Life in the time of Cholera & NGO empires

This afternoon I had planned to meet with a group of women from SOPUDEP sister school for adult women in Bobin but a number of the women and their families have come down with cholera so the sessions are closed for the moment. Some of the women are in hospital already but there is also the need to distribute diarrhea medication to control the illness before taking people to hospital and of course the issue of clean water remains a big problem.

Yesterday I took a walk through the streets of Port-au-Prince from Pétion-Ville to Champ de Mars where the Presidential Palace is located and a number of IDP camps. I have no words to describe the streets and scenes and I am told that there is much worse in places like Cite Soleil. Poverty is not exclusive to Haiti but I try to think of what it is that makes this so different and terrible. I think what is so shocking about the poverty here is that it is born out of 200 years of relentless brutality of the west in response towards the Haitian struggle for self-determination and dignity. The earth quake – the hugeness of the destruction of lives and the city are also a direct consequence of this brutality. I cant think of any other country that has lived through such an assault of violence in all it’s forms.

There are hundreds of NGOs operating in the country, some of them small single person operations helping one small group of people who they found and then become ‘partners’ which appears to be the new word for ‘funder’ and implies a partnership and equality not present in funder. Whether this is really the nature of their relationship is something which needs to be examined more closely. Many of these charities raise a great money in their local communities at home and money is then sent to Haiti. But being dependent on charities can be risky. There is no guarantee how long support will last and there is no accountability to anyone and many small local projects providing education, protection and support to women survivors of violence and orphanages [ particularly vulnerable to predator charities] are completely off the radar.

The example of Save The Children which despite having its office next to SOPUDEP school in Petion-Ville have never approached the school to offer any help before or since the earthquake. I learned of two schools for the poor, one in Citie Soleil and the other in Boucan Lapli. Both of these are schools only in that there is a teacher and there are some children who want to learn. They are barely surviving – a husband and wife running one and a single woman running the other. I spoke to the couple running the Boucan Lapli school which has now come under the SOPUDEP umbrella and is receiving small amounts of their resources. The school was the victim of a NGO scam whereby they were offered money to start but very soon the monies dried up and the Haitian contact person could not be found. The school started with 260 children. All the teachers have left and just 60 children remain. They tried and tried but could not get help from anywhere until now. The other school has been approached indirectly by some foreigners but there is a need for caution on their part and of other projects in a similar position. How do local projects, schools find out who is behind an NGOs or charity that wishes to work with them? How do they know they are appropriate and honest?. How will they be made accountable for their work? Nonetheless can a country be run and provide essential services through hundreds of different NGOs of varying sizes often with duplication and lacking a holistic strategy. With no strong government in place there is the very good chance of Haiti becoming a fragmented empire of NGOs.