Positive Impact Magazine Q&A with Patricia Arquette
Giving Love and Support to Haiti
It’s hard not to fall in love with Patricia Arquette. Not only is she a fifth-generation actor from an amazing family of performers, but also she is part of a family of kind-hearted activists. Her acting range is phenomenal—from funny to downright frightening. After her start in 1986 in Pretty Smart and the following year in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, she continued in more award-winning film roles in Wildflower, True Romance, The Hi-Low Country, and Stigmata. She also earned an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in her role as a woman with psychic powers on television’s Medium.
Arquette exudes genuine kindness and sincere caring. An active humanitarian throughout her life, Arquette is now focusing her energy and attention on providing help to survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti with her program GiveLove, founded with Rosetta Millington-Getty.
According to the GiveLove website,
“Patricia and Rosetta…saw the opportunity to address the urgent need for low-cost transitional shelters and basic sanitation to reduce child mortality and serious infectious disease. The founders formed a team of technical advisors and skilled volunteers to test simple designs for shipping container homes, and to pilot eco-toilets and environmentally sustainable sanitation systems.”
In an interview for Positive Impact Magazine, Arquette answered a few questions about her work in Haiti.
PIM: Why did you pick Haiti?
Arquette: A friend of mine came back from Haiti—she was a first responder nurse. She’s been all around the world, and she was really rattled by what she saw. I had an idea about “shipping container” homes. I also started to do some research about sanitation systems and found out that 80% of Haiti before the earthquake didn’t have municipal sanitation, and now it’s more than 90%. With a high incidences of hepatitis, cholera, AIDS, and multiple sexually transmitted diseases, we started to look at sanitation as an important aspect of a community. The need for it has been really been overwhelming.
We’re working with partners to build a school/orphanage and finish some dormitory classrooms. After that, we’ll probably do resource centers. We’re also building a lot of school sanitation systems, and we’re in talks about possibly doing a large-scale apartment complex.
PIM: You just came back from another trip to Haiti. What changes did you see?
Arquette: There are a lot of kids running around without a really strong support system. But some of the tent camps have decompressed—from the tent camp population was down to 1.1 million from 1.5 million. I saw a lot of people selling things, a lot of little businesses, so that’s really positive. And I saw a lot of kids in school, but there are still a lot of kids that aren’t in any schools.
PIM: Tell me about the school you’re building.
Arquette: It’s an important program because all of these kids have been orphaned or lost one parent to the earthquake. It is a preschool with approximately 140 kids from an orphanage and about 350 kids from the community.
Right now they’re going to our school in a giant tent. So it’ll be really nice when this part of our project is completed. It seems to be taking forever. You go over there with this American sensibility and a great idea that seems so easy. But quickly you recognize that it’s incredibly difficult. Supplies can be tied up in customs for months, and then there are elections, and then it’s the holidays and people have to take time off. It’s a never-ending saga of situations that delay progress.
PIM: How do you do it? I’m overwhelmed just thinking about the state of affairs over there.
Arquette: We have to take sort of a “tunnel vision” approach. We focus on finishing each project ethically, beautifully, to the best of our ability and with the right intentions—one little project by one little project.
Fortunately we do have a system in place and a great team on the ground. We’re so much more honed-in our own processes—knowing what works and what doesn’t work.
PIM: Tell me about the sanitation situation in Haiti.
Arquette: The common practice is pit latrines, but sadly a lot of what should be in the latrines ends up on the stairs and in the halls—it seems to be everywhere. Additionally, many roundworm parasitic diseases are caused by poor sanitation and hygiene, and roundworm is a cofactor in malnutrition. Most of the kids in Haiti have roundworm.
Roundworms can live in the soil for up to 10 years if untreated, but our system kills all of the human pathogens. That’s really important because the pit latrines were built in such haste that they are already close to the compromised water table, if not in contact with it. They weren’t built thinking of flooding, so a lot of them flood. And those that are pumped get pumped up into a giant lake of sewage and that is minimally treated, and it’s just a few feet from the water table.
Our sanitation system takes human waste and mixes it with local carbon materials that are the byproduct of, for example, making rum or sugar cane processing. At the end of the cycle, which is about 9 months to a year, you end up with really rich compost that you can use to fertilize, for example, a mango tree. What was your problem, your trash, your waste, can actually become part of your solution. As an added benefit, once you’ve enriched soil, its water retention abilities are so much higher.
PIM: How has it changed you to be a part of this—not just sending money, but actually going there and really helping?
Arquette: I feel really grateful when we finish a project and we’ve impacted a community, whether it’s a school or anything else. I feel really happy about the beauty that we’ve brought to a little area. I love to see the kids in the school, even though the school is currently in a tent. The orphanage, though unfinished, is still the only place I’ve ever seen kids riding tricycles in Port-au-Prince. We did a little toy distribution recently, we brought over some bunk beds—little by little we’re making a difference. It’s definitely humbling.
PIM: You’ve done so much research and taken action to create a sustainable long-term future for the Haitians. Thank you for all that you’re doing.
Arquette: Yes, I’m really grateful to be able to be doing this work. In a lot of charitable projects, you sometimes see the gross excess and waste of money with so little of it actually going to the program. So it’s nice to have more oversight and be able to stop bad alliances, find great ones and make positive impacts for people. At GiveLove we don’t necessarily do things the fastest way or the cheapest way, but rather we think them through and do things with an understanding that we want our legacy to be something beautiful that improves the people and the country of Haiti.
For more information go to: www.GiveLove.org
Rachel Schaeffer, MA, is the author of Yoga for Your Spiritual Muscles, the first yoga book to receive the Benjamin Franklin gold seal award. She is a past editor for Natural Health magazine, and contributed to numerous women’s and health magazines. Rachel taught classes at Montclair State University and Caldwell College for nearly a decade. Also, Rachel is Positive Impact Magazine’s Columnist for Living Treasures.