Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kabrit is a Success.

Yesterday Ben and I helped F & J move... with the cargobikes! See pictures here.

Frank shot this sweet video of Ben on his trip to fill up their propane bottles (prior to which Ben carried 70lb of satellite equipment to their new home):

Fun was had by all and when Ben and I were finally heading home, someone on the street said to us, "that little machine (ie. the Kabrit) has sure worked hard today!"

Friday, March 26, 2010

Haiti in Easter

This morning I received the following email message from a colleague/friend/inspiration of mine and wanted to share it with you:


We move into Holy Week on Sunday, and for most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, this is an important time.

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, we remember collectively the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. The arrival of the Christ is announced: "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a coalt, the foal of a donkey." (Mt. 21:5)

This week we will remember the last supper, the betrayal, the crowd, the crucifixion, the mourning and , finally, the resurrection.

Through his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus creates a new model of social, political, economic, ideological - paradigmatic - relationship. Jesus announces the upside-down kingdom, in which the last shall be first. In his death, Jesus presents us with the possibility of resurrection.

We invite you to think especially of Haiti in this week. We invite you to consider the truth of the resurrection this week.

We believe this. We can believe in a Haiti healed, free, dignified.

We invite you to consider the following prayer and come together in community some time this week, to reflect, pray, sing, mourn, commune, drum, dance and celebrate life in Haiti.

For more information on Haiti and how you can get involved see: or

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Endless Learning

That's what we do here - learn. Just when we think we're starting to "get" Haiti and we let ourselves feel a teeny bit confident, we are shown how very little we understand this culture.

Last week the main point on the agenda for our team meeting was the theft of about 30 of our relief buckets. It seems that as the distribution truck was leaving our depo (warehouse) in Croix-des-Bouquets, a small group of people blocked the road with rocks, forced the truck to stop and stole the buckets... Our material aid distribution folks then called the Croix-des-Bouquets police to accompany them as a security measure. To add insult to injury, the police kept the truck, demanding that they be given relief buckets as well.

Well, Ben and I were outraged by this - theft! corruption! - and were promptly humbled by the response of our Haitian colleagues, which was to acknowledge that the people in that community and the police are also earthquake victims, probably in nearly as much need as our intended beneficiaries (after all, who knows when the police will actually be paid) and that perhaps we should be making sure that the people living around our depo are receiving aid. The Haitian sense of justice and of equality is very different from our own. Where we see corruption that needs to be dealt with, our colleagues see an opportunity for a more equalized distribution of resources.

Just to be clear, I am still not condoning what I still believe to be the theft of our relief supplies. I do, however, think that this has been yet another lesson for me in cultural understanding. Here's to being stretched and transformed into more culturally sensitive people. Someday? I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one even as I doubt that I will ever truly get there.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Perspective: The place of peace in constructing Haiti

by Rebecca Bartel and Alexis Erkert Depp

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – As the world rallies in response to the catastrophic earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, in Haiti, the global Christian family is invited to consider the place of God’s shalom, God’s peace, in the rebuilding of Haitian lives and infrastructure.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is doing just that, as we provide immediate emergency support, but also plan for medium- and long-term efforts.

MCC’s commitment to working toward the holistic well-being of communities and churches around the world stems from God’s vision of peace and dignity for humanity. The prophet Micah describes this as instruction that goes forth from Zion, “the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” that “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4, NRSV)

This vision holds central basic human rights, such as access to food, health care, meaningful employment, security and education.

It also underscores the necessity of justice for the vision to be fulfilled, and the importance of human empowerment.

To understand the strategies needed for Haiti’s construction, it is appropriate to consider the obstacles this country has experienced. Natural disasters are beyond our human control, but the vulnerability of Haiti to their horrific consequences is human-made. There is nothing natural about poverty, hunger and political unrest.

Poverty. Beginning with the exorbitant debt of 150 million francs (the equivalent of $21 billion U.S. today) forced on the population after independence from France in 1804, to more recent structural adjustment policies and conditions on foreign aid, Haiti has been under the heel of external economic policies that exacerbate and systematize poverty.

Until June 2009, Haiti was paying $56 million to $70 million a year to service debts to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Close to 45 percent of that debt was incurred during the U.S.-backed Duvalier dictatorships (1957-1986). Until the forgiveness of $1.2 billion of Haiti’s foreign debt by the IMF and the World Bank last year, the government spent $4 per person on health care and $5 per person on education each year, while paying $5 per person in debt service.

Hunger. Until 1985, Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production – a staple in the modern Haitian diet. Under the tutelage of international financing institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF, Haiti liberalized its economic policies, opening the door to foreign exports, such as rice.

In 1994 conditions on foreign aid to the country and the reinstatement of ousted President Bertrand Aristide by the U.S. chiseled Haiti’s import tariffs on rice from 35 to 3 percent, the lowest in the region. Because of U.S.-subsidized rice entering the country at half the price of locally produced rice, and because these aid conditions prohibited the Haitian government from subsidizing local production, thousands of rice farmers were put out of business. Many were displaced to urban centers such as Port-au-Prince, where weak infrastructure and the lack of jobs forced millions of people to live in shanty towns and poorly constructed housing.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, now U.N. special envoy to Haiti, publicly apologized on March 10 for championing these policies. Quoted in The New York Times, Clinton said, “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”

Dependence on foreign food imports magnifies misery in times of crisis.

Political unrest. Haiti has a history of foreign military intervention. This usurping of national authority has weakened state institutions and civil society.

While the foreign troop presence in Haiti is decreasing from the early days following the earthquake, there is still confusion about its mandate. MCC’s Haitian partners say they want military personnel to refrain from carrying assault rifles in public, and for Canadian and U.S. troops to clearly articulate their mission within the framework of the United Nations Mission in Haiti.

Principles that guide MCC response. God’s vision of shalom, for the people of Haiti to sit unafraid “under their own vines and under their own fig trees,” calls the Christian family to consider the long-term investment that must be made for Haiti to rise out of the crisis it faced even before the earthquake of Jan. 12. In response to this call, MCC has developed internal principles to guide its part in the work.

These include emphasis on local and sustainable development, Haitian-led decision making about development and investment priorities, demilitarization of aid efforts, and immigration policy that respects the Haitian Diaspora and dignifies the migration process.

It calls us to respond immediately, but also to consider how our governments and institutions make policy decisions that victimize the world’s marginalized people.
It calls us to witness to policymakers, faithfully sharing God’s vision for justice, peace and dignity for all people, and encouraging policy decisions that bring life, not death, to our brothers and sisters around the world.

As relief efforts continue, more opportunities will arise to work for human dignity in Haiti. We cannot control the movements of the earth, but we can control how our voice is heard in government.

The Haitian people call us to share our prophetic voice, as does Isaiah 62:1:

“For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent.” “Jan m' renmen mòn Siyon sa a! Se pou m' pale.”


See or for more information about the advocacy principles that undergird MCC’s response to the Haiti earthquake.

Rebecca Bartel is MCC policy analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean. Alexis Erkert Depp is MCC policy analyst for Haiti.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Graffiti Tells a Story

Something Personal

Obviously, we haven't had the time to post much lately. In addition to resuming our pre-stress-leave workloads, one of Ben's brothers returned to Haiti with us for two weeks. Caleb is an ER nurse and has been volunteering days at CDTI, a hospital downtown. We also have friends, F and J, living with us who have returned to Haiti after losing everything they own in the earthquake.

Since the earthquake, we've often wished we had more practical skills to offer Haiti in this time. What I wouldn't have given to have medical training on the night of the 12th and following days! Although I recognize the long-term importance of what both Ben and I are able to do here, having Caleb come home from the hospital everyday makes my 10 hour day of working on policy recommendations feel awfully unproductive. Nevertheless, here we are typing away (me) and taking pictures (Ben)...

We've both noticed that upon returning to Haiti, all of that healthy grief we were processing has been shoved back under the rug (or in perhaps in this case, the tres kokoyè). Not only do we not have the time or energy to sit down and have good, long cries these days, but as soon as we stepped off the plane we reverted to our pre-stress-leave coping mechanisms for dealing with what's happening in Haiti.

Speaking of our stress leave, we spent some of our time in Akron reading letters that accompanied individual donations to the Haiti Earthquake Response and were impressed by how much our organization's constituents trust us to use their money wisely. This filled us with a heavy sense of responsibility. It's humbling and healthy to be reminded of where our money comes from and of the expectations (as well as the personal prayers and encouragement) that accompany it. It made me glad - possibly for the first time? - that I don't earn a salary that will come out of that money and it made me feel guilty because I'm pretty sure that when Sammy in Alaska donated $2.50 "so that Haitians can have beds and other stuff", he didn't intend for it to be put towards the new solar panel on our house. This kind of debate is something we're constantly confronted with. Eating a meal in a restaurant across the street from an IDP camp. Buying a bouquet of flowers in front of a street kid. How to balance our spending and lifestyle so that it's healthy and sustainable for us and at the same time doesn't distance us too much from our Haitian brothers and sisters... this will never be easy.

Other minutiae:

We think Luna the 5-month old kitten might be pregnant. We returned to Haiti to find her going through what we can only assume was her first heat cycle. Awesome.

Local yogurt is available in the grocery stores again and mango season is in full swing.

With a combination of the aforementioned solar panel and irregular state electricity, we've had pretty consistent power since we returned, which also means pretty consistent running water.

There were two sizable aftershocks the day before yesterday and WE DIDN'T FEEL THEM. This seems like somewhat of an accomplishment after more than a month of jumping at the slightest vibration. Also, we are sleeping inside and sleeping just fine.

This weekend, pending the arrival of 20,000 MCC relief kits that Ben will need to photograph, we hope to take Caleb backpacking in the mountains.

A final note:

It has rained almost daily since we returned. Rainy season always presents a challenge for the urban poor in Haiti and, post-earthquake, those challenges are even more pronounced.

Post Earthquake KPL (Support Local Production) video


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