How to Start – “Building Back Haiti Better”
Bonswa!! Greetings from Port au Prince. I hope this post finds you all loving life and engaging in grand adventures. In my quest to learn all I can about a country I now call home I have been reading a lot of Haitian literature including poetry, short stories, post-earthquake accounts, histories, and the many anthropological works surrounding the nature of poverty that obviously permeate works on Haiti.
I recently finished Haiti: After The Earthquake by Dr. Paul Farmer. For those interested in brilliant insights into Haitian medicine, anthropology, and an account of the successes and failures of aid organizations following the 2010 earthquake, I highly recommend this read. One passage in particular stuck out to me as it contains many of the questions we should continuously be asking ourselves as we engage in this work together in Haiti. (included below).
In my mind we are doing a good job in a pursuit of sustainability and the empowerment of many communities here in Haiti – I hope this passage encourages you to reflect deeply on the nature of our work and fires you up to become even more involved. From Dr. Paul Farmer -
“Listening to the poor helps us frame these alternatives clearly. Will we promote genuine development in the manner wished by the Haitian majority? Or will we stay pinned to the same, tired approaches that haven’t brought us much closer to the stated goals of either development assistance or the Haitian people? Fair trade, food sovereignty, access to health care and education and clean water – these social goals can surely be linked to economic and political strategies that lead to growth, better governance, and reconstruction. Will trade policies punish Haitian farmers, as before, or will we insist on arrangements that help expand the economy and the number of decent jobs in the country? Will food assistance develop markets for locally grown produce, or continue to rely on imported surplus from US or European agribusinesses that decry subsidies for others while ardently defending their own? Will we fight to make sure that quality primary health care and primary education, at the very least, become readily accessible to all Haitians, or will we remain ensnarled in uncreative financing models that impose users’ fees and thereby ensure that the poorest have no access? Will we invest in municipal water projects throughout rural and urban Haiti, or will we continue to privatize a system that is already fractured by private interests? Will the response to the shelter crisis remain every man for himself, without plan or code, and with little chance for the poor to benefit from the coming building boom? Or will the next years include pro-poor strategies that help create more and safer housing with modern sanitation for those now sheltered under tents and tarps and bits of tin?” (228).
WHOA – challenging questions…
My hope is that we can always answer in a resounding “yes” to every aspect of development that involves listening to the Haitian poor, that supports community goals and not the goals or ambitions of Americans who often have trouble separating in their own minds the “American way” and the “Haitian way.” A very wise Haitian pastor once told me, “if we go about these projects in the American way we will be attempting the impossible . . . to turn Haiti into America.” If that ever happens, make no mistake, we will have failed miserably. Haiti is a beautiful country that is once again finding itself amidst the rubble of the earthquake and over 200 years of abuse and instability. We often forget that Haiti and the US share a heritage as the two oldest republics of this hemisphere. However, there is a Haitian way to rebuild this country – admittedly that will look much different than many of us can ever anticipate. Due to a myriad of difficulties inherent in work down here, things may often take much longer than they would in a developed nation.
However, it is clear to me everyday that people are crying out to be heard – crying out for the dignity of engaging in projects that will affect them and the next several generations of their families. In my mind the ONLY way to properly be supporting the rebuilding of Haiti is to spend much more time listening to our Haitian friends, to spend less time engaging in material projects and donations, and to spend much more time in engaging in life together. Of course, the material alleviation of poverty is vital in many ways to the spiritual health of a community, fundraising and material projects are needed, but if we stop at material alleviation of poverty alone we have stopped in the wrong place. The real beauty comes with a heart change, with deep relationships, and every effort to share life and support one another in any way we can.
I count it a tremendous blessing to be engaging in such a life down here everyday with the deaf community. Your support makes much of that possible – thank you.
grace and peace,