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Posts Tagged ‘Rants’

It’s been over four months since the earthquake, and the clean-up continues.  While many of the main roads have been cleared for months, in the tightly packed Port-au-Prince neighborhoods that these roads don’t reach, rubble still fills the streets.  And that’s where the Cash for Work programs come in.  Local Haitians are hired to do work in the communities they live in, and they are paid a wage that was approved by the government.   The daily wage for a Cash for Work employee is 200 goudes, which is about $5 a day, Haiti’s minimum wage.  This was done so that workers are not paid too much, or too little.

There are obvious issues with not paying workers enough, but there are not-so-obvious issues when you pay them too much.  For instance, according to Jillian, because the Cash for Work employees’ daily salary is consistent country-wide, local farmers in the country-side are having problems competing with wages that were set for city-living.  It’s hard to hire workers for the same amount of money you were paying them before the earthquake when they can now work for one of these programs and get 50 goudes more a day.  This effectively raises the wages of everyone where the cost of living is much lower, which hurts small businesses and farms who need employees.

But for all the issues surround Cash for Work, the program is an extremely effective way to clear the rubble and create employment for locals.  World Concern has over 2,000 Haitians employed through their Cash for Work program, and sometimes it’s grizzly business.  The day we went on the visit above, their crews uncovered the body of a 6-year-old boy who had been walking home from school when the earthquake hit.  They showed us his remains, which were nothing but a pile of bones and decomposed clothes.  They had yet to find the boy’s head, and were still searching for the remains of the boy’s father, who was with him when the buildings collapsed around them.

So there’s no doubt that their job is tough.  Any job that requires having body-bags on site is, to me, incredibly intense.  Just the idea of clearing out all this rubble seems ridiculously daunting.  The piles of rubble seem mountainous, and at times you are standing on piles of rubble the size of a football field.

On our site visit, we snaked through the narrow corridors between buildings, and jumping from house to house over rooftops.  But after descending through a random stairwell to the ground level, it’s eerily claustrophobic walking through these neighborhoods.  If there was another earthquake while you were in these hallways, there is almost no where for you to run.

But they continue their work, sometimes 6 days a week, breaking rubble with sledgehammers, pickaxes and shovels, and moving it to the streets.  It’s hard labor that many of us would not be able to handle.  I spoke to one worker who admitted it was tough, but loved his job, “If I didn’t have this work, I’d be doing nothing,” he said.  In a country where many piece together their yearly incomes with a variety of different jobs, a consistent paycheck is pure gold.

So while the recovery for many in the foreign development community is long-term and abstract, for these people, it’s much simpler.  They wake up, pour their sweat and tears into long days moving rubble, and then go home to prepare for another.  For the NGOs doing this work, recovery is done grant-by-grant, but for the Haitians in the Cash for Work programs, it’s done bucket-by-bucket.

One my way back from the site visit, I asked the World Concern translator where he saw the country a year from now.  Maybe that was an unfair question when uncertainty seems to constantly fill the air here, but considering the slow progress of clearing out the destruction of the earthquake, I wanted to know if he thought the clean-up would be complete by January 12, 2011.  “I don’t know, maybe, but probably not…” he responded.  “Unless the government steps up this is going to be a problem for a long time,” he explained.

So while organization like World Concern continue to help in the recovery and clean-up, the people are still hopeful that these problems can be dealt with on their own.  The government has been slow to act on almost all counts.  On Friday, President Preval finally called a meeting with NGOs to figure out a plan to relocate those camped out in front of the Presidential Palace.  It has been four months since the earthquake, and the #1 camp on the priority list is finally being address, leaving hundreds more camps to be dealt with still.  The rainy season has begun, and the government is still behind the ball.

And this frustration has already percolated to the brim, with large protests against President Preval becoming an almost daily occurrence.  Protests have gone from peaceful demonstrations to violent gatherings, with tear gas and gun shots accompanying calls for action.  I don’t blame them, I would be angry too.  These NGOs should not be acting as the government, they should be assisting a strong leadership that, right now, this country is sorely lacking.

While I write these things, the general feel around the capital is not one of fear and danger, but it’s quickly approaching a breaking point.  The rains continue almost every night, and for many, their lives just get worse and worse.  It’s just a matter of time before their desperation leads to a sense of unstableness in a place that has already lacked it for years.

I pray that things turn around, and that those stranded in tent camps are helped before the newest deadline of the impending hurricane season arrives.  The problem is that Haitians deserve so much better, not necessarily from the NGOs, but from their own government.  Because if the government can’t help its people when the only direction they can go is up, then there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for them to be around at all, and the scary thing is that I think the people are quickly realizing that.

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I’ve posted a couple pictures of people who have been affected by the earthquake, but most of them I leave out there faces.  This is for two reasons. First, many people feel uncomfortable having their picture taken.  But because many of my pictures are taken while there is a video camera rolling, I tend to be in the periphery, allowing me the opportunity to take photos undetected.  Second, many of these photos are not meant to portray just one person.

While the little boy above (whose name is Sebastian and is the cutest thing ever) is learning to walk on his new prosthetic after losing his leg in the earthquake, there are thousands of others who are going through the same thing that he is.  So the pictures are not meant to portray just one character, they are meant to portray a situation and feeling that is everywhere.

The first time I came to Haiti to visit before moving here I had a hard time describing how it was.  Everyone would ask, “How was Haiti?!” and my response would usually be that I wasn’t sure how it was. “It’s hard to describe,” I would say.  There was poverty everywhere, there was trash everywhere, and there seemed to be no hope, even before the earthquake.  After visiting again there seemed to be one answer that helped me describe “how” Haiti was: the poverty is comprehensive.

But in that comprehensiveness is a sense of cohesiveness.  While the lack of the basic necessities for survival can bring upon desperation, in Haiti it brings a sense of community.  They don’t suffer independently, they suffer together, because you really have no other choice.  When everyone is poor, you never really have much of an advantage over your neighbor, and if you don’t help them they won’t help you, which leaves everyone with nothing.

I’m not sure where I’m really going with this, but what I think I’m trying to say is that it’s really not about one person, or even one group of people.  Here it’s about everybody.  And Sebastian’s situation, and those just like his, are a perfect metaphor for what has been happening with this country for the past couple decades.  Haiti is like a child who lost a leg but instead of providing a prosthetic, the international community (we are all to blame) has given this child a crutch.  The crutches will get him from point A to point B, but it will never teach him to walk on his own.

Every bag of rice, every mobile clinic, every temporary shelter has helped, don’t get me wrong, but they are just crutches on the path to dependence.  There is no doubt there is an immediate need after the tragedy of the earthquake that can only be met with the help of the international aid organizations, but once all these NGOs leave and they no longer need drivers and translators or workers to clear the rubble, there will be nothing left for these people.

There are over 9,500 NGOs in Haiti.  Haiti is the size of Maryland.  That’s crazy.  Theoretically an NGO’s job is to put itself out of business, teaching the people they are helping to get off their crutches and teaching them to walk on their own.  An NGO should go to a group of people in need and tell them, “We are going to help you in a way that, after we’re finished, you will never need us again.”  But there are organizations that boast “25 years of service in Haiti” when nothing has really changed in that period of time.  In fact, it’s gotten worse, so good for you.

I don’t intend to make a blanket statement about everyone doing work here, some are doing an incredible job teaching and helping Haitians to do what they do best: be innovative, independent, and hard working.  But because those organizations are few and far between, we have 9 million beggars (almost the entire population) in Haiti, all of them trained to ask you for something.

It might sound like I’m a little upset about this, and you would be right.  I am upset that every time I go to the grocery store I have a dozen kids run up with their hands out asking for a dollar because I’m white.  I am upset that every time I go to a tent city there is a full grown man with his hand out asking for food.  Because of these organizations with “25 years of service” handing out crutches, walking on their own seems ridiculous now when there are thousands of blancs (white people) running around with free (imported) schwag.

And after all this time, where is the industry?  Where are the opportunities?  Where is the future?  I can tell you one thing, the work of many of these organizations has only made this country more susceptible to continue their own work here.  “We’re in it for the long haul,” they say.  But that’s not the point.

Ideally, in the future Sebastian will learn to walk without his crutches on a prosthetic fitted by a Haitian physical therapist.  Ideally he will get a job working for a Haitian business that will provide him with benefits and a pension.  Maybe he could even live in a city outside Port-au-Prince because Haiti has, after the hard work of the Haitian people, been decentralized in an effort to make it sustainable. Imagine that!  Haiti can learn to walk, we just need to learn to give it the ability to do it on it’s own, without our crutches.

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