Here’s the Honest Truth about Haiti

Martin Coria | January 12, 2015

CWS supported the repair of a technical training school for people with disabilities through Service Chretien d'Haiti. Photo: Jason Knapp/CWS

CWS supported the repair of a technical training school for people with disabilities through Service Chretien d’Haiti. Photo: Jason Knapp/CWS

I honestly believe five years after the January 2010 earthquake that hundreds of thousands of lives have changed for the good in Haiti. At the same time, I think one of the wisest and responsible things foreign and local humanitarian agencies can do the next five years is to remind ourselves and others of the fundamental fact that all we do is profoundly human and thus limited and imperfect.

The reality of CWS and many other foreign humanitarian agencies partnering with Haitian nonprofit organizations, civil society coalitions and communities for a Haiti with social justice, democracy and sustainable development, is that progress takes time, programmatic approaches are multi-sectorial and multi-disciplinary and program costs considerable. There are so many natural, political and socio-cultural forces and dynamics at play, both within and outside Haiti, that explain our collective and individual success and failure as individual agencies and “as a sector” (some call it the humanitarian sector, others the aid industry).

I recently spent some time over the holidays going through a sample of promotional and marketing material prepared and e-mailed to donors and supporters by well-intended U.S. charities and nonprofits working in Haiti. In doing so, I couldn´t but noticed two common and worrying threads that seem to remain unchanged despite the many lessons learned from earthquake recovery and reconstruction these years:

  1. First, to convey the idea to “people on the pews” -most of which will never be in Haiti or talk to a Haitian- that programmatic success and positive change in Haiti is fast, it is programmatically simple or “easy” and inexpensive. Yes, tree planting, wells-construction, seeds, goats and microloans distribution, green energy  are all good things that carefully implemented have the potential to be part of a solution. CWS projects include many of these components. However, hardly any of them in and by itself can be responsibly considered or marketed as “the” durable and sustainable solution to a family, a community or a country needs or problems. Individual and organizational capacity-building including building the capacity of the Haitian government agencies, peacebuilding at all levels, pro-poor public policies including land, housing and tax reform, a functioning judiciary that protects the rights of children, women and the working poor, a just and mature relation with neighbor Dominican Republic are some of the crucial challenges we all continue to face. With the mission to eradicate hunger and poverty and promote peace and justice, CWS programs aim to address –in collaboration with many others- many of these structural issues in Haiti.
  2. Second, in going through the above mentioned materials one could think NGOs found the miracle solution to succeed in Haiti. None of them seem to fail, ever!! When was the last time you heard or read a foreign humanitarian agency working in Haiti saying “We do a lot of good but, listen, we fail too. Here is an example, this is what we learned and this is how we corrected it.” NGOs in Haiti, both foreign and nationals, have a long way to go in terms of “talking failure” both internally and to key stakeholders.

Honor and respect in memory of the victims, their families and loved ones and for the amazing and profoundly human job done by hundreds of Haitian and foreign (not only Americans or Europeans but also Cubans, Dominicans) humanitarian organizations.

Martin Coria is the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Coordinator at CWS.

Read CWS’s Three-Year Plan for Haiti here.