Haiti Check-In

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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9 comments for “Haiti Check-In

  1. April 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    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.

    Why? Is it that the U.S., and others like us, have to control everything? And don’t the NGO’s know that’s not the way to promote mutual trust? It’s not a new question, certainly, but it seems we always make the same mistakes.

    • Miriam
      April 27, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      It’s time, access, and money based on what I’ve seen of development work in Morocco. Real bottom up work takes time to do because it involves building relationships, having conversations, having the awareness to analyze the conversations (ethnographic research). It’s not as simple as just partnering or hiring people from the country (which most NGOs do to some degree) because the people who generally have the language skills and educational background to be hired are also outsiders to the project area.

      Unfortunately, grants work in cycles and are often administered by agencies who don’t understand or have patience for the amount of time that building relationships takes (often due to their own accountability constraints, though). So NGOs need to document a certain amount of progress by a certain amount of time. Also, they probably were not able to budget significant time for ethnographic research because development doesn’t work that way.

      I would bet that France is as much or more a key player here than in the US.

      • Siobhan
        April 27, 2013 at 7:18 pm

        In addition to that I know that if the NGOs are being funded through CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) there is a requirement to involve Canadians in the work. So NGOs end up hiring Canadian consultants, bringing in Canadian volunteers & staff, and often paying Canadian companies for imported materials & equipment. In other words, most of the aid money just ends up funneled back into our own country instead of creating jobs for locals or putting money into local businesses.

        I would be very shocked if the US didn’t have similar requirements for aid funding.

  2. CanadaGoose
    April 27, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Could you mention what “JCI” stands for?

    • matlun
      April 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      I am curious, too.

      It is an organization that can be found here, but as far as I can see, it is not clear whether the letters actually stand for anything.

      • Siobhan
        April 27, 2013 at 8:54 pm

        I found it in their privacy policy here – Jaycees International is the not-for-profit & Junior Chamber International is the community group(s). “Together, these two entities are collectively referred to as JCI”.

    • Joe from an alternate universe
      May 3, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      I was a member of the Jaycees for 13 years, a director for 8, and a VP for 2 years.

      If you’re between the ages of 21 and 40 in the U.S (it used to be 18 to 36, but was changed when I was a member). It’s a great organization to join. In fact, most of my lifetime friends are former Jaycees.

  3. April 27, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Sorry, I meant to include links and then was rushed off to another meeting and so didn’t! JCI is the Junior Chamber International. Updating the post now with appropriate links.

  4. Marksman2000
    April 28, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    I read in a news article–I believe it was the BBC–that some Haitians are being “evicted” from their makeshift homes by the government (who are likely acting on behalf of developers).

    Seems like a punch below the belt. Lose your home to an earthquake, almost drown in a hurricane, finally put together a tent from scraps, and then the government tears it down.

    I’ve seen the same thing in documentaries on India. Families living on the beach in a shantytown, and then the government levels it with bulldozers.

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