Haitians need a vision for the future, speaker tells Youngstown audience

By Elise Mckeown Skolnick

YOUNGSTOWN — Before Haiti physically rebuilds, the country needs a vision of what it should be, a native Haitian says.

Dr. Leon D. Pamphile, founder and executive director of Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti, spoke to a group of 35 Saturday at St. Augustine Episcopal Church here.

He founded his Pittsburgh-based ministry in 1983. It provides the people of Laboule, Boutilliers, Kenscoff and Thomassin with educational opportunities and health care.

Saturday’s Hope for Haiti event was sponsored by the Greater Warren-Youngstown Urban League, the P. Ross Berry-George Washington Williams Historical Society and the church.

“Haiti is important due to the earthquake,” said Kenneth King, organizer of the event. “But there’s a special relationship between Haitians and African-Americans. So therefore I felt it was important that within the African-American community we organize something and address this situation with Haiti.”

Pamphile watched the devastation in Haiti on television with the rest of America, but wanted to see it for himself. When he was able to do so, he was shocked by what he saw.

“I was in disbelief of what had taken place,” he said.

Buildings are now piles of rubble, and people are living in small tents close together in unsanitary conditions.

“It’s just really hard to take,” Pamphile said.

Buildings and art that can’t be replaced have been reduced to rubble, too.

The Episcopal Church, built in the 1920s, and its vast collection of art, for example, were demolished.

“All that is gone,” Pamphile said. “It is unbelievable.”

Along with the destruction, though, Pamphile saw “the unquenchable hope of Haitians.”

Their hope to rebuild is strong, he said, but they need help.

During his presentation, he suggested rebuilding Haiti on the Louverturian dream.

Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, envisioned a society of equals with freedom for all and education for former slaves. Though he successfully led an 18th century Haitian Revolution before being his death in Paris, the island nation has long been plagued by poverty, natural disasters and other problems.

But Haiti isn’t without assets, Pamphile said, contending that its citizens have faith, resiliency, creativity and the international community.

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