PARIS — Canada’s former governor general sounded an optimistic note as she began her new job with the United Nations on Monday.
Michaëlle Jean was officially named special envoy to Haiti for the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
She expressed hope that Haiti wouldn’t be abandoned by the rest of the world, as attention spans shift elsewhere and memories of this year’s earthquake begin to fade.
Jean noted that when she spoke to foreign leaders, as governor general, she saw genuine interest in reconstruction.
“As governor general I was able to lead 40 missions abroad and several state visits. Haiti was always on the radar,” Jean told a news conference in Paris. “Haiti was always part of the bilateral conversations.”
She says she’s continued to receive positive signals in recent months, as she prepared to depart from Rideau Hall and move into her new position at UNESCO.
“The idea is to keep Haiti in all these leaders’ minds — and I’m very confident it will happen,” Jean said.
“As soon as my appointment was announced many countries came to me and said, ’We are really willing to support this endeavour.’. . .
“So I’m really confident. There’s no doubt that people will respond.”
The former journalist plans to use her four-year term to work on rebuilding the country’s shattered education system.
The key problem with aid to Haiti, she says, has been its cacophonous quality — with dollars for reconstruction “sprinkled” over myriad projects and international efforts poorly co-ordinated.
She has often described her homeland as “a vast laboratory for trial and error” in the development sector, a description she used again in Paris on Monday.
What’s needed now, she said, is better co-ordination of efforts.
Jean agreed that her Haitian roots will prove useful. So will the fact that she’s Canadian.
“The fact of being from Haiti is a plus. I speak the language, I know the country from the inside,” she said.
“At the same time, I have the necessary detachment.”
Her family left Haiti more than 40 years ago, escaping the country as refugees.
She has spoken about how, as a girl, she once entered a police station where her father was tortured and saw the walls smeared in blood.
A school principal, her father so bitterly detested the Duvalier dictatorship that he refused to let her join other children in swearing allegiance each day to the country’s leaders and insisted on having her home-schooled.
On Monday, the daughter fired a parting shot at the Duvalier regime.
“I know this moment will remain engraved in my memory because it marks an important step — not only in my career path, but in my life,” Jean said.
“I see this as a revenge against the barbarism that once forced my family, and thousands of others like us, to take the path of exile by treating us like pariahs and banishing our dreams from Haitian soil.”