Devastation in Haiti: A Learning Opportunity

The devastating earthquake in Haiti has commanded the world’s attention over the last several days and presents an incredible learning opportunity for us all.  While emergency relief operations are underway, nations from around the globe have united in rescue efforts to help the impoverished Haitian population.  The interaction between individual nations with international organizations like the United Nations shows both the complexities and incredible potential for global cooperation during times of crisis.

As aid workers race to distribute water, food, and medical supplies to millions of Haitians, relief operations must be coordinated at an international level.  The UN News Service sheds light on the different players involved and why organized cooperation is essential.  The chaos and confusion of these cooperation efforts are highlighted in an article from the Guardian that highlights the challenge for the United States of walking a fine line between providing emergency relief and occupying a sovereign nation with a tangled historical relationship to the US.

In light of this ongoing tragedy and to provide context for these stories about relief efforts and the disturbing images presented by the news media, we must use this event as an opportunity to teach about Haiti as well as about international development and aid.  Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and has suffered long before the earthquake took place.  Some resources to teach about the historical and political context of this tragedy include Teaching about Haiti and Teachable Moment.  Learn about the political history and culture of Haiti, or focus on what has been done in recent history to curb rising poverty in Haiti, looking at the work of the UN, World Bank, and a wide variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  Compare recent disasters like the 2004 Tsunami and Rwandan Genocide (natural and man-made) and focus on how development in these regions changed as a result.

For some aid distribution data on Haiti visit this Devex site.  To learn more background on global poverty and international development, read the October 2008 edition of the World Savvy Monitor.

For further reading, check out Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World and Laurent Dubois’ Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution.

Recommended Articles:

Advanced Article: New York Times: Obstacles to Recovery in Haiti May Prove Daunting Beyond Other Disasters

Advanced Article: The Guardian: Analysis of Haitian Aid Effort

Intermediate Article: Washington Post: Aid Workers Try to Ramp Up Haiti Relief Effort

Beginner Article: PBS Newshour: A Week after Quake, Haitians Still Looking for Aid


CNN Earthquake Coverage

NPR: Haiti Journal

New York Times

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe what happened in Haiti on January 12, 2010.  What impact has this had on the island nation?
  2. Why are some reasons why this earthquake was more devastating than some other 7.0 earthquakes that have hit other cities around the world?
  3. Who are the major organizations involved in the emergency operations in Haiti?  What does the United Nations’ World Food Program do?
  4. Learn more about the recent history of Haiti, its connection to the United States, the slave trade, and its history of revolution and political upheaval.  How have these historical events had an impact on the current devastation in Haiti?
  5. What can American citizens and the international community do to help in Haiti?  How many resources do you think the US government and other countries should put towards helping Haiti?


1. Teaching about Haiti: Teaching for Change

2. Teachable Moment:

3. New York Times Learning Network: NY Times Haiti resources

4. Articles and lessons for ELL classes: Breaking News English

5. World Savvy Monitor – Classroom Companion for “Global Poverty and International Development

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