Chattanooga: Haiti needs worldwide effort, ambassador says

Chattanooga: Haiti needs worldwide effort, ambassador says

April 25th, 2009 by Perla Trevizo in News

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Ambassador Raymond Joseph, right, talks with Carol Mutter, left, and Martha Sternbergh, center at a benefit for the Chattanooga-based Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti at the Bessie Smith Hall on Friday evening. Ambassador Joseph was the keynote speaker for the event.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Ambassador Raymond Joseph, right,...

One is the richest nation in the Western Hemisphere; the other is the poorest.

But the United States and Haiti share a bond, says the Haitian ambassador to the United States - they were the first two independent countries in the hemisphere.

"And I think the international community is finally recognizing that Haiti cannot be kept the way it is, the poorest country near the wealthiest nation in the Americas," said Ambassador Raymond Joseph, speaking Friday in Chattanooga.

Haiti is considered to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, where 80 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day and 50 percent on less than $1.

The international community must join with the new Haitian leadership to help the Caribbean country raise from poverty, Mr. Joseph said, speaking to a group of about 200 people during the annual benefit for the Chattanooga-based Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti, held in the Bessie Smith Hall.

"Today (we) have a new leadership. I want the international community to work with the new leadership to help change 200 years of forgetfulness and injustice," Mr. Joseph said.

He said he came to Chattanooga to encourage the Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti and discuss ways the Haitian government can be more helpful.

"This organization is doing great work in my country," Mr. Joseph said in an earlier interview. "They help in places where the government is really absent, and that's a big problem for the country. In the fields of health and education the government is trying to do better, but these (organizations) fill a great void."

The Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti is a faith-based charity that has worked in Haiti since 1998 to prevent and treat malnutrition among children under 5. Among other things, it helps mothers keep their children healthy through community-based health and nutrition education.

Eight out of 10 children who participate in its programs recover from malnutrition, according to the organization.

"Seeing those kids doing better, seeing the parents feel the pride of being able to get their kids healthy and keep them healthy with local food is what keeps us going," said Ashley Aakesson, executive director of the program, which has a budget of about $400,000 a year.

"But the other thing is that we know there's still a lot of needs we are not meeting, and those kids who we don't find die," she added.

Thirty percent of children in Haiti are malnourished, and 1 in 12 children die before their fifth birthday, she said.