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.