Haiti's diaspora looks for guidance

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JEB SHARP: Haiti isn't exactly at the top of the US foreign policy agenda. Though former president Bill Clinton has been named as the UN's special envoy to Haiti. Mr. Clinton's planning to travel to the impoverished Caribbean nation in October to try to boost investment there. But the flow of Haitians continues to go in the opposite direction. It's estimated that roughly a quarter of the Haitian population lives outside of Haiti. Now there's an effort under way to unify and strengthen Haiti's Diaspora, to try to help Haitians back home. And as Amy Bracken reports, it's getting advice from an unlikely place, the American Jewish community.

AMY BRACKEN: Eliott Kriegsman first developed an interest in Haiti as a nine-year-old boy growing up in Long Island when his parents hired a Haitian housekeeper.

ELIOTT KRIEGSMAN: She was the first non-American that I ever met who wasn't from Eastern Europe, {LAUGHS] I guess, you know? And she was just fascinating, and I just promised myself that as soon as I became old enough to travel on my own, I was going to go to Haiti, and Haiti was the first trip I ever took outside the United States.

AMY BRACKEN: But it wasn't until many years later, as a middle-aged journalism student at NYU, that he would find himself recruited to be a friend of the Haitian Diaspora. It happened when he went to interview a Haitian judge for a class project.

ELIOTT KRIEGSMAN: And then she said, �I want you to meet somebody who's the head of the Haitian league.� And she called him up and she was saying, "I think he's the kind of guy that we're looking for." And I went down, drove down to his place, went into his back office, and about ten seconds later he said, �You're Jewish, aren't you?�

AMY BRACKEN: He was Dr. Bernier Lauredan, a New Jersey-based pediatrician and the president of a Haitian-American association called the Haitian League.

ELIOTT KRIEGSMAN: He said �Well, I've long been connected with the Jewish community, and I think that there is a major bridge that the two heritages have.� And I said, �Well, I think there's a big difference between the way Haitians have failed to consolidate their power in this country, and their money, and the way that the Jews have.� And he said, �Yes, and that's exactly what we want to learn. How to do that.�

AMY BRACKEN: Recently, the Haitian League organized the second annual Haitian Unity Diaspora Congress in Miami. The conference drew more than 300 professionals from the US, Haiti and elsewhere, including Haitian Prime Minister Michel Pierre-Louis and, briefly, Bill Clinton, the new UN special envoy to Haiti. Haitians abroad send home about two billion dollars a year. Much of that money goes for basic goods like food. A persistent question among the Diaspora is how to join forces to invest in Haiti's future. At last weekend's conference, Kriegsman gave a presentation on the benefits of the kibbutz.

ELIOTT KRIEGSMAN: In reality the kibbutz model is no stranger to Haitians.

AMY BRACKEN: Comparing the Israeli kibbutz to a Haitian farming collective called the Kombit. Kriegsman suggested that Haiti can develop from within and shed its dependence on outside help. Also, he suggested that young Haitian Americans travel to Haiti to spend time working on the Kombit, the way Jewish youths work on the kibbutz, to strengthen the next generation's ties to the homeland. After studying aquaculture at Auburn University in Alabama, Wilson Celestin moved back to Haiti to teach and develop an irrigation and fish-farming project. His children, though, are in school in Miami.

WILSON CELESTIN: The problem is especially with the children, that, you know, mostly educated here. We had an intervention from the Jewish community here, that shared with us how they happened to get their children involved in the Jewish tradition. And I think as an advice that the kind of things we'll have to do here, do whatever it is possible to get them involved into the Haitian culture by learning the language, give them the opportunity, for example, to go as often as possible to Haiti, and I think this is something that can be worked out.

AMY BRACKEN: One person responsible for the Haitian and Jewish communities' friendship in Florida is Henryka Manes. She's a member of the Greater Miami Jewish Foundation and also directs a non-profit development program in a Haitian town.

HENRYKA MANES: When we pray in Judaism, what we do is we talk about our history. That's the prayer, this and this happened then, and this, it's passed from generation to generation. It's the same thing that Haitians have to do. They have to have a narrative, a narrative that is both truthful, and at the same time visionary. That is what they will pass on to the next generation in the Diaspora, and keep the flame of Haiti alive.

AMY BRACKEN: For The World, I'm Amy Bracken