January 10, 2011

EXTREME MAKOVER: HAITI EDITION




It's been a year now that Haiti had been shaken to its core by a devastating earthquake and everything that followed. And the world responded. People everywhere, they donated - just as they always do when they are atrocious and abhorrent images that circumvent the brain breakers that makes us walk through our daily lives and focus on our own stories.

It's been a year, and the media moved on, like a traveling circus, they went to the Gulf Oil Spill, they went to the Chinese earthquake, what, there is a flooding in Australia? What is the imagery? Is it good? Hey, we can fill at least three minutes of airtime with that kind of footage!

See, this is what we have become, this is what the media by and large has become, always looking for the enxt game, the next score, the next fix, three-year olds on a permanent sugar rush, boring, next, boooooring, next, did I mention that I am bored? How is Sandra Bullock doing these days? She fucking Ryan Reynolds?

In the meantime, Haiti is suffering worse than in the days immediately after the earthquake, as these Before and After photos, published by Der Spiegel show. And yes, a picture often is worth more than a thousand words, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't write those thousand words. If anything, it should mean that these photographic comparisons should have never been allowed to be possible.

But we stopped. We stopped caring. Next! Do you still remember how much money was supposed to have gone to Haiti? No? Me neither, although there are some lists here and there that tell you how much of the money was supposedly spent. Now, I don't know about you, class, but me? I wonder where exactly that money went, because, like I said, sometimes a picture or two is worth a thousand words.

But apparently not a couple of billion dollars. And my country Germany is just as much to blame as everybody else, because like all politicians do, in the wake of the media flood of imagery, the go in front of the camera, look very sad and tell the rest of the world that "we will do whatever it takes to help", fully known that once the media circus has left the town, they are not forced to do anything.

And while I have my issues (a lot of them) with Sean Penn, that guy actually is on the ground there in Haiti, he according to this report by German magazine Der Stern is personally responsible for a camp of nearly 55,000 homeless in Haiti, and he has some rather harsh words to say to both governments and those "professional charities" in this interview.
Neben den USA zähle auch Deutschland zu den Ländern, deren versprochene Wiederaufbauhilfe ausbleibe. "Ist das nicht unfassbar?", empörte sich Penn im Gespräch mit dem Magazin. Die Korruption in Haiti dürfe kein Hinderungsgrund sein, dringend benötigte Gelder auszuzahlen. "Ist es uns denn keine fünf Millionen wert", die vielleicht in falsche Hände geraten, "wenn wir mit dem Großteil des Geldes Kläranlagen und Wasserleitungen bauen und Kinder vor der Cholera bewahren?"

Auch Hilfsorganisationen greift der Hollywoodstar scharf an. Statt Jobs für die Einheimischen zu schaffen und Häuser zu bauen, würden viele Helfer lieber weiterhin Essen verteilen. Ein Jahr nach dem Beben sähen "die meisten Camps immer noch fast so aus wie damals. Sie sind zum Symbol des Scheiterns der Aufbauhilfe geworden", sagte Penn im stern-Interview. Einigen Leuten gehe es darum, den Gutmenschen zu spielen und ihr Helfersyndrom auszuleben. Es sei aber "die verdammte Aufgabe der Organisationen, den Einheimischen Jobs zu verschaffen. Und nicht den vielen Freiwilligen, die sich gut fühlen wollen, indem sie hier helfen". 
Let me briefly translate the second part here.
The Hollywood celebrity criticises charities harshly. Instead of creating jobs for the Haiti people and building new houses, most helpers would rather continue to hand out food. One year after the quake "most camps are still looking exactly like they did. They are a symbol of our failure to re-build a nation." Some people are just interested in playing "good samaritans" and live out thier own helper's syndrom. However, Penn says, "it is the damn job of charities and organisations to bring jobs to the natives. And not to give themselves a good feeling by apparently helping out here."
Now, this is a guy who went down to New Orleans with his own boat and went to Iraq to try and talk sense into Saddam, so one might forgive everyone for thinking that Penn is (a) nutters and (b) has shown the exact same signs of the "helper's syndrom" in the past. But he is still there, and most people aren't. He speaks out against charities that are infinitely more powerful than he is, and he still does so.

That deserves some respect, whether you like the guy personally or not.

And then there are those photographs. And the lists of all that money supposedly spent.

And you wonder if what he says is true.