From: Greg Chamberlain <email@example.com>
Lost in the Ruins: Haiti’s Best and Brightest
By JONATHAN M. KATZ
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 10 (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.
The Jan. 12 earthquake struck just before 5 p.m., 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 program 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
”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 U.S.-backed
junta of Gen. 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 2, 7 and 12, to Chicago days after the
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 organizing 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 p.m. on Jan. 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 p.m., 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 canceled. 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 Rene Preval’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 Center 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 2
percent complete high school, according to UNICEF.
The professor and his students died together in a building reduced to concrete
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 neighboring Dominican Republic; at
least 10 agronomists working at the agricultural ministry to restore Haiti’s
A crowded nursing school collapsed in a country that hardly has medical care.
Three of Haiti’s leading women’s rights advocates — Magalie Marcelin, Myriam
Merlet and Anne Marie Coriolan — were killed. The women, all in their early
50s, had worked together for the 2005 passage of Haiti’s first law
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 — the single worst loss of life in its history.
Among those killed in the collapse of the U.N.’s Christopher Hotel headquarters
was Mamadou Bah, a French national born in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. He
was a mission spokesman who had started a book distribution program for
U.N.-run jails in Haiti.
Killed alongside were Haitian staffers.
Pierrena Perrin Annilus, 29, joined the mission three years ago as a
translator. Colleagues told the U.N. she rarely took vacations and threw
herself into training.
She had worked her way up to being an administrative assistant for the
2,000-member U.N. police force when she died. Her life had been a hopeful
vision, her colleagues said, for the future of Haiti.
The country will wait to see who can replace them. But the generation to come
has a steep hill to climb. Traumatized, homeless and underfed, many are living
on the streets with their families, their schools still closed two months after