Prize-winning author Ben Fountain is a former associate with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Dallas who has made numerous trips to Haiti. He finished an unpublished novel about the Caribbean nation in 1996 and has published two works of fiction, “Brief Encounters with Che Guevara” (2006) and “The Texas Itch” (2009). He first visited Haiti in 1991 and traveled there twice a year for many years, visiting friends he made and exploring remote parts of the country. With the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, reporter Miriam Rozen e-mailed Fountain some questions regarding his thoughts and how best to help. His answers are below, edited for length and style.
Tex Parte: You have traveled to Haiti some 30 times, but when was the last time you visited Haiti?
Ben Fountain: May of 2009.
TP: When was the last time you spoke to someone there?
Fountain: Sometime in late November, early December. But I’ve had regular e-mail correspondence until Wednesday.
TP: Have you spoken to someone since the earthquake?
Fountain: I can’t get a call through to anyone in Haiti, and e-mails and texts go unanswered. I’m in touch with people outside of Haiti who are getting information via Twitter, Facebook and the like.
TP: From what you know about the country, will a recovery from this disaster be harder than Americans might imagine?
Fountain: Well, I can’t speak to the expectations of Americans, except for myself. I expect that recovery will be long, difficult, expensive and complex. It may well be that the country never recovers in this generation. On the other hand, I think there’s a possibility, however hard it may be to focus on at this point, that the earthquake provides the impetus for a sustained, concerted and well-planned effort by the international community to help Haiti overcome its problems. In any event, Haiti certainly won’t be the same country that it was on Jan. 10.
TP: Please detail as much as possible what might be hardest for the country to overcome with this tragedy.
Fountain: Frankly, I think the individual grief and loss will be the hardest thing to deal with. Not that you ever “overcome” losing loved ones, but hopefully you reach a point where the loss no longer actively hurts, even though it will always continue to be a source of sadness and grief. But in this case the losses were so sudden, so violent and widespread and often in the presence of other family members that I expect the psychological and emotional scars will be with this generation of Haitians for as long as they live.
TP: For lawyers in Texas, is there anything you would recommend they do to help the people of Haiti now?
Fountain: Absolutely. Lawyers tend to have more money than most people. Give some. Several worthwhile places to consider are: Catholic Relief Services. They have a special page set up for Haiti. Also, Save the Children. And then there’s St. Joseph’s Home for Boys. All three of these groups do great work.
TP: Anything you recommend they might be tempted to do — work with certain charitable organizations, for instance — that you would advise against?
Fountain: If someone is looking for a more personal commitment, then I would suggest contacting the St. Joseph’s home — those are great kids, and the adults there are truly committed and outstanding in every way. Lots of churches send aid missions to Haiti on a regular basis, so check that out. There is plenty of work even for unskilled (i.e., manually challenged lawyers) workers in Haiti. As for opportunities that would be particularly suited for legal skills, the Haitian judiciary system is in the process of reform and renewal. I’m sure the U.N. is involved in that effort, and if a U.S. lawyer was willing to dive in and help for an extended length of time, I’m sure they’d be delighted to talk to you.
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