It’s not a surprise that the internet situation here is less than perfect, and I’ve had days so packed that by the time I get back to the hotel I just want to pass out, but a few quick observations before I have to run off to another meeting:
-Haiti has a lot of natural beauty, which isn’t often part of the story when news organizations are reporting about events (usually tragedies) here. I also believe pretty firmly that human beings have a natural inclination toward creating aesthetically pleasing environments; we gravitate toward beauty, symmetry, good design. That, too, is on display here. Even some of the most depressing places — the tent and shanty camps where people have been living since the earthquake destroyed their homes, for example — are speckled with art and brightness. I tweeted a few of the photos I’ve taken; check them out here, here and here. I will post them on the blog when I’m back home.
-The organization I’m here to visit, a local chapter of JCI, brought me here so they could show me their efforts to build a community center. I’ve met with the local members, many of their partners, an official from the mayor’s office and a few of the people who live adjacent to the proposed site. A reason I really like this project is that the entire thing was dreamed up and designed by members of the community where the center will (hopefully) be built. Like anywhere, political views here are wildly diverse, but one thing I’ve heard a few times is a generalized frustration with the NGO community. Outside organizations want to come in and give water or food, and that’s great, but they aren’t creating long-term sustainable solutions for the country. The NGOs are the ones setting the agenda — they come in with an idea for a project and they execute it with plentiful funding, without a whole lot of input from the people who actually live here. This project is locally created and locally driven. It’ll create local jobs, and the JCI members who are promoting it believe it’ll be part of a long-term investment in local education, crime reduction and youth empowerment.
-I really need to get better at French.
-The JCI members here are incredibly impressive. All of the members I’ve met have full-time jobs — doctors, development workers, journalists — and they participate with JCI and the building of this community center in their spare time. They are, basically, a bunch of development nerds who are frustrated with the status quo and want to make things better. One of the most striking parts of the trip is when they drove me to three of their meeting sites — where they met before the earthquake, immediately after, and now. The building they met in before the earthquake is leveled; it’s a pile of rubble today. After the earthquake, they found an empty lot, where they constructed tents and met for three months. During that time, they came up with the idea for the center. And after three months, a person across the street from their tent office offered them meeting space, and they took it. Last night, at one of their meetings, the leadership board met in one room, and when we came out, the rest of the organization was doing business by the glow of a single lightbulb in a dark room on a Friday night.
And now I have to run again. Feel free to leave questions or thoughts in the comments. I come back to the U.S. tomorrow, but I’ll check the comments this evening and try to address any of your questions to JCI members.
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