December 15, 2010

Haitian diaspora missing opportunity to help reform USAID?

(AFP/Getty Images)

Sometimes the Haitian diaspora gets so caught up in old school methods of helping Haiti (remittances, barrel shipping, Haitian politics), it forgets to read the tea leaves of US foreign policy–and act before policy gets made or shot down.  Key word: before. Reform is all about timing; miss the boat one year, the opportunity won’t come around again for another 20 years.

Making the rounds this week is an Associated Press report that Haitian firms get $1.60 of every $100 of U.S. contracts paid out since January 12th to rebuild Haiti–or, less than 2 percent of $267 million.  It is possible to tip that ratio in favor of local business owners (and the U.S. firms who sub-contract to them), but the Haitian diaspora has to act now.

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December 11, 2010

Eyes on the prize | Creating employment in Haiti

A year after the quake, do nonprofits still have cash for cash-for-work? (Howard LaFranchi/The Christian Science Monitor)

Over the last month all eyes have been on actual and potential post-election violence in Haiti but there’s more than violence and frustration going on there (see below). Business happens in Haiti, too, but it’s a topic that won’t typically be reported on in the media–to the detriment of Haitian diaspora who’re either looking for sustainable ways to help their country or who want to magnify the impact of foreign aid.

Fact: investment opportunities exist in Haiti.  Business coverage can help to foster not only more of them but more open commercial transactions.  Fact: if there’s one word that the Haitians I talked to this summer repeated most often, it’s “job.”  Despite that, most of our media and community conversations in the US, even among the diaspora, center not on job creation but on charity–as if alms ever lifted any mass of people out of poverty.

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December 8, 2010

Election Results | Letter from Port-au-Prince

Fires are set in Haiti after the electoral commission yesterday announced the results of last week's controversial election. (Reuters/Allison Shelley)

Ed Note: Like most readers I’ve been receiving reports, rumors, online arguments, news, fearmongering, calls for calm, etc all day.  This morning I received a letter from a Haitian-American friend who lives in Port-au-Prince. Unlike most readers this is my first time worrying for loved ones in Haiti.

Dear Friends,

As Haiti week begins I think its important to talk about what is happening right now.  Many cities are burning today and no one can go outside. There are tires burning, Haitians being shot, wounded, gassed; manifestations, Aux Cayes is burning down, and essentially the country is burning down due to the presidential results announced last night.  Everyone is hearing gunshots and seeing smoke above their cities, including myself. Right now its Cap, Leogane, Aux Cayes, and Port au Prince…for now.

I’m sure you all have been up on the news but as Haiti week begins lets put Haiti into perspective because so long as the people are not respected and their freedoms are not respected, there will be no peace, and the people will continue to suffer even more.

Things are developing minute by minute and we don’t know if it will be a turn for the worst or that the unrest will be scaled down.  I pray for a resolution and hope that these events send some healing energy to our beloved Haiti.

Big Love,


December 5, 2010

Johnny Celestin | Revolution no answer to Haiti’s post-election crisis

Johnny Celestin, founding president, Haitian Fund for Innovation and Reconstruction

Editor’s Note: Concerned by Diaspora reactions to recent post-election unrest in Haiti, Johnny Celestin calls for order not chaos in his second post for DH.

I have been alarmed at the nonchalant ways in which observers from the Diaspora, especially friends whom I deeply respect have been bandying about the need for a revolution in Haiti.  They argue that because of claims of election irregularities, Haitians must take up arms against the current government – one more time.

They write that it would be a tribute to our revolutionary ancestors who 203 years ago, on 29 November 1803 issued a preliminary declaration of independence through military force. Yes, Haiti is in the midst of yet another crisis.  But rule of law, not more chaos and violence, is the answer that the Diaspora should seek.

For starters there is a tendency to over-simplify the Haitian revolution and downplay its impact on ordinary Haitians.

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October 18, 2010

Q&A | Tulane University’s Haitian Diaspora Survey Team

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.

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October 10, 2010

Johnny Celestin | Helping the Diaspora to Rebuild Haiti

Johnny Celestin, founder and president, The Haitian Fund for Innovation and Reconstruction

Editor’s Note: I recently attended a New York panel hosted by the Haitian Roundtable on the diaspora’s role in rebuilding Haiti. One speaker, Johnny Celestin, founder of a new Haiti investment fund and diaspora liaison at the Clinton Foundation kept it real about the diaspora’s obligations and offered tangible to-do’s and opportunities. With his permission I reprint his speech, edited for the Web, here.

The issues before us today are so important that we can’t concern ourselves with the possibility of offending sensibilities.  So without being too controversial, I would like to start with the hypothesis that the Diaspora is invisible and therefore irrelevant in the current debate about Haiti.  This irrelevance is nothing new but it is most acutely felt here in the United States because of proximity, the sheer size of Haitian Diaspora in the US, and its influence on the Haitian economy.

Let’s start with a few figures. They are the context within which we are here to discuss the question, “What is the role for the Haitian Diaspora?”

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September 6, 2010

My first time back from my first time in Haiti

View of P-au-P from a balcony of the collapsed Montana Hotel, reopened for media during the six-month anniversary

I didn’t realize I’d need a period of readjustment after returning to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince for the first time. Makes sense.  In the time it takes to drive from New York City to Baltimore I went from six weeks of 24/7 fight-or-flight response (normal in a place where if you get sick or hurt, ain’t no ambulance or cops coming) to the All-American sense that all is right in the world.

I’m home, I thought, when I saw the pink-tiled roofs of the Miami city grid.  Ambulances drive around down there.  Cops patrol the streets down there.  And when those two mess up there’re a couple buildings down there–City Hall, local news, law offices–that’ll welcome my complaints.  Even if the founding fathers didn’t intend it, this society was built to have my back.  In Haiti, for Haitians, it’s the opposite.  That realization however–the difference between Haiti and the United States–is the least that I think about now that I’ve been home for nearly a month.  I’m more taken by the disparities between Haitians (this includes foreigners with residences there).

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August 19, 2010

Is the Haitian electorate stupider than any other?

Crowd of Cité Soleil residents trying to access aid back in January (Thony Belizaire, AFP)

Let’s assume from the outset that being illiterate means you don’t know how to read, not that you lack common sense.  Let’s assume that before the printing press hit the scene in the 1400s, human beings had figured out that, say, being a priest and being a merchant required different skillsets.

I’ve just read the umpteenth U.S. article about Wyclef Jean, which suggests he has a good chance of becoming president. He might. I just haven’t come across any convincing evidence that a large swath of the Haitian population thinks about Jean nearly as much as his American counterparts do. Key words: large swath. Please tell me in comments if I am wrong.

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August 10, 2010

Keeping DH Alive|How to write about Haiti

At a tent city in Fort Mercredi in Carrefours Feuilles, rainwater pools on the dirt ground and leaks through the woven plastic tarps.

Coming up on the end of my 6-week reporting trip to Haiti, I’m trying to figure out how to come back and how to keep this site alive.  It can’t work if I’m out gathering information, even worse if I have infrequent Internet access.  That was to be the topic of this post but then, last night, it rained.  Rain should be the most blessed thing in a land where sweat beads three minutes after stepping out of the shower.  It ain’t.

One morning after a hard rain a couple of weeks ago, I emailed one of my sources in Tapis Rouge (not the same camp shown in these pictures) asking her to explain what it’s like to live in a tent while it rains. And I don’t mean the lazy dazy kind.  When I’d asked for her email address the day before, she said that she checked it once a week at a cyber cafe more than an hour’s walk away from the camp.  I wasn’t sure I’d get a response but I did:

lapli a te vreman panike nou.nou te pase you bon pati nan nwit la debou .epi nou te tann dlo a bese pou ranje tapi pou n donmi .mwen ak fanmy m nap viv ak anpil espwa nan ke nou paske nou kwe nan Bondye . … mpanse diw tout mesi paske w panse avem.msalye ak  fanmy w m espere nou kenbe kontak…..olivia.

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August 9, 2010

Diaspora Haitians, go home despite the distrust

Street vendor in Jacmel, Haiti. (Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak, Flickr)

by Deborah D. David

Of all the obstacles to face when returning home to Haiti, I never would have guessed my own people would be one of them.  Years ago when I was preparing to graduate college, an organization in Port-au-Prince hired me to work with ti machann, street vendors. I was really excited; I’d written my senior thesis about microcredit in Haiti.  What my university work could not prepare me for however, was the resistance of my Haitian co-workers to the “just come” in their midst.

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