Editor’s Note: I contacted the HDS team for an interview after seeing their advertisement for survey-takers on the Corbett list a few weeks ago. One, I wanted to know who was collecting information on the diaspora and for what purpose. Two, I wanted to encourage any effort to put together a reliable snapshot of the disapora’s makeup, as well as its views on and contributions to Haiti. There is little data out there beyond basic information. Tulane University master’s students Luis Capuchina and Vinita Oberoi launched the survey on September 15, 2010. Fill it out before their early December deadline.
Why are you focusing on the Haitian diaspora?
Haiti is in an exceptional situation. The January 2010 earthquakes compounded the hardship associated with decades of underdevelopment, debatable NGO influence, environmental degradation and poor governance. We want to see how at a grassroots level, the Haitian diaspora—particularly first and second-generation—are responding to this historic disaster in their homeland.
How can survey results benefit Haitian-Americans who want to influence Haiti’s development?
Grassroots groups may find that some of their own activities echo those of the greater Haitian diaspora in the United States and find inspiration to seek out other diaspora groups in different US cities. We want organizations interested in receiving results to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But the more concrete benefit is that the aggregated survey responses will be presented at a national public health conference this November. [Read the abstract.] Some attendees have already shown interest in our presentation and we are trying to the best of our ability to act as advocates for the Haitian diaspora. We hope to relay a unified voice of grassroots diaspora groups to public health and development professionals who are taking an active role in rebuilding Haiti.
What kind of information are you gathering?
The survey has four major sections: culture, politics and education; health and development; remittances and demographic information.
Generally, what has response to the survey been so far?
As of the morning of 12 October we’ve had 131 survey responses. We have quite an uphill battle though as we’re aiming for at least 500 responses by early December. And unfortunately, we’ve had many participants not finish the survey. We want to be as comprehensive as possible in capturing the sentiments of the Haitian diaspora so we really urge people to answer all the questions. If we don’t get enough replies, particularly on remittances, it becomes very difficult, or impossible, for us to reach valid conclusions.
Why are you curious about what the diaspora has to say about Haiti’s development? Your interest doesn’t appear to be the norm within the development industry.
Diaspora opinions seem to be heard by NGOs and development agencies, but especially in the case of Haiti these opinions are sidelined. This is a seriously erroneous approach. The Haitian diaspora can provide personal knowledge of the Haitian context, sustained funding for rebuilding and long-term devotion to reconstruction efforts. In the development community such devotion often evaporates as media coverage wanes and our governments divert attention elsewhere.
In a nutshell we’re interested in expanding the idea that diasporas should be included in future development efforts and not just seen as a “brain drain” or a source of remittances. We have found though, that institutional attitudes against diasporas are starting to change. For example, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) [which also manages the roughly 1,300 camps in Haiti] is currently conducting a survey of the Tanzanian diaspora. With increasing migration (excepting dips due to the global financial crisis) diasporas will be very important in the future.
Luis Capuchina and Vinita Oberoi, the Haitian Diaspora Survey Team, are students working on their Master’s in Public Health at Tulane University.