COLUMN: Memories of Port-au-Prince

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 | 2:43 p.m. CST; updated 10:00 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Editor's note: This column was updated at 11:32 a.m. Thursday.

In the hallway sits a hand-carved drum with a “pony skin” (more likely cattle) drum head. It was purchased in the market on the west side of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1970.

I have previously written about my personal experience in Haiti. I was one of 20 college students who traveled to Haiti to observe the elections. Though a portion of the experience was something I do not want to experience again, my general memories of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 80 percent of the people living in poverty, remains fond. So, I was pained to hear about Tuesday’s 7.0 earthquake affecting more than 3 million people.

Returning home from teaching at 10:30 p.m. and missing the early and late news, I settled into the television room with my before-bed snack and turned on “Nightline” to see a picture of the Presidential Palace flattened before the sound came up. Forty years ago, the palace was the focal point of both politics and tourist excitement for our group.

America has poverty but nothing like what I saw. Today, the poor in the U.S. have telephones, refrigerators, electricity and sanitary plumbing. The poorest have shelters and non-profits to provide clothing, food and temporary shelter.

In Port-au-Prince, I saw buildings with tin roofs and no mortar to hold the cinderblocks together. There were homes of no more than 500 square feet housing two or three families, with no plumbing or electricity. I saw the marketplaces where people were making a living selling the junk thrown away by the “rich.” I saw what a lack of structure, education and government policy could do, and still does to a nation. And these were the people who were better off.

I have experienced a few small earth tremors, but nothing more than a 3.5. The first is the equivalent of setting off a charge of 1,500 tons of TNT. Haiti’s 7.0 is 1,500 times larger. As a comparison, the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 were measured at greater than 8.0. In 2009, Missouri experienced about 40 quakes, but none over 1.9.

I am heartbroken at the thought of this poor nation suffering this devastation. I am heartbroken at the sight of these good people tormented by yet another blow to their fragile lives. Cash is more important for the relief efforts than sending clothing and food. CNN lists 23 charities that will be giving direct aid to the people of Haiti. Please choose one. I am giving what I can to the American Red Cross for the relief efforts. I ask that you do the same.

A correction: Last week’s column spoke to a number of bills our legislators will consider after they thaw out. One, HB 1473, would revise “the grade-point average requirements for renewal of Access Missouri Scholarships.”

I received an email on behalf of Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryland), the sponsor of HB 1473. He correctly noted that I erred, that the current law requires a 2.5 grade-point average for the renewal of the scholarship, not 2.75, and that the new standard of a 2.0 would be for renewing scholarships only.

Mr. Thomson wrote, “The intent with the change is to give freshman and sophomore students the opportunity to become acclimated to the academic demands placed on them in their first years of college.”

My argument remains: HB 1473, in effect, would lower the standards for state-sponsor scholarships for post-secondary education. It will remove the incentive for educational leadership and excellence.

It is college. It is suppose to be hard. Higher standards means smarter graduates and more industry wanting to come to Missouri, and more Missouri jobs. Shouldn’t that be the intent?

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.  Read his blog at  He welcomes your comments at

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