Daily Camera guest opinion: Guest Wynn Walent: How this time can be different in Haiti
Daily Camera (Boulder, CO)
Aug. 21—By Wynn Walent
When a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck 5 miles from his home in the center of Petit Trou de Nippes, a town in the western part of Haiti on Aug. 14, Patrick Desir was eating breakfast with his two small children. He pulled them up by their arms, one each, and rushed them down to the yard, where they huddled together, praying.
After consoling them and then sitting them down with their aunt in the family courtyard, Patrick got to work surveying the damage in his community, helping at the site of fallen buildings, and coordinating among local partners.
Patrick Desir, shown here with his wife Rose Laure and their first son, Pat.
Patrick runs a community-based organization in Petit Trou and has managed community development and relief programs funded by Locally Haiti, the Colorado-based organization I work with. Patrick is a perfect example of the type of leaders that the international community should urgently be supporting in this moment. Sadly, he is also the type of leader left frustrated by traditional aid structures and ignored in most media narratives.
I am consistently critical of the media for its one-sided portrayal of Haiti, but to be clear, that is not to claim the country isn't in crisis. It is and has been for some time.
In the wake of recent events and news stories I was asked: "Is there some kind of black cloud over Haiti?" No, there is no black cloud over Haiti, but to the extent there is, that cloud is called history.
From its founding as the first free Black republic, born of a revolution that defied and terrified the colonial, slave-holding world, the Haitian people have been subjected to a brutal combination of foreign intervention and exploitation, foreign supported dictatorships, and more recently, the actions of a deeply divided and dysfunctional domestic political class. Geography doesn't help. Haiti is situated on a fault line, and directly in the path of the yearly parade of increasingly destructive tropical storms and hurricanes. Of course, countries with functioning governments and economies, i.e. ones that have not been crippled by the forces of history, are able to develop structures and systems that mitigate geographic challenges within some semblance of stability. Haiti has never had this chance.
I lived in Haiti full-time during the two years after the earthquake of 2010, and I've seen what works and what doesn't. There are two simple lessons to be learned from that 2010 response.
First, of the $10.37 billion pledged in the two years after the earthquake, roughly 7% went directly to Haitian institutions, including the private sector, and local non-profits. If we want to break the cycle of disappointing relief efforts, if we are truly serious about long-term results, we must get resources into the hands of Haitian people. Imagine if 93% of our response to the pandemic went to foreign consulting firms and international organizations for conferences about what ought to be done. To begin with, the solutions from those meetings wouldn't respond to the complications of our specific context. In addition, that money would never find its way to the hands of citizens, schools, clinics, food pantries, and businesses.
Second, resources sent to help with this earthquake can contribute to the development of the rural economy, which did not happen in the previous response. Services, jobs, and opportunity are far too centralized in Port-au-Prince, a fact that leaves parents in beautiful, fertile, rural areas like Petit Trou no options to support their families. If the investment that comes with relief programs can be channeled in a way that supports the local economy and long-term prospects of places like Petit Trou, this can contribute not only to the long-term stability of Petit Trou, but to the prosperity of the country more broadly, easing strain on the overburdened and dysfunctional capital of Port-au-Prince.
We believe the most impactful way to engage globally is to focus locally in one place, with direct investment in local institutions. Building safe schools. Funding teacher salaries. Supporting clinics and community health workers. Bolstering farming and local food production. Funding afterschool programs for girls. Investing in women-led businesses. Our approach puts resources directly into people's hands and allows that investment to circulate and grow locally, improving livelihoods one community at a time. Now this community is in crisis, and we have an opportunity to provide an example of how effective international aid can work.
Petit Trou was at the epicenter of the earthquake. If we can invest smartly, strategically, and intensively in this initial response, with a smart transition to long-term development, Petit Trou can thrive. We have a 31-year relationship with this community and a deep and personal knowledge that local leaders, with access to resources, will make a difference that lasts. There is no question of whether the people there can do it — there is only the question of whether they will get the support they need, in the way they need it.
If you're able to help, and you find that vision compelling — 100 percent of all donations raised for this relief at locallyhaiti.org will end up in the hands of the Haitian leaders, like Patrick.
Wynn Walent lives in Lafayette and is executive director of Locally Haiti, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization. He first traveled to Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 to assist with relief efforts. He intended to stay for two months before returning to the U.S. for graduate school, but the powerful experiences he collected while supporting Haitian relief and development efforts stirred Wynn so deeply that he decided to defer his graduate studies and remain in Haiti.
(c)2021 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)
Visit the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) at www.dailycamera.com