While the world’s media is still portraying the immense and immediate challenges faced by Haitians, I am heartened by the awareness that supporting Haitians to rebuild their institutions and infrastructure is equally important. In my view it should be the higher priority for our design, our planning and our resources.
There is enough money, supplies and personnel, perhaps too much, available now. The task is more one of logistics, of distribution and allocation of what has already been provided. Paul Farmer, a Harvard Medical School professor, who has spent much of his life in Haiti indicated on CBC radio on February 14th that food, water, medical supplies and most important doctors and nurses are still not reaching the majority of people.
But what of this tougher challenge? If previous post – disaster efforts are any indication the world’s attention will eventually be distracted, aid money will dry up and donors’ attention will be turned elsewhere. After the Balkan war for example within 10 years of a massive infusion of money there were few resources to continue the rebuilding. Vancouver Sun columnist Don Cayo recounts failed and successful examples of post disaster relief. His conclusion, the best examples owe their success to local leadership.
Cayo quotes Akash Kapar a reporter living in SE India where 50,000 new homes were built and registered in the name of women 5 years after the December 26th tsunami:
The result of titling these homes to women has transcended the economic gains of home ownership. It has changed the very social fabric of the coast. In village after village, I heard stories of women whose status had been utterly transformed. Wives spoke of a new self-confidence and greater control over household finances. Mothers talked about insisting that their daughters went to school.
Post disaster success, like all thoughtful interventions, requires conscious, focused and strategic attention to reinforcing the ties of belonging and creating the opportunities for people to solve their own problems. It requires: tapping into everyone’s desire to be helpful to others; ignoring cultural mythologies and stigma about inability, laziness, and desperation; focusing on everyone’s capabilities; nurturing joy and celebration; being patient, understanding that what took decades to build will not change overnight; and putting professionals in their place (i.e. in the background); and understanding the well meaning but negative consequence of relying on the intervention of outside professionals.
The social fabric of a culture is not lumber and nails but belonging and resilience.
This is consistent with the thinking and practice of John McKnight a friend and mentor who created the Asset Based Community Development Institute. John has taught the world to see the gifts, assets and abilities of people who have been labeled, marginalized, ignored and excluded. Similarly, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton has built a global social enterprise movement on the premise that every country in the world has an abundance of ingenious, talented social entrepreneurs with solutions for local, regional and global challenges. They simply need the resources to make it happen.
While I am hesitant to provide any direct advice to those involved in the re-construction of Haiti, I do think the experience of individuals and groups who have been in similar situations is worth digesting. It can provide those of us who are viewing from afar with guidelines on how best to support Haitians to rebuild their country.
Here are some design criteria to guide the actions of governments, foundations, policy makers, donors, workers, development agencies and concerned individuals.
Assume the necessary leadership, capability, talent, determination, expertise and resilience exists among Haitians.
Strengthening the resilient, adaptive capacity of Haitians to solve their own problems must be the primary goal of all interventions, practices, aid, resources, donations, and volunteerism.
Local Haitian leaders must direct all outside intervention and resources.
DO NOT DESTROY THE SOCIAL FABRIC OF BELONGING AND RESILIENCE. Make sure all interventions, either intentionally or unintentionally, do not erode the sense of belonging that clearly exists in Haiti. This is the equivalent of the Doctor’s Oath to above all, Do No Harm.
Seek out and support local creativity and innovation. This is the basis of the Ashoka model. For over 25 years they have discovered talented local leaders and given them the resources to incubate and scale up their ideas.
From Clients to Citizens: Communities Changing the Course of Their Own Development
Alison Mathie & Gordon Cunningham, (Eds.), 2008.
Produced through a partnership between the ABCD Institute and the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University. Coady has been addressing global poverty and injustice for 50 years.
http://www.standwithhaiti.org/hait.i Paul Farmer founded this organization. The vast majority of Partners in Health hospital and medical staff in Haiti are Haitians.
Al blogs and writes for a number of websites. To read more of his blogs and commentary visit: www.aletmanski.com