Helping in Haiti
For the first two days, he immersed himself in his work at the State Department – a Haitian-American doing whatever he could to assist with the U.S. response to January’s devastating earthquake in Haiti. By the third day, it was too much for Jean Pierre-Louis. “I cried like I do not believe I have ever before. I cried like I hope to never have to again. I cried at the top of my lungs,” he wrote in a Facebook posting to friends whose thoughts were with him.
As a Foreign Service Officer, Pierre-Louis’ (MSFS ’02) work had focused on northeast Asia. But he asked to be reassigned to Haiti operations following the magnitude 7.0 temblor that killed 230,000 people. Pierre-Louis has spent much of his time in Haiti since. In fact, he is now on secondment to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, an assignment he expects to last one year. “I am Haitian by birth. I’m an American now, but on January 12, at 4:50 p.m., the quake shook me in a very severe way. I felt I needed to find the inner Haitian and contribute to the recovery,” Pierre-Louis says.
Pierre-Louis’ mother, cousin and aunt had returned to the U.S. days before the quake, but like virtually everyone connected to Haiti, he lost numerous loved ones. He took heart in the charitable response of the world, particularly the United States. “The outpouring was amazing. About 50 percent of Americans found something to donate,” he notes.
By May, Pierre-Louis’ responsibilities had come to include assessing investment opportunities being considered by the fund. The goal is to support sustainable businesses that can create jobs. From a professional point of view, he says the learning opportunities are many and the challenge is immense: “We have to build capacity in a government that lost 25 percent of its civil servants.” Infrastructure from ministry headquarters and vehicles to computers and phone lines must be replaced.
A reserve member of the Civilian Response Corps of the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), Pierre-Louis credits MSFS with preparing him for the work that he is doing. “It’s an institution that I value and a program that I love. I’ve had a tremendous number of experiences in life, and I count my time at Georgetown as building the foundation.”