By: Tobin Bennison
Article Category: 20 Questions 2 Comments
TWENTY QUESTIONS with Lamothe Lormier, President of The Global Family, Inc. Any current discussion of Haiti is bound to include mention of the recent earthquake and its impact on the nation’s long-beleaguered history. But in interviewing Haitian-born Satellite Beach resident Lamothe Lormier, president of the Global Family, Inc., a non-profit whose aim is to construct an eye clinic in the Haitian countryside, we feared talk of the tragedy would overshadow his organization’s goals. What we soon learned, though, was that recent events only served to put the organization’s objectives in clearer perspective, imbuing them with deeper shades of resonance — and urgency. It’s no secret that Haiti’s history has been fraught with misfortune and sorrow, but for Lormier — who possesses an exhaustive understanding of both his country and the world that has helped shape it — Haiti is much less a fated tragedy than a potential success story punctuated with missed opportunities. In this disaster, Lormier sees only the possibility for real change as opposed to the band-aids Haiti has so long been given, a trend he’s striven to reverse all his adult life. Armed with an optimism that is as infectious as it is confounding (at least to our comparatively sheltered American minds), Lormier redefined our perceptions of civilization and contentment, and reminded us that in every tragedy hides the chance for redemption, recovery, and ultimately, triumph. Describe The Global Family for our readers. Working with medical teams all over Haiti for 20 years as a medical interpreter and consultant I was able to see firsthand the desperate need for health care, eye care in particular. There are 50 ophthalmologists and eye doctors for the entire country and 70% of the population can’t get access to them. Most of these doctors are in Port Au Prince. In general, we have 1 doctor for every 8,000 people. People who live in the countryside aren’t able to get any help at all. It’s been a long process, but focusing on eye care is what I wanted to do — to set up an eye clinic in an area where it would be of use to the people. So far, we’ve done a topographical survey and have purchased 12 acres of land in a place called Thiotte, southeast of Port Au Prince. We have worked with local people to build an access road to the site and are now concentrating on raising money for construction. There is still much to be done. I first had the idea was to build one six years ago, and it’s just two years ago that I started the organization as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit. Why did you choose to focus on eye care specifically? In my work, there were many people who came to us with eye problems of all kinds, but most of the time they were simply turned away. This always puzzled me. I saw this happen everywhere we went. One time, much later in my work, I was with a medical team who was equipped to do eye surgery and I was struck by the joy I saw in these people’s faces after their treatment. It was a joy I had never witnessed before. Some simply had cataracts. Before their surgery they were resigned to being blind. But seeing that joy — for me it was like a miracle. Experiences like those triggered my attention to eye care. Eyes are not the priority in Haiti, food is. What is the next step for The Global Family? We want to do things the right way, which means that we need an architect, civil engineers, and there are lab tests that need to be conducted to test the soil. Because of its lack of infrastructure, Haiti is very vulnerable and very fragile. The same hurricane that might go through the area will kill 5 people in Puerto Rico, 10 in the Dominican Republic, 5 people in Cuba, maybe 2 or 1 in the U.S., but perhaps 1,000 in Haiti. We must do it the right way, which mean that proper codes must be obeyed, and that costs money. There are seven phases in all for the clinic and we must go phase by phase. We need a surgery room, then perhaps a general treatment area, then a pharmacy. Currently, our greatest need is funding. There are many difficult phases ahead. You live in Satellite Beach now. How did you come to be here? I have worked with many organizations, but 10 years ago, I was working in a program called PTPA (the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, a non-profit organization focused on creating lasting sister relationships between parishes in the U.S. and Canada and parishes in Haiti and elsewhere) in Haiti as a translator for a medical team. My wife Kim was then working as a pharmacist and missionary from Wisconsin on a team I was working with. We were spending a lot of money on phone calls and going back and forth for a long time and then decided to get married. We wanted to be somewhat close to Haiti, so we decided that our compromise spot would be this area. I’ve lived here now for six years. Kim and I have a daughter, Luci (4) and a son, Luca (2). Where were you when the earthquake struck? I was here. For the first three days I tried to make phone calls and couldn’t get through. You have nightmares about what may have happened to your loved ones. Eventually I was able to get through and found siblings, but I lost many close friends. I went back to Haiti most recently with a medical team on February 27 and stayed for eight days. I find that sometimes when you experience great emotion your reactions can be mute, silent. I was under a big shock for the entire time I was there. I don’t think I was prepared enough for what I saw. You think you can get used to such things, in a way, especially in adulthood, but it is still a big shock. Haiti was a bad state before, but I still can’t put the devastation into words. I was speechless for a long time. It seems people in the rest of the world reacted to the disaster not so much with shock as with a feeling of weary frustration. The big questions being asked right now focus on what needs to change in Haiti. What do you think needs to change to mitigate the human toll of tragedies like this in the future? It’s a difficult question. For over 200 years, Haiti has been suffering in one way or another. We have had chronic instabilities for so many years. Because I have been exposed to American and “western” culture I was able to see and understand how people lived in other parts of the world — their education, social programs, health care — and to go to Haiti once every two months as I’ve done since living here and to witness that contrast is something incredible. I have always hoped to see changes in Haiti — big changes. It’s painful to think that it will take an earthquake to bring change, but Haiti’s history figures into the current chaos, and I think we need to understand that before we move further. Haiti was the first black country to be independent in the western hemisphere. This is a country that has had 33 coups d’etat and 23 constitutions since it gained independence. This is a country that has had four U.S. interventions and three from the U.N. This is a country that is 98% deforested. Facts like these help put things in perspective. Everyone has been trying to help, but not, I think, in the right way. When you look at Japan and the Meiji Restoration era that began in the 19th century, you begin to see some different approaches, if not answers. Japan made an active choice to leave stagnation behind and opened themselves up to western ideas and civilization. And look at them now. Look at the Four Dragons of Asia — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Almost 80 years ago, they were like Haiti. Right now, of course, people need food. They need emergency relief. But if you want to see a more advanced Haiti in 50 or 100 years, you must help Haiti as a whole, not just Port Au Prince. Educate the people and you will begin to see some change. You may not see a result in the short term. This recent chaos has opened a Pandora’s box of problems, hopefully so the world can see them as they are. The reason why the devastation is so great is that 80% of Haiti’s infrastructure was centered in “the Republic of Port Au Prince,” and not spread throughout the Republic of Haiti as a whole. Port Au Prince is home to all the universities, hospitals, administration — everything is centered in Port Au Prince. The countryside of Haiti, however, is another country. And the people who live in the countryside are essentially living in a big jail, so to speak. They are living without access to education, health care, and other important services. Hopefully, the world will see that. But simply throwing money at Haiti isn’t going to solve everything. Why, in your opinion, has it been so difficult to set change in motion? There are many outside factors that contribute to why Haiti is the way it is today. We defeated Napoleon’s army in 1804 and threw out the French to gain our independence. This was a big insult not only to France, but to western civilization as a whole. The French and other countries decided to punish Haiti by isolating and marginalizing her. Haiti had to pay a debt back to France from 1825-1946. It was $98 million at the time — it’s hard to put a number on what that translates into today. The Haitian people had to compensate their old masters, with a debt of independence. So that has had a huge effect. Apart from that, you have to understand that there are essentially two Haitis — you have some elite who speak French and practice Catholicism in Port Au Prince, and in the countryside, people who speak Creole and practice voodoo. There is a quote from Nietzsche that says that when you fight against a monster, you must be careful not to become a monster yourself. We fought so hard against French oppression and now we are just using those same tactics they used against our own people. People live like slaves in the shantytowns in the country, but you have a small group of people with all the wealth in Port Au Prince. They have the power over the brakes and the accelerator, and they’re using them the wrong way at the wrong times. It is a tool for oppression that education is given to a small group of people. When that happens, you have the educated saying “I deserve the wealth, or I deserve this or that,” while the others live like slaves. It is interesting to remember that when Pope John Paul II came to Haiti in 1983 he said: “Something has to change here — Il faut que quelquechose change ici.” Eight days later, the Haitian government changed the time zone. There are a lot of long-held myths about Haiti that are still floating about in the rest of the world. Surely those must be conquered before any real change can begin. What are some you’d like to shatter? Any time people here see Haiti I think that they always see it in a negative light — coups, riots, earthquakes, HIV, voodoo. What they might not understand is that there is also another Haiti. I can drive 8 hours outside of the city and there might be 100,000 people living in the countryside. But I won’t see a policeman the entire time. And there is no fighting, no sign of unrest. Almost zero crime. This is another civilization the world should see. Some might look around at the poverty and call it primitive, but I call it civilization. This is a different Haiti the world should know. I see it every time I’m in the countryside. When I see the people smiling the way they do with what little they have, it’s not fake, it’s real. Haiti will never be the same. But there are two things that can sometimes happen when you experience a trauma like that. The country can be like a phoenix and rise from the ashes with new ideas for change, or people can go back down. My hope is that they will rise. This is an opportunity for Haiti to come up with new paradigms. We feel sad, but we move on. It happened. It’s life. No matter how much we cry, tears will never bring our loved ones back to life. To honor their deaths, we must give every Haitian child the opportunity for an education. I’m sure that if we try to look at Haiti 100 years from now change may not seem possible. But nothing ever happens just through miracles. We cannot change what has happened, but we can change the present for a better future. The Global Family, Inc. is a government-recognized 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization in the state of Florida dedicated to improve the quality of life of the Haitian people. The organization hopes to empower the underprivileged in the rural areas in Haiti by improving their lives through health care services in connection with medical missions. They hope to accomplish this mission through the construction of an eye clinic that will provide eye care services, minor surgeries, and community health care. To learn more and to donate, visit http://theglobalfamilyinc.org/, or send your tax deductible donations, in either check or money order form, made payable to Global Family, Inc. to: Global Family, Inc.; 870 Miramar AVE N (A1A), #1219; Indialantic, FL 32903. You can also donate online with your credit card. For more information, phone (321) 773-8306.