. They chose to work for the country," said Dieusibon Pierre-Merite, a Haitian sociologist with a United Nations anti-gang programme that lost several staffers in the quake. "They are the ones who died."

Compounding the loss is a quickening brain drain, as people with the ability and means to leave abandon a ravaged country where more than 1.2 million people have lost their homes.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told The Associated Press he has watched with dismay as educated youths board planes to the United States and elsewhere. They leave because Haiti, always a difficult place to live, became impossible after the quake.

"I was looking at their faces: They were escaping a country and they had no intention to go back," Bellerive said. "I feel love for the people that have lost family... but I believe it's even harder for the country to see living people that could do so much to rebuild Haiti, leaving Haiti."

Haiti has gone through such losses of talent before, usually in times of political upheaval. Many fled or were killed under the father-and-son Duvalier dictatorships from 1957-86. People also escaped reprisals under the US-backed junta of General Raoul Cedras in the early 1990s, under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and in the violent chaos that followed Aristide's 2004 ouster.

But the losses this time are far more significant.

The destruction was so widespread and so instantaneous -- gutting the capital and its institutions at precisely the moment when help, guidance and new ideas were most needed -- that the absence will be felt for decades.

"It will impact our culture, the future of Haiti," said Pierre-Merite, who sent his wife and three daughters, age two, seven and 12, to Chicago days after the quake.

Nobody knows how many professionals died in the magnitude-7 quake. Nobody knows how many people died, period. The government estimates around 230,000, but has never revealed how it reached that figure. In a country where two-thirds of eligible workers did not have formal jobs before the quake, and few finish high school, the losses at universities and office buildings are stark.

Gaston Vilvens was a 29-year-old computer technician for Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, which was organising a legislative election scheduled for February. Hardworking and polite, he was a valued member of the team.

"If anything went wrong with a system, you called Gaston," said Gaillot Dorsanvil, president of the council.

By 4:50 pm on January 12, most of Vilvens' colleagues had left for the day, hurrying home through Port-au-Prince's notoriously tangled traffic about an hour before sunset. Like government ministers and other top officials in the city, most of the council's senior staff had gone home, too.

But Vilvens stayed on to fix the security chief's computer -- important for a council that faces constant threats from political opponents. About a dozen other colleagues were meeting down the hall, trying to figure out who would work at polling stations.

Their dedication cost them their lives.

At 4:53 pm, the earth heaved, the concrete building collapsed and Vilvens and the others were crushed where they sat.

"The people who really worked were the ones who stayed past 4 o'clock," said Vilvens' supervisor, Philippe Augustin.

The election was cancelled. Along with staff, the council lost offices, computers, vehicles and records. Most planned polling stations in the quake zone were damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of voters were killed, displaced or left without ID cards.

The council -- stripped of some of its most capable staffers -- is now struggling to arrange a presidential contest before President René Préval's term expires early next year.

Across town at the State University of Haiti, Pierre Vernet was teaching about 100 students in the Faculty of Applied Linguistics. A founder of the department and a member of France's National Centre of Scientific Research, his three decades of advocacy were in large part responsible for Haitian Creole's recognition as a full-fledged language.

His students came from all over Haiti, the best and brightest of their villages sent to the only city in the country with major universities. They were a rarity: Only half of Haitians ever see the inside of a classroom and only two per cent complete high school, according to UNICEF.

The professor and his students died together in a building reduced to concrete rubble.

The lists of those lost are long. They include judges who investigated basic violations of law in a country where street justice still rules; the Foreign Ministry's point man on relations with the neighbouring Dominican Republic; at least 10 agronomists working at the agricultural ministry to restore Haiti's farm sector.

Three of Haiti's leading women's rights advocates -- Magalie Marcelin, Myriam Merlet and Anne Marie Coriolan -- were killed.

Preparations for the next disaster will have to go on without Ginna Porcena, the dynamic director of the National Geospatial Institute, who was part of a group of scientists who wanted to establish seismology stations in Haiti.

The earthquake also killed many foreign aid workers and businesspeople who cared deeply about Haiti and would have been the first to pitch in after a disaster. The United Nations lost 101 staffers, including the mission's top two officials.
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