Okay all you do gooders. Let's buy land in Haiti and start
building homes out of converted steel, cargo containers,
and install all the utilities. Contact Prof. Richard j. . Martin
of Global Containers Partnership: [email protected]
Let's put all our blow hard politicians to shame.
Prof. Martin has already designed and supervised the
construction of several cargo container schools- take a
Irving C. Rubin: licensed engineer, credentialed educator |
April 19, 2010 at 10:04 PM
I fully concur with your listings of reputable organisations to go with. Whenever the Tsunami hit Thailand there was lots of aid that went missing due to mismanagement, bribery and other illicit schemes and now the reclaimed land is being used to build hotels and venues and the native people have been displaced.
Something similar may happen in Haiti (although I hope not) if we don't have 'aware' people watching how aid gets distributed.
I would like to mention Idealist.org as a place to find reputable smaller organisations which run grassroots NGOs projects for longterm development.
Thanks for the link to Blood and Milk - interesting musings there.
February 03, 2010 at 10:13 AM
Re: Lutherans and reproductive rights.
The Lutheran Church is not monolithic but fragmented among several denominations both in the US and Canada (and across the world). Regarding social values, you will find those denominations spread across a continuum regarding their positions on social issues including women's reproductive rights.
Both the Evangelical Church in America ( ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) do not promote the right of any human being to have power over another, including that of males over females.
February 02, 2010 at 01:13 AM
Some organizations, such as Oxfam, already have programs in place which pay local people to clean up the rubble. Which organizations hire local people, what they are hired to do, and how much they are paid will vary by organization and will depend on each organization's programs and hiring policies.
Obviously, most local or national aid organizations will hire either locally or from within the country. For international organizations the hiring policies vary with each organization.
Many organizations have policies and procedures in place that prioritize hiring people from the areas being reconstructed to do most or all of the construction or cleanup work. Several international organizations also have policies of only hiring international staff for positions that cannot be filled locally, and then mentoring local people to eventually replace most or all foreign staff.
Unfortunately, not all international organizations have this policy. There are many instances after a disaster where people in temporary camps have the needed skills but are viewed only as disaster victims. To encourage more organizations to establish policies of hiring locally whenever possible look on their websites for information on their hiring and mentoring process before giving.
It's also worth noting that paying people to work, while pumping money into the local economy and giving people the freedom to spend the funds according to their own needs, can be seen as an administration cost. The current emphasis by donors of finding organizations with the lowest administration costs can place organizations that hire local people in a less favorable position than organizations that rely on foreign or local volunteers. This is also something donors should consider before making funding decisions.
February 01, 2010 at 01:35 PM
Good post with very useful information and the comments also, are insightful.
I have some concerns about faith-based organizations whose beliefs negate the reproductive rights of and keep women in a subservient role to males. The Lutheran Church (in the US but I hope not in Canada), among many, which promoted the right of males to have power over females in not an acceptable NGO to work with women and girls.
Jay from the Caribbean |
January 30, 2010 at 02:41 PM
The houses won't be built in a short period of time. It is likely that some people will live in temporary houses for four or five years.
Rushing housing construction will be problematic because there are always land ownership issues after a disaster. The land titles will have to be cleared up or the same issues will occur as happened in Thailand where people being kicked out of their new houses because they didn't own the land under them. By the time the dispute it was brought to court the organization was long gone and the problem was left to the government to solve.
In addition there will need to be the basic infrastructure such as sewage, water, and electricity in place before the houses or built or else it will be far more expensive and problematic to put them in after wards. Until there is water, sewage, and electricity, people may refuse to move out of their temporary housing because it has all that. This has also happened.
Unfortunately, it will be a much slower process than you are envisioning.
January 30, 2010 at 02:21 PM
I would have to question the absoluteness of your critique of volunteers for construction/rebuilding in Haiti. There were thousands of homes destroyed by the earthquake. Over 1.5 million are estimated to have been rendered homeless. The mid- to long-term issue will be homeless refugees. So the critical need is for homes to be rebuilt. What's the point of having a job if you go home to a tent? The quicker they can build these homes, the better.
An influx of volunteer labor will allow more homes to be built quicker, alleviating homelessness faster than solely relying on endogenous labor. You are assuming that the task before them is small enough to be taken on effectively by the people there. Just as their cemeteries have exceeded capacity due to the massive influx of the deceased, their construction industry is not large enough to tackle the task of building thousands of homes in a short period of time.
January 30, 2010 at 02:12 PM
There is something that rings somewhat alarmist about this post, and which disturbed my otherwise highly skeptical approach to practically everything.
I really think you absolutely need to be clear about where your own skepticism about non-governmental organisations begins regarding the benefits of all this "help" that is pouring out for "poor Haiti", and your own (clearly limited) understanding of how and why volunteer organisations do what they do.
This post might have more usefully focused on distinguishing between the structures of volunteer-run organisations (like Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, Peace Corps, and many other much smaller entities) and organisations that seek and depend on profit from creating opportunities for volunteers i.e. where people pay to participate in often little more than a do-gooder vacation.
International NGO's have been a huge, huge part of the reason that Port-au-Prince/Haiti is in such a bad situation right now. As such, Haitians are no strangers to over-paid college grads & "volunteers" running around the place, doing all kinds of things, some useful, some not. The same NGOs have also been hiring local Haitian workers, albeit in limited capacities, and mostly to serve the imported staff's needs as drivers, translators, cooks, glorified personal secretaries/assistants, go-betweens and labourers. The problem is not the flooding of the place with "volunteers" over and against using local labour. Volunteers also help to "feed" the local economy by buying things at sometimes inflated prices, paying for their lodging, meals, transportation, etc. So, your stressing the importance of supporting the "local economy" here tells me that you don't actually know what the local economy looks like in Haiti in the first place. This also sounds like a softer version of the neo-liberal argument about "the need to put Haitians to work", and no attention to what they are to be paid.
The fundamental problem with many of these NGO's is the relationship of that organisation to Haitian society, and how it helps to shape volunteers' attitudes, outlooks and interactions with Haitians.
I share your criticism about the paternalism that informs the "do-gooder" mentality of many North Americans and Europeans. But the antidote to that is not reduce Haitians to money-starved victims unable to achieve what you imagine as their perceived economic needs, and who will miraculously be able to use that money in exactly the way that you imagine. In some cases, the money one paid for the plane ticket can do some specific good (mind you, you don't even say how, presuming that you can even make such a judgment of millions of people you don't know) if one is able to channel it directly to the need. But, in a society where the resources are still (think Montreal, Red Cross) held in the hands of governments & NGO's, volunteers might be actually quite useful in facilitating the transfer of those resources to Haitians.
I think it is more important to urge interested persons to inquire about what kind of relationships such organisations already have with the communities with/in which they work, and what kinds of transfer of knowledge/information/skills are intended or anticipated via one's status as a volunteer. It is only by so that can one really gauge what the best strategy would be: ie. donate monies, equipment, etc. instead of showing up, etc. And it is only when people start asking those questions of the organisations, will the latter start to adjust and tighten up their loosey-goosey ways of doing things that often leave volunteers disappointed or even angry at the ways they were duped into an experience that could have been much richer and useful for all around.
Long Bench |
January 30, 2010 at 12:57 PM
This post has the four steps I go through whenever I'm trying to determine if a specific type of assistance is a good idea. http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2009/06/a-quick-way-to-check-if-an-aid-project-is-good.html
I went through that process thinking about your question about the value of solidarity. In their situation, having been on the edge before, struggling to put my life back together, living in difficult conditions, I think I'd find outsiders trying to build bonds with me to be more annoying than a show of solidarity.
I wouldn't be looking for that crosscultural support because it often requires effort - to understand what they are trying to say, to not get angry when they do something culturally insensitive, to understand and explain who they are and what they're doing, to watch my children with overly anxious helpers - and I don't think I'd have any energy to spare to deal with this.
I spoke with a friend stationed in Haiti right now and he said that some Haitians have started throwing rocks at people coming around to take pictures of them or do yet another needs assessment. This tells me my gut feeling might be right.
I think the numerous foreigners that are already there because they head large programs or are doctors is probably enough of a sign that the world hasn't abandoned them.
I've looked at your organization's site and I'll give my thoughts in an email.
January 30, 2010 at 11:36 AM
No argument with you on Maslow's hierarchy of needs: No use tending the spirit if the body is starving.
I am however resisting a reductionism which views the person solely as homo economicus. Is there no place for an embodied solidarity that comes alongside the Haitian people and works together to rebuild their country?
If you have the inclination and the time, I would be interested in your assessment of the alliance "Action by Churches Together" - Act Alliance, soon to be renamed Act International. In their relief and development efforts they value and seem to draw on local expertise and are committed to building local capacity.
I am a Lutheran pastor, and my denomination in Canada (ELCIC)is part of the ACT alliance. I have no reason to doubt that they are doing a good job, but I value your "take" as an experienced "outsider".
January 29, 2010 at 08:08 PM
If you were to give a Haitian that has just had their world destroyed the option of a chance to "transcend cultural differences and build bridges of understanding" or a paid job rebuilding their own community, which do you think they would choose? My bet is on the paid job.
Wounds heal much faster if you have the money to buy food to feed your children.
January 29, 2010 at 01:11 PM
I really enjoyed this post, particularly your insight on hiring the local population. Any idea on the leadership capacity on the ground to align and mobilize Haitian workers? And who should lead these efforts? Local leadership? NGOs? And should the leadership be organic or come from a joint relief effort/committee?
January 29, 2010 at 09:28 AM
While your observation that "parachuted" foreign volunteers sometime lack cultural competency, and "displace" local workers, the Haitian people's suffering cannot be fixed solely by focusing on their economic needs. The presence of foreign volunteers also communicates that the world has not forgotten them, and concrete solidarity on the ground, working alongside Haitians to rebuild their country has the potential to transcend cultural differences and build bridges of understanding. This too, helps to heal the wounds.
January 28, 2010 at 10:33 PM
I cringed when I saw that Visions in Action ad. I can only imagine an unqualified person randomly wandering around asking questions, at a time when no one has the time or inclination to answer. Also, I volunteered with VIA in the mid-90's in Kenya and they had numerous problems--general disorganization, not registered as an NGO in Kenya, had us on inappropriate visas (which we had to rectify with our placement organizations) and owed back taxes to the Kenyan government. To be fair, they have likely cleaned up their act since then, but I'm not sure how much.
January 28, 2010 at 03:02 PM
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