Hope Ahead in Haiti

Forum panel examines battered island as it continues to recover from quake

February 28, 2013
by Corydon Ireland, Harvard Gazette

At dusk on Tuesday (Feb. 26), an hour before a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) panel on life in Haiti since its devastating 2010 earthquake, a long line of audience hopefuls stretched down JFK Street. It was the kind of queue you might see at a movie premiere.

And there was a movie star at the Institute of Politics (IOP), where the guests are usually pundits, politicians, and policymakers.

Activist actor and sometime director Sean Penn was among three panelists for “Haiti: Progress and Challenges Three Years Later.” His nonprofit J/P Haitian Relief Organization coordinates local, rapid, and sustainable aid, including medical, engineering, and camp-relocation services.

Three years ago, a 7.0-magnitude quake struck Haiti and was followed by a popping string of 52 aftershocks. The quake affected 3 million people, a third of Haiti’s population. At least 300,000 were killed, an equal number injured, and a million displaced.

With Penn on stage at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum were Michèle Pierre-Louis, a former Haitian prime minister (2008-2009) and an IOP fellow in 2010, and Army Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen. In the aftermath of the quake, he was commander of Joint Task Force Haiti — Operation Unified Response.

Moderating the panel was Mary Jo Bane, the Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at HKS.

Divergent as their roles were in post-earthquake Haiti, the panelists delivered at least one common message: Hell may be behind for Haiti, and hope may be ahead, but true recovery will take a very long time — “generations,” suggested Keen. Penn was more optimistic. “It’s coming in 15 years,” he told the capacity crowd. “I’ll see you there.”

“There is reason for hope,” offered a cautious Pierre-Louis, who praised the resilience and dignity of the Haitian people, “but there is still much to be done.” The relief phase took a year, she said. Recovery is ongoing, and reconstruction has begun.

Read more on the Harvard Gazette website.

Photograph of panel discussion

Forum panel, from L to R: Professor Mary Jo Bane; former Haitian prime minister Michèle Pierre-Louis; actor Sean Penn
Photo credit: Katherine Taylor, Harvard Gazette

“There is reason for hope,” offered a cautious Pierre-Louis, who praised the resilience and dignity of the Haitian people, “but there is still much to be done.”


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