Saturday, February 27, 2010


The fact is the situation in Haiti before the earthquake was deplorable. People lived with malaria, there were hundreds of thousands malnourished children, infant mortality rates were incredibly high, and overall living conditions were by no standards livable. So what happens after the poorest country in the western hemisphere is hit with a powerful earthquake? Well, I’ll tell you.

First we visited a “well organized” medical camp where we came in and offered our initiatives, which included hygiene kits, emotional help groups, HIV/AIDS prevention workshops, sexual education, and domestic violence prevention workshops. They adamantly refused our help and rather violently told us to make our way out of the camp. This camp is run by a prestigious American institution and by American people. When we looked around the camp and talked to a few organizers, they told us that things are certainly needed. For example, there were no sanitary napkins for women or underwear for that matter, which was one of the things that we offered. This was our experience in another camp that was also run by Americans. (Keep in mind that I went to these camps as a Dominican NGO employee, not as an American)

Now I don’t want to be misunderstood here and appear as though I don’t believe Americans should be helping Haiti, but I do believe that there is a better way of doing it. A way where you are not fighting to be the protagonist, a way where you are inclusive and collaborate with Haitians and their neighboring country, and a way where you adapt your style of work to the culture that surrounds you.

Another observation and perhaps the one that most impacted me were the “fake camps.” Yes you read it correctly, FAKE CAMPS. Haitian, who were not affected by the earthquake, were creating these informal camps with twigs and bed sheets and demanding help from the dozens of trucks, SUVs, vans, and cars that pass by daily to feed and aid the victims of the earthquake. I went into a few of these camps and for the first time in my life saw what Extreme Poverty looked like. Now, I’ve written before about “thirdworlding at home” when I saw poverty in the Mississippi Delta, and poverty in the many cities in the US, but this was different (all relative as well).

I saw children who were noticeably malnourished and sick with malaria, homes that were barely standing because they were made out of mud, no running water and no electricity. How could I tell them that they weren’t in all their right to try and benefit from this situation if they too were clearly suffering? This is why I argue that the solutions to build Haiti go beyond foreign aid. I will make the case that foreign aid causes more harm than it does good because it develops a nation that becomes dependant of aid and prohibits them to learn how to help themselves.

In no way am I saying that I have the solutions to Haiti’s problems, but I strongly that within the solution lays the simple, yet apparently difficult task, of working WITH Haitians and not FOR Haitian. What I do know is that it is problematic to have only white Americans, white Europeans and white Dominicans sitting around a table discussing what to do about Haiti. We need to stop fishing for Haiti and for once, teach them how to fish, and it goes beyond this.

With Open Eyes

Whenever I travel I try to always approach the new destination with open eyes and with very little expectations. Though Haiti is a popular topic in the media and everywhere for that matter, I still went with little expectations of what I would see. It was very important for me to have a completely (one could never really have a completely anything) objective analysis of what was happening, for my own sake and for the sake of the job that we, my NGO, intends to do there.

We left Santo Domingo on Sunday at 5 in the morning. Our mission was to strictly analyze and make contacts with the folks that we would later work with. We arrived to Jimani and immediately began to work on our contacts. Next thing you know, we were crossing the border into Haiti, which was an experience all on it’s own. They didn’t check my passport and some of the guards said that they really like my smile and that I was the most beautiful woman that had crossed that day. I honestly wasn’t flattered; I was rather shocked at how loosely immigration is regulated there. I have my own particular views on borders, which I won’t discuss in too many details at the moment, but know that for me the most important part of controlling migratory flows between two countries that differ greatly in socioeconomic opportunities, is the trafficking and smuggling on innocent people.

There is a small piece of land between the countries that is literally no-man’s-land. Here people live and actually sell things at a market. Now seriously picture this (or just look at the picture), there are some Dominican guards on one side, Haitians on the other and a busy marketplace in between, crazy and chaotic, I know.

We only went 20 miles into Haiti and during that time there were zero checkpoints.

To be continued…

Monday, February 22, 2010

Just got back from Haiti. I am trying to digest some of what went on. I will be writing soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sak Pase?

So before the earthquake in Haiti, I was making plans to visit with a few friends during their carnival season. I always knew that I wanted to learn the language, so a month after I moved to this side of the island, I began to take a Creole classes with a friend. The deal was that if I taught him how to speak English, he would teach me all I needed to know about his culture and his language. I was thrilled and so our classes began. I learned the alphabet and as the good language student that I am, I learn most of the sounds in the language (I am obsessed with learning new languages and have the ear for it too ;) ).

So, right after my teacher/student and I began make plans to resume our classes after the holiday break, the earthquake occurred. When it happened, a lot of people in the Santo Domingo apparently felt it, I didn't. What I do remember, is being with my best friend and getting ready to buy our dinner. She received a call and the expression on her face immediately changed. She said to me, "we have to go." I knew something was wrong because this girl and I don't play with our food, I mean to say bye to our dinner and to one of our favorite spots, it meant that whatever was happening was big.

And so we left the restaurant and she told me that there was a tsunami warning for the island and that we needed to go home and change into comfortable clothing and grab our documents (the clothing, in case we had to run? and the documents in case we had to take a flight out? I think). Wow, writing about it makes me re-live that feeling of complete insecurity and fear. I don't mean to be dramatic, but I thought there was a great possibility that we were going to be washed by the waters of El Malecon, we did live much less than a mile from the shores.

At this point, I had called my family and friends in the island to inform them and ask them to take precautions. My uncle the told me that there was an earthquake in Haiti that had caused the tsunami warning, but that only a few schools and hospitals were down. Now imagine that, I live on the other side of where the catastrophe occurred and we didn't even understand the magnitude of what happened until the following day.

When I finally understood the situation and what it meant, my heart sunk and a feeling of ineptitude, incompetence, and again fear just to took over my body and mind. What to do, was the question. How can I help? I know that millions around the world were asking themselves the same questions, but I felt so close to the situation yet so far and divided by the many sociocultural conflicts between the neighboring countries. During the days after the earthquake my friends and I did all we could to help. I have to admit that I was astonished at the way my country responded to the tragedy, the way that Dominicans of all socioeconomic backgrounds were coming together and helping their neighbors. I remember being in a supermarket and this women was telling her friend that for her birthday, her daughter had asked her to buy water for the people in Haiti.

More than a month has passed and still all eyes should be on Haiti and countries that are facing similar situations, by this I mean that prior to the earthquake, there was a situation being ignored in this country (as in my own, both DR and the US for that matter).

I prepare myself today for my first trip to Haiti. Tomorrow I will be crossing the border with a dear friend and colleague to solidify our collaboration efforts with a camp. I am looking forward to seeing what's happening with my own eyes and understanding what needs to be done to make things better.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meet Guachupita

I am currently working on an HIV prevention program in the marginalized/vulnarable barrio of Guachupita. This picture represents the love and commitment that people have for their barrio.

Not just stories...

Growing up, my paternal grandmother and my aunt would always enlighten me with stories about my childhood in the DR. My grandma use to always tell me how I would go up and down the streets calling out “abuela, abuela!” and when she didn’t answer I would call, “Mauricia, Mauricia!” finally, in my last attempt to get her attention I would yell, “Mama, Mama!”

My aunt always tells me the story of how one day I walked into the house asking her for some pesos. Out of no where I called her “Tia Bolanga.”

The other day I ate a tamarind Skim Ice, which is sort of like a frozen pop. When I tasted the sweetness and sourness of the tamarind, I felt like I had eaten it before. Some where deep in my taste buds little brains, I knew that 18 years ago tamarind trees were a part of my life.

These and other stories are becoming actual pieces of my childhood puzzle. As I walk these streets today I faintly recall the smells, images, and footsteps of what was once my world. I am grateful for this opportunity and as difficult as it may be, I am here.

Just Flowers

This is me now...

Wow, it’s been longer than what I had anticipated, I really missed this space and today more than ever I realized how much I need it to grow, to share, to just be. It’s been a crazy couple of month, full of work and progress. I moved into my own space, I have acquired a million other responsibilities at work, I have touched lives and been touched by others, and most importantly, I have loved.

Today has been one hell of a day. It’s about 1:30am and I’ve been working since 7am yesterday morning. I called a dear friend on the phone to express my frustrations and she advice me to do the following: “write a list of all the things you’ve accomplish during the day, forget that the electricity went out, forget that you lost documents of your computer, those things don’t matter, what does matter is what you did accomplish.”

So here is what I did today: woke up at 6:45am and completed a guide for community mapping in a barrio I am working in, wrote two reports and turned them in, attended a 2 hour long important meeting, sent a total of 20 emails today, made a call to an important ally, printed and organized myself for the community mapping, executed the first part of a community mapping, had a 30mins conference call with a counterpart in Antigua, had a 2 hour long conference call with counterparts in NYC, completed two tasks for the Haiti project, and talked to an old friend. I am sure that I am probably missing some details, but I feel satisfied with this.

At the end of the day or should I say, at the end of the morning, there is a purpose for what I am doing. Today for example, during the community mapping we found out that they only sell condoms in one corner store in this Barrio where there are more than 15 Colmados/Bodegas. Condoms are only available in 2 locations, so how do people protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, STDs and unplanned pregnancies, in a marginalized, vulnerable, neglected community if protection is not available? Seeing these youth execute this mapping and interested in changing their own situation, really motivates me to work even harder.

Nonetheless, I need to learn how to balance and how to take the time to take care of me, we should all make that our goal.