Tag Archives: international relief efforts

Foreign aid presence in Haiti

Yesterday I tweeted something that people seemed to find very interesting:

23:36: Orgs I have seen all over Haiti: Partners in Health, Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, USAID. Orgs I have seen none of: Red Cross, Yele Haiti

23:37: And I have been looking. And I have been *around* — walking, driving, in tap taps, on motorbikes, etc..

With the capacious amount of donations directed towards Haiti relief and rebuilding efforts in the immediate aftermath of the quake, lots of which was made possible by technologies that enabled individuals to donate via text message, everyone seems to be wondering: Is my money going where it was intended? Is it making tangible differences in the quality of life of Haitians who were injured or displaced by the earthquake?

So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for organizational efforts over the past 10 days that I’ve been in Haiti.

Of the donated tarps I’ve seen that people are using as walls and roofs on the make-shift shelters they’ve built on the sidewalk and streets outside their crumbled homes, many bear the USAID logo. All over Haiti, every day, you see teams of people wearing bright yellow shirts, rolling wheelbarrows full of rubble away from buildings, picking up trash, and laying the foundations for new buildings. These people are part of the “Cash for Work” program, which is a part of OTI (Organization of Transitional Incentives) and DAI (Development Alternatives Inc.), orgs that were hired by USAID to clean up government properties like schools and community centers. These people make between $8 and $9 a day, depending on the exchange rate.

I’ve seen lots of tents and outposts that are clearly marked as UNICEF areas, especially in the downtown areas where the population is the most dense. I passed one location where two huge UNICEF tents were pitched outside a partially-collapsed building, and Alain and I stopped to ask one of the UNICEF personal (clearly designated by the t-shirt he was wearing), what they were doing there. He said the building was a primary school, and the tents were serving as temporary classrooms:

Walking through the middle of the tent city that formed on the grass of the central park in PetionVille where the sidewalks are lined with vendors selling Haitian paintings, the flaps on the latrines — which somebody had to dig out— bear the red Medicales Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) logo. I have also seen several MSF stations, as well as stations for Partners in Health, set back from the roads and the chaos, where people can go to receive medical treatment.

Last Wednesday, Alain and I decided to hike up a steep hill in Port-au-Prince, through a residential area where people were living in floor-less huts with walls of sheet metal, to the ruins of Hotel Castel. On the way back down, we ran into people from Doctors Without Borders delivering three 1,000 gallon containers: Two full of water and one empty one to be used as a waste receptacle.

They literally are doctors without borders. Nothing gets in their way. We spoke with those two employees for a while about what they were doing and they said they faced a number of technological obstacles, but they found creative solutions around them because they can only work with what they have.

On the converse side, organizations that I have not detected anywhere throughout my journies are the Red Cross and Yele Haiti, Wyclef Jean’s organization. These were perhaps the organizations that I heard the most about in the U.S. before I came here, and they have collected quite a substantial amount of donations. I didn’t really think about it until I read the blog post, “Where’s the American Red Cross in Haiti?” shared with me by Emma Jacobs, my counterpart at Haiti Rewired. (Note: I would be especially critical of/disregard complete the anti-vax scare stuff at the bottom…)

This is not to say that those organizations are not present here and are not contributing. Perhaps they don’t focus as much on branding on the resources that they are providing or the uniforms their employees wear, or perhaps I have simply been in different areas than where their efforts are focused. But I know who I have seen here contributing to the relief and rebuilding efforts, and who I will be donating to in the future.

The sight at the fallen Palace

I’ve been getting emails about the aftermath of the Earthquakes in Haiti via a list serve with some very unique commentary from the Haitian perspective. As we proceed with relief and peacekeeping efforts in this country that has been subject to occupation throughout its history, including an “often brutal” American occupation from 1915 to 1934 (NY Times), it’s important to recognize that certain acts of intervention may be perceived differently by Haitians and Americans.

Regarding the decision to land U.S. military helicopters on the National Palace lawn…

Photo via The Ledger*


From Ilio Durandis via Bob Corbett’s Haiti mailing list:

I know that many people would say this is not the time for questioning any moves by the United States of America. Many would say that we should be grateful that they are even considering helping the “poor” Haitians in distress. But oh boy, that sight of US helicopter landing in the yard of the National Palace does not give me any impression that those soldiers are there for humanitarian relief. As a matter of fact, it is a direct message that us, Haitians, are meaningless in those whole relief effort. Yeah, US airborne can take over the National Palace, and there ain’t nothing anyone can say or do about it.

Of all the places that the helicopters could land, why the yard of the National Palace? I am getting even sicker. Please can any American on this list tell me how they would feel if a foreign army were to land their soldiers in the yard of the White house, after any kind of disaster in the US. Come on now, help us with some dignity. We are still a sovereign and an independent country. Aren’t we? I will say it clearly here, I am opposed of any silent invasion of my country. We need humanitarian relief, not warriors in our country.

Bring relief, not M-16 and war tanks.

— Your Passionate Servant,

Ilio Durandis
Haiti 2015

Well, how would it seem if a foreign country landed a military helicopter in the White House lawn if such a tragic disaster occurred here?

Obviously the most important thing is saving lives and getting aid to injured and dying Haitians, and maybe using the Capital as a landing pad is the best way to do that. But moving forward, we must be sensitive to Haitian perceptions. If foreign intervention is carried out in a way that builds resentment among Haitians by making it seem like an occupancy rather than a humanitarian relief effort, will be much less able to succeed in helping those who desperately need it.

*Also interesting, that photo accompanied this article in The Ledger. Read the lead paragraphs and contrast that with the email you just read. It seems there is some doublespeak going on here…