Archive for June, 2010

June 26, 2010

DH Editor’s Update|My first time in Haiti

A couple of times today, we drove through the smell of human feces on our way to a private beach south of Port-au-Prince (Pótoprens en Kreyol).  No one said anything. I said, “Shit,” one of the few times in my life that I meant it literally, and my mate in the back seat with me, also a journalist, said, “Yeah.”

People standing shoulder-to-shoulder and behind them, bright blue-tarped and grayish-blue plastic tents, lined both sides of what would ordinarily be considered a main thoroughfare just outside the central city.  Along one stretch, portable homes made of rusted corrugated tin, about the width of an outstretched human body, formed a median in the road.  I saw a naked leg sprawled on a mattress inside one of them, cooking.  It had to have been 95 degrees today.  We drove for a long while.  The sea that we came to was the color of the tents.  It was very pretty.

Coconuts arrive by boat at a relatively empty beach area (no sand, only a cement dock) in Mariani, a town just south of P-au-P

Today is my first full day in Haiti.  I chose to begin this post with the smell of shit and the private beach because my first impression, since arriving yesterday, is that uncomfortable contrasts will be one of the defining features of Haiti.

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June 20, 2010

DH Interviews | TMS Ruge of Africa’s Project Diaspora

TMS Ruge, co-founder, Project Diaspora and senior product manager, Uganda Medicinal Plants Growers (UMPG)

Editor’s note: part of DH’s mission is to model for Haitians and Haitian-Americans, the best efforts/practices of diasporas worldwide. Introducing the first in what will be a regular series:

TMS (Teddy) Ruge is on a mission to mobilize the African diaspora to invest in Africa.  That’s not a hard sell these days, considering some countries’ annual growth rate hovers around 10 percent. After living in Kenya and then the United States for 18 years, Ruge now spends half his time assisting indigenous farmers and women refugees in his native Uganda.  He spoke with DH via Skype one Sunday afternoon about his entrepreneurial venture, Project Diaspora, partnering with the Ugandan government and his diaspora-led vision for Africa.

DH: What are you up to in Uganda?
A: At the moment I’m managing two pilot projects—one deals with helping 19 refugee women in Kireka get their products to market, the other, we’re organizing 1,500 farmers to produce agroceuticals.  Hopefully the pilots will teach us a few lessons about the in’s and out’s of community and economic development from a social entrepreneurship angle.  And … within a few years, we can show the results of what can happen by thinking broadly … instead of simply relying on remittances to your family.

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June 18, 2010

Job announcement: help organize NGOs in Haiti

A map of Health-related projects in Haiti (InterAction, haitiaidmap.org)

This morning I came across a job announcement directly related to Deborah David’s database proposal to wrangle NGOs and the general concern that NGOs are “wild cards” in Haiti’s development.  Not only don’t they typically coordinate social service delivery with each other, there are thousands of unregistered and unchecked NGOs in the country–perhaps encouraged by the same misperception that aid worker TFTH laments:

Somewhere along the line we’ve done a basic disservice to our donors, to our “Third Audience”, and to ourselves: We have allowed them to believe that relief and development work are easy, uncomplicated and inexpensive.

For all of the romantic oooh-aaaah sometimes associated with aid work, the general population continues to basically lack respect for both the nature of the problems being tackled by aid work, and also what it takes to do aid work. And whether it’s, “98 cents of your dollar goes directly to beneficiaries”,  “your $100 buys a poor family a cow and gets them out of poverty”, or “feel good about making a difference while on vacation”, we’ve become totally seduced by the belief that solving the basic problems of the world can be done cheaply and easily.

Quite frankly, I could call myself an “NGO” and get away with it.  In fact, I came across an online description of myself as a “humanitarian blogger.”  What in the world does that mean?  I’m no humanitarian.  I’m a journalist–end of story.

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June 17, 2010

How the Haitian government can organize NGOs to help Haiti

Guest contributor and diaspora member Deborah D. David suggests a publicly-accessible database to help wrangle NGOs.

The NGO-led development model in Haiti is not ideal, especially if Haiti is to ever thrive on its own. Former President Bill Clinton recognized as much at last year’s Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress in Miami, when he revealed that Haiti had the most NGOs per capita after India—the second most populous country on earth.  Haiti had truly earned the nickname, “Republic of NGOs.”

Four days after the earthquake, Save the Children distributes food, water and supplies at Hospital Espoire in Port-au-Prince (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Clinton recognized then that while the thousands of non-governmental organizations in Haiti provide necessary social services, they must better coordinate with each other for greater impact.  More importantly, they must ultimately cede responsibility for providing social services to their rightful owner: the Haitian government.

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June 15, 2010

Best opportunity ever: the diaspora, land and public service

The highlighted green portion above, about 20,000 acres, includes Corail-Cesselesse, one of the newer camp settlements outside P-au-P central

In my periodic search for news about the most consequential issue for Haitians–right after emergency food and medicine–I came across an Ansel Herz article and as luck* would have it, a 7-year project begun pre-earthquake, to modernize Haiti’s land registry.  (Gotta love the Internets.)  What follows are highlights, particularly as they relate to the diaspora.  The big question, always: how can members of the Haitian diaspora facilitate the development of Haiti?  From my perspective, I say, prioritize.

No population relocation, urban planning, transportation planning, infrastructure design, agricultural or tourism development, environmental recovery, or investment attraction will be possible without updated cadastral information….Property taxes cannot be collected…[foreign investment] will not arrive without the security provided by a modern cadastre and land rights infrastructure….

If your thing is women’s rights and safety, you’ve gotta be about the land. If your thing is providing good medical care in Haiti, you’ve got to be about the land.  If your thing is harvesting Haitian souls for the Lord, you’ve got to be about the land.  If your thing is healthy and educated children, you’ve got to be about the land.  If your thing is alms for the poor, you’ve got to be about the land.  As far as I’m concerned, the desire to resolve land rights is the measure of a humanitarian’s genuine interest in building a sustainable Haiti. Everything else is either short-sighted or ego.

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June 11, 2010

DH is looking for guest writers–Part II

Yesterday I described the kind of writing that DH will not publish.  Today, an overview of the perspectives that we do want.  Besides being well-informed, forward-thinking and opinionated, DH writing should:

Still interested? Contact: carla(dot)m(dot)murphy(at)gmail(dot)com.

June 10, 2010

DH is looking for guest writers–submit ideas here!

Writers should, at a minimum, have a point of view and weigh in on what’s right and wrong or strange and confusing about how Haiti develops.  Solution-oriented pieces are especially welcome. Of course links are a must as are pics, video, graphs, etc–anything to show your reader a good time online.

Don’t worry about the quality of your writing. I’ll coach and edit you (painlessly).  Don’t worry if you have a half-baked idea. I’ll talk you through it.  Until DH can transition to a news site, I want to run well-informed pieces and Q&A’s (both 200-600 words) that showcase strong perspectives and authoritative voices. Update: This isn’t a call for regular contributors; feel free to be a one-hit wonder.

A word of advice about what DH is not.  Please don’t be offended.  There’re so many other places on the Web for these perspectives; it just ain’t here.  DH will not publish writing that’s primarily:

  • promoting Haitian music, poetry, or the arts unless there is a community profit or development angle.
  • celebrating your generosity towards Haitians
  • idolizing Haiti’s forefathers
  • lamenting the continued rape/colonization/underdevelopment of Haiti by the U.S. or European power
  • unleashing a generation’s worth of anger towards all of Haiti’s leaders since Papa Doc Duvalier
  • ripping into the UN and NGO sector in a general way.  Specifics, however, are very welcome.
  • blaming Haiti’s current state on the vindictiveness of foreign powers
  • starring an American or Haitian-American savior
  • reproducing these what-not-to-do guidelines
  • [feel free to add your own oft-overheard thread from the “Haiti development” conversation]

Some or all of the above may have merit; it’s not my intention to say they do not.  But very little of the above hasn’t already been said or is forward-thinking.

Still interested?  Contact: carla(dot)m(dot)murphy(at)gmail(dot)com.

June 10, 2010

Read Me: New article in the Haitian Times

I’ve just finished a story about New York area businesses that are trying to get a slice of the $10 billion reconstruction pie. I plan to continue reporting in the vein of profit and business, particularly those firms that are creating employment in Haiti.  I figure there’re enough reporters covering aid as charity, how it works and then blaming the usual suspects when it doesn’t.  That’s a valuable frame but there’re so many other ways to frame how development goes down in Haiti.  I’m open to other ideas so, holler.

Unfortunately, my story’s behind a pay wall so I’ll reproduce a bit here:

[Jean] Petrus belongs to a small coterie of New York-area businesses, most owned by Haitian-Americans, pushed by a slow recovery at home and pulled by both patriotism and profit to help reconstruct Haiti.
[According to the Associated Press] more than 105,000 homes need to be rebuilt, along with 1,300 schools, 50 hospitals, the presidential palace, parliament and courts, not to mention debris removal and technology and infrastructure development.
These Haitian-American owners are new to the world of federal procurement, however. Since January 12th, other American firms with extensive international experience in disaster clean-up and construction—many with lessons learned from post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction—have been setting up offices, camps and mess halls for an anticipated workforce in Port-au-Prince.
It remains to be seen whether and how effectively Haitian-American firms can compete for the more than $1 billion in aid pledged by the United States over the next decade.

June 9, 2010

DH is reading…

an interview with agronomist Volny Paultre on agrarian reform in Haiti:

Agriculture is part of the solution to the problems of Haiti. But most of the opportunities are not directly in farming. Farming is saturated.

One candidate for the upcoming presidential elections apparently disagrees.

And while not one construction contract has yet been awarded, foreign firms are drumming their fingers. Meanwhile, debris removal hinders progress.

… there is so much debris to dispose of — 20 million to 25 million cubic yards (15 million to 19 million cubic meters), enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome five times — and only one approved dumping site for the entire country, the Port-au-Prince terminal Varreux.

June 9, 2010

Affirmative action for Haitian-Americans living in the US

The U.S. takes the lead behind Venezuela in aid pledged for Haiti's reconstruction

Should (competent) Haitian-American professionals and business owners get first dibs at federal contracts to help rebuild Haiti? Should they be allowed to skip the line ahead of other American businesses–including minority and women suppliers?  Tough questions. Who in the Haitian diaspora is asking them? Do they even feel as though they can demand preferential treatment from the U.S. government to rebuild their native country?

I’ve been reporting a story about Haitian-American business owners who want to get in on the $9.9 billion in aid for Haiti’s reconstruction.  Haiti needs everything after all: roads, homes, schools, IT, etc.  Most of the people I spoke to were just now learning how to procure federal contracts with USAID not to mention the 20-something other federal agencies that outsource international development to US firms.  In short, they don’t really have a clue and are trying to get one.

All of them feel–very strongly–that the diaspora should help to rebuild Haiti.  And when asked, say, yes, of course, (competent) Haitian-American businesses and professionals should be first in line to receive federal contracts.  But what are they doing about it?  Nada.  Interestingly, they’re not taking this notion of having a ‘natural right’ to rebuild Haiti to its logical political conclusion — which is to lobby federal agencies for first dibs at those reconstruction contracts.

I don’t know the right answer to the above questions. I am interested in however, in considering a future where the US outsources international development primarily to hyphenated-Americans originally from the target country.    Certainly more aid money would circulate in the target country’s economy instead of accruing in a foreigner’s foreign bank account.  For example, Haitian-Americans are  more likely than foreigners to lend, spend or share their earnings with Haitians.

So, would development happen faster? In a fairer way?  And isn’t that possibility worth the political effort to find out?