Former Senate majority leader and Haitian prime minister speak at Belmont
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Former Senate majority leader and Haitian prime minister speak at Belmont

Two worlds collided in the Maddox Grand Atrium Tuesday when Bill Frist, former senate majority leader, and Laurent Lamothe, former prime minister of Haiti, led a discussion on the Caribbean nation’s reconstruction.

The event, called “Rebuilding Haiti,” was presented by the Nashville-based nonprofit Hope Through Healing Hands and hosted by Belmont.

“It gives me hope and joy in my heart that people really care,” said Lamothe. “The Haitian people are thankful.”

Circular tables peppered the atrium and seated a varied audience, from students to health care officials to distinguished guests, like a winner of the Miss West Indies pageant.

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But despite their eclectic backgrounds, all attended with a unified purpose—to learn more about an island nation which has seen more than its fair share of hard times. Specifically, the event detailed the magnitude 7.0 earthquake which decimated Haiti in January 2010, and the massive reconstruction effort which followed in its wake.

“My interest in Haiti started with the earthquake in January,” said Frist. “Haiti is our closest neighbor in so many regards.”

Frist, who represented Tennessee for 12 years in Congress, has been heavily involved with the restoration effort by helping create the bipartisan Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund and using his surgical experience through annual medical mission trips.

He and Lamothe engaged in a 45-minute conversation in which they related the broad outline of the reconstruction process. It started with a massive rubble removal effort, transitioned to aggressive homelessness relief, moved to educational reform, and now concerns tourism and economic growth.

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Lamothe expanded upon that outline by sharing specific statistics of the largely successful, $13 billion process. He oversaw it as prime minister from May 2012 to December 2014, the longest term in the nation’s history.

Over the course of five years, the number of homeless Haitians has plummeted from 1.5 million to 60,000. The percentage of children in primary school has increased from 55 to 90 and the extreme poverty rate has dived to 5 percent, merely an echo of the 31 it used to be.

But more than relating facts, Lamothe expressed his profound thankfulness for the support his country has received from the United States in general—40 percent of all households contributed to the effort—and Middle Tennessee in particular.

“Thank you for the commitment and love you’ve shown to my country,” he said. “Seldom have I been to places outside Haiti where I’ve felt so much respect.”

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