Saturday, June 26, 2010

What is True

This article from the LA Times, "Haitians still wait for recovery" has gotten a lot of attention over the past day and 1/2. I first saw it when it came up as the first article on my Haiti google alerts yesterday morning. Later in the day, a family member emailed it to us to ask if what the article says about the situation in Haiti is true. I've since seen it posted and/or linked to on various blogs and facebook.

The article says, "Real reconstruction has yet to begin, while the people suffer in ramshackle housing in overcrowded camps...", that rubble removal has not yet really started and on and on. The article places most of the blame on the Haitian government, citing that "the government in Port-au-Prince has lapsed into the classic pattern of corruption, inefficiency and delay that holds the country hostage."

This is all true - we face these uncomfortable realities everyday as we work for as organization that is trying to provide relief and plan reconstruction work- but it's also not the whole truth.

It's true that based on a recent shelter cluster report only 2,000 transitional shelters have been built by international NGOs and that tarps and tents that were distributed within the first 3 months already need to be replaced - which according to the statistics, leaves 1 million people vulnerable to the rains. But it's also true that Haitians have been building their OWN temporary shelters since just days after the earthquake. They are demolishing their own unsafe houses (see Ben's Portraits of Port-Au-Prince slideshow below) and moving their own rubble.

It's true that the international community is frustrated with and has largely pointed blame towards the Haitian government for the way things are going. But, it's also true that thus far, only 2% of the pledges for aid that have made to Haiti have been delivered. Brazil is the only country that has fulfilled its pledge from the UN donor conference. Without this money, it is unrealistic to expect the weakened Haitian government to be able to meet the world's expectations.

It's also true that from around the world, people are still expressing their solidarity with Haiti. For the past two weeks a group of Mennonites from Paraguay were here to work alongside Haitians doing rubble removal. They were absolutely blown away by how hard the work was and by how much has already been accomplished with the limited equipment and tools available to most Haitians. One told us that when they drove through Port-Au-Prince upon arrival and saw how much rubble litters the city almost six months after the earthquake, they thought that Haitians must be lazy. Now, two weeks later he says he cannot fathom how hard the people of Port-Au-Prince must have worked to have made so much progress.
It is also true that this month people in 23 communities in the Artibonite are planting trees that have been grown by Haitian tree nurseries (see Ben's latest post).

People are living their lives, cooking meals, doing laundry, visiting with neighbors, going to the salon, caring for their children, going to work, attending church... Living in an IDP camp does not keep most Haitians from dressing much nicer than I do every day (I cannot imagine that I would show up at work in heels if I had no home even if wearing nice shoes is culturally very important). People without formal jobs continue to eek out a living selling fruit or sunglasses or used clothes on the street. Children are playing (even in the rain).

Maybe all of this sounds callous - like I don't care that the IDP camps in Port-Au-Prince have swollen to 1.5 million people, that they are "congested beyond imagination," that it's hurricane season and that public toilets are overflowing. It's not that at all. I care deeply about Haiti, which is why I think it's important that we acknowledge the whole truth.

The international community gauges the situation in Haiti based on the numbers of shelters and temporary schools and clinics they themselves build, the tonnes of food aid distributed, the number of water filters... But what Haitians are doing for themselves to carry on with their own lives, the food that Haitian farmers are growing that is being sold in the market, the work of Haitian human rights organizations and Haitian development organizations and community associations are carrying out- all this doesn't figure into the official reports. Shouldn't it, though? Shouldn't this be the most important part of the equation? Long after the relief organizations pull out, Haitians will still be here doing what they've always done to survive the past 200 years of internal conflict, natural disasters, external interventions, structural adjustment policies (and let's face it, the work of well-meaning aid agencies). And they'll be singing, dancing, dressing well, producing some of the world's most compelling art, watching soccer games, drinking rum and playing dominoes along the way.
-Alexis from Ben's account


Fred and Jean said...

Thank you so much for your comprehensive, sensitive, well-articulated response to my simple 'is this really true?' and for the beautiful photos too! We continue to pray for Haiti and for you both. love you lots! M & D

nerkert said...

Great post, Lex. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

All I can do is echo what the parents said. Thank you Alexis. Those photographs are powerful and speak volumes--blew me away. Love, MED

ianandmonica said...

Are you sure you are not a citizen of Haiti yet? Honorary passport? This is very true and so well written Lexi. We would even say that there is more happening on our side of town that no one ever reports. All the attention is on PAP. Journalist love only reporting about PAP. Leogane is actually ground zero of the earthquake and so much has changed there. It is true Haitians own reconstruction efforts are never counted and should be. Praise God for your attention to detail. Keep more commentaries coming!


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