North Georgia College & State University kicked off its second "Great Decisions" lecture series Tuesday night with a talk about "Rebuilding Haiti."
Held at the Sharon Forks branch of the Forsyth County Public Library, the discussion was led by Tamara Spike, an associate professor of history at the school.
Spike gave an overview of Haiti's history and events that led up to the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. At the time, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world.
"One of the reasons why this 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale of an earthquake was so destructive is because of the environment of Haiti," Spike said. "Haiti has suffered from profound deforestation and profound soil erosion."
She said the literacy rate in the population of nearly 10 million is below 60 percent. For the past couple of decades, Haiti's most talented people have been leaving the island.
"It is a profoundly poor nation," Spike said. "On the eve of the earthquake, more than 70 percent of the population was living on less than $2 a day."
Spike said just 38 percent of the $1.4 billion in private donations raised in aid since the earthquake has been spent. She said experts on charity think "throwing money at poverty too quickly encourages corruption."
"The government [in Haiti] had endemic corruption problems before, so perhaps that's right," Spike said. "The real problem here though is we talk about rebuilding Haiti, but honestly in a lot of places we are frankly just building Haiti."
Maude Severe, a Haitian national who left the country when she was a teenager, said she and her husband run an orphanage there. Severe takes food and clothing on her frequent visits.
"The poverty is really, really huge," Severe said. "I know Haiti used to have 150 orphanages, it's like 450 orphanages now."
She said some Haitian children are living in the streets with no one to take care of them. Pregnancy rates in girls ages 9 to 12 are growing.
Without America's help, she said, the situation in Haiti could worsen.
"Kids, they are the future. They come first. We've got to do something," Severe said.
The lecture series will continue at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22 with a lecture on national security at Sharon Forks.