So my advocacy delegation has come and gone. Staff from MCC's offices in Ottawa, New York, Washington, our Communications department and policy analyst for Latin America came here to learn from our partners so that they can better advocate for social, economic and political justice in Haiti.
We spent a lot of time listening. We listened to MCC staff in what became a moving group processing of the night of the earthquake. We listened to MCC partners and friends. We visited and listened to displaced people living in a camp. We spent a night with families in Desarmes and listened to their stories. We even listened to the UN - to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to the FAO and to MINUSTAH.
We learned a lot from all of this listening.
In the middle of our week together, Linda Espenshade (MCC Communications) wrote the following reflection:
The situation in Haiti seems simple enough. You have people with need after the massive earthquake and people who can give. You put them together and the problem is solved, right?
Underlying the obvious earthquake needs are all the other needs Haiti has had for a very long time: A secure supply of food, education, health, stable government, human rights, safe housing and much more.
For years, other governments, nongovernmental organizations and faith-based groups have responded to the need. So much money has been poured into Haiti by well-meaning and not-so-well meaning groups that the issues here should have been solved.
So why are the living conditions in Haiti still desperate? Certainly you can point to the earthquake, but Haitians have told us repeatedly that the earthquake has only exacerbated the problems that have always been here.
A big part of the problem, they say, is that well-intentioned groups come to Haiti and provide the solutions that seem logical to them, without listening to what Haitians in that particular community think will work.
If I could write a refrain to a song for Haiti, it would be something like this: Listen, listen to the voices of the Haitian people. Listen, we are talking. We are thinking. We know our people. We are planning. We can act. Can you listen?
Since Sunday, we met with at least five or six leaders of Haitian partners who advocate for the neediest and their refrain is the same. The United Nations comes in with its plans. The big NGOs come in with their plans. The Haitian government has its plans. They decide what the Haitian populace needs and wants, without ever consulting them.
I try to imagine what I would feel like if I was in their shoes. How would I feel having people come into my country after a disaster and telling me what to eat, where to live and what work to do? How would I feel watching people who had never been in my country before decide what’s best for me and my neighborhood, when they don’t even speak the same language I speak.
How would I feel having tanks patrol my streets or truckloads of soldiers from other countries with guns at the ready driving through my neighborhood.
As one MCC partner, Antonal Mortime of The Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations said: “The United States sent 22,000 troops (after the earthquake). There is no war here. We could have maybe used 20,000 trauma therapists…we maybe could have used that many civil engineers, like MCC did. They had people come and evaluate people’s homes…We could have used people who were architects or geologists to give us advice…”
Instead the U.S. government sent them soldiers.
But who asked? Who listened?