Sometimes the best way we can help a place and a people is by learning more about them.

The day after the Haiti earthquake, I was reading a post “How to Help in Haiti” on the AFAR blog. The post excerpted from a piece on another blog, titled Six Ways You Can Help in Haiti.”

Number 6? “Learn more about Haiti.”

The advice seemed like a no-brainer, but what did most of us really know about Haiti on January 12?

If you were like me–needing to learn more about Haiti– here are three ways to get started:

1. Read everything you can by Edwidge Danticat.

Though she left Haiti to emigrate to the United States when she was 12, Edwidge Danticat has never been far from her home country. Haiti has been as much a presence in her books as it has in her entire body of work, which includes documentary film work with Jonathan Demme.

Danticat lost family members in the January 12 quake, including her cousin Maxo, about whom she wrote in this powerful essay in The New Yorker.

Start with the essay, then take the time to listen to Danticat speak in this interview with NPR, conducted the day after the quake. Finally, get a better feel for Danticat and for Haiti in this video:

2. Let Dr. Paul Farmer school you on Haitian history and public health.

In a video I watched of Dr. Farmer giving a lecture, the host took a full 3.5 minutes to introduce the physician, anthropologist, and founder of Partners in Health, an organization that’s been working in Haiti for over 20 years.

And with good reason.

The man who says that “Haiti has been my greatest teacher” has so much to teach the rest of us about the country where few travelers venture.

Farmer is both the subject
and author of several books, including Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor and On That Day, Everybody Ate: One Woman’s Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti.

If you don’t have time to read any of his work, you can catch one of his lectures for free on iTunes. One excellent, relevant lecture, given in October 2009, is “Paul Farmer on Development: Creating a Just and Sustainable Future.” Farmer makes Haitian history accessible, and explains many of the existing public health challenges and best practices for responding to them.

3. Learn the language.

When you do travel to Haiti, your best opportunity for learning about the country and its culture will be by talking to its people. Be prepared for conversation by taking advantage of Pimsleur’s Haitian Kreyol language course, which is currently available for FREE, thanks to the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

According to Pimsleur, the course is a “stand-alone 10-lesson (5 hours) program, [that] teaches beginning language strategies for essential communication and traveling needs, plus an introduction to reading.”

I’ve just downloaded the course… if you do the same, let me know and we’ll practice!

Community Connection:

What other resources do you recommend for learning about Haiti? Share them in the comments.