Can Canadian NGOs Help Haitians?

April 26, 2010

by Paul

 Once we free our intellects of corporate and nationalist control, we face some disquieting conundrums. All serious, relevant analyses show that, over the last century, the American Empire has thwarted every attempt by Haitians to control their own country. Only Francois Duvalier managed to keep the Americans at bay … by exploiting his own people in their place. Out of that Duvalier horror grew the Ti Ligliz movement and lavalas, based on the principle that each Haitian, indeed, every human being, is inherently valuable and deserving of dignity. Lavalas has aimed for dignity, not material wealth. The spirit of lavalas is the only hope for addressing the multiple crises that threaten Earth.

 The spirit of lavalas is the most dangerous threat to the American, or any other, system of domination vying to control and profit from populations and resources, or from populations as resources, as is the case with Haiti. When people in their communities manage their affairs to assure, above all, the well-being and dignity of all, then Empires, as we have known them, will be relegated to the history books.

 Once informed people understand the lengths to which the American Empire has gone to assure that no population be free of its control, then they must ask how the humanitarian NGOs are somehow able to fly under the radar. How is it that the United States has committed its diplomatic, political, economic, and military resources to undermine lavalas, to kill or imprison its most eloquent and determined proponents, only to allow various NGOs to enter Haiti to carry out the lavalasian program of self-governance, education, health, and sustainable development?

Long Live Aristide, Down with NGO Thieves

 Since the earthquake, Canadians have donated huge amounts of money to the relief effort. Let’s assume that people contributed based on the stated aims of the individual aid organizations. All Canadian NGOs speak in the language of international aid: they “build capacity,” “empower local communities,” and all work towards “sustainable development.” They profess to do what the Empire has undone. It would seem that, if the Empire would just stay home, then there would be no need to mop up afterwards.

 Today, a telling phenomenon is taking place in Afghanistan, where the American military has maintained very tight control of the occupation. In that context, international NGOs are bitterly denouncing the fact that they are being forced to work alongside soldiers. They say that their work is being discredited in the eyes of the local Afghan people who see them as part of the occupiers. I think that the NGOs are uncomfortable at being reminded that they are indeed part of the Empire. If they weren’t, they would be called terrorists and blown to bits.

 In Haiti, the poor have no illusions about NGOs. Certain NGOs were allowed to enter Haiti after the defeat of Lavalas in order to give a human face to the occupation of Haiti. Lavalas was actually implementing its programs of health, education, self-governance and “poverty with dignity,” even in the face of the enormous obstacles that Washington was throwing in its path, culminating in an outright, criminal coup. However, Haiti has regressed in every area under the occupation of thousands of uncoordinated, competitive, and often ignorant NGOs. Haitians have long considered their country occupied by NGOs.

 Local communities throughout Haiti have empowered themselves since before the fall of Duvalier and have been overpowered by the powers to the north. One can only speak of “empowering” local communities in ignorance of the historical events that have already stripped them of their power and dignity.

 Over a week ago, Joegodson and I detailed the actual state of affairs in the neighbourhood of Simon, adjacent to Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince. We showed that the local residents had been organizing themselves since the (temporary) defeat of Lavalas and were eloquent in articulating their needs. Their programs were indistinguishable from Lavalas and, for that matter, the professed, anti-imperialist rhetoric of the majority of international NGOs. Three months after the earthquake, the neighbourhood had no tents, no food, and no water. So, I wrote to a number of Canadian NGOs, alerting them to the situation in Simon and asking that they call Johnny, an important community leader and the founder of Dialogue et action pour le développement, one of the various community initiatives.

 I chose to write to the NGOs that were the beneficiaries of the Canada for Haiti benefit concert. They are Canada’s largest NGOs and some have had a presence in Haiti for decades: World Vision and Vision Mondiale, CARE, Free the Children, Oxfam Canada and Oxfam Québec, Centre d’étude et de coopération internationale, Save the Children, Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF Canada and UNICEF Québec. I wrote an initial message to each of the NGOs asking that they consult our article and then contact Johnny to verify its accuracy and the rudimentary needs of the community. I also wrote personally to friends who work for Oxfam Canada and CÉCI, on top of the letters to the organizations. I then wrote follow-up messages to each group giving the coordinates of the article on Simon, Johnny’s telephone number again, along with the assurance that I was simply directing them to the need, not asking for funds for myself.

 In effect, the article that Joegodson and I wrote made it clear that the people of Simon are not in need of “capacity building” or “empowerment.” They know precisely what they need and have developed a keen understanding over the years of the obstacles in the way of achieving it. The one – and pretty much only – thing that they have is dignity. They refused to be herded into a camp so that NGOs could process them. They stayed in their community, among the people they know and love, where they can care for each other. They will rebuild right where they are. But they do need some of the material aid that Canadians thought they were sending to address the present crises. And they need it now!

 Now, over a week later, not one of the NGOs has contacted Johnny. The following NGOs chose to not respond to my request in any way: Oxfam Canada, CÉCI, Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF Canada, and UNICEF Québec. The following sent an automated acknowledgement but nothing more: Oxfam Quebéc and Free the Children. Save the Children wrote that their American branch is ”leading the response in Haiti” and I should contact them. Only World Vision, Vision Mondiale, and CARE actually responded … to me, not to Johnny in Haiti.

 CARE and Vision Mondiale both initially mistook my letter as a simple request for funding for our journalistic work. I had ended the letter with a request for any suggestion on how Joegodson and I might find funding for our costly, unpaid, work on this site. I was amazed that the NGOs who bothered to respond overlooked the issue of the needs of the people of Simon to focus on what was an incidental request for information.

 CARE responded:

Thank you very much for your message, and for your interest in CARE. It is through organizations/initiatives such as your own that the world can work toward eliminating poverty.

Unfortunately, we cannot help you in your request for funds. As an international humanitarian and relief agency working in more than 70 countries worldwide, CARE receives its funding from government grants, contracts from United Nations agencies, and donations from private citizens. We are not a donor agency, and cannot fund other organizations. I would like to let you know that CARE helps in Haiti and is still present helping for the Haiti Relief Earthquake.

 Vision Mondiale responded:

 Nous vous remercions de l’intérêt que vous démontrez pour notre organisme. En réponse à votre courriel, nous désirons vous offrir nos félicitations pour votre recherche sur la reconstruction d’Haïti et la publication de vos articles dans la revue Canadian Dimension Magazine.
Les objectifs de Vision Mondiale consistent à mettre sur pied des programmes de développement et de secours d’urgence dans les pays en développement. Les projets auxquels sont consacrés les fonds que nous recueillons sont axés sur la santé et l’éducation au niveau communautaire. Ainsi, nous ne pouvons accorder notre soutien à des gens qui font des demandes individuelles, car cela outrepasserait notre mandat.
Enfin, nous espérons que vous avez réussi ou que vous réussirez à obtenir le soutien dont vous avez besoin.

 When I related these messages to Joegodson, he burst out laughing. To the response of Vision Mondiale that they are only concerned with health and education, Joegodson replied that everyone in Simon is sick and most are illiterate. What are they waiting for! So, I wrote back:

 Plaine de Cul de Sac (j’aurai du écire ‘Simon’) est une petite communauté avec les grands besoins d’éducation et, surtout en ce moment, de santé. Donc, pour répondre aux besoins de santé et d’éducation ‘au niveau communautaire,’ vous n’avez que téléphoner Johnny ou le visiter. C’est carrément dans votre mandat! J’ai fait la recherche. Vous n’avez que suivre votre mandat. Je ne vous ai pas écrit pour être félicité pour mes articles dans la revue Canadian Dimension. L’article en question ne se trouve même pas là. Il se trouve ici: Il s’intitule ”A Tribute to Haitian Patience.” S’il vous plait, allez le consulter.

Similarly, I tried to clarify the situation for CARE:

 Pardon me for the misunderstanding. I am not asking for funds for myself or my organization. I am simply directing CARE to the neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince that you can visit and that you may contact. You can read about the needs just to get an idea here: I am not a member of any organization in Plaine de Cul de Sac (I should have written ‘Simon’) in Port-au-Prince. I have simply researched, along with my Haitian colleague, the conditions of life that exist there presently. CARE now has the coordinates of one of the neighbourhood leaders in Plaine de Cul de Sac (Simon). Everything else is simply a matter of verification and aid. Their needs speak for themselves. Please call Johnny in Port-au-Prince at [Johnny’s telephone number.]

 The issue of our lack of funding for the research is quite apart from the needs that we uncover. Understand this as simply a reference to a neighbourhood that has not yet received help and needs it badly.

 Both organizations responded promptly that they would forward my message to others in the organization for consideration. Nothing has come of that to date.

 The English arm of World Vision sent a message that read:

World Vision’s policy is that overseas funding requests are processed through our field offices; in this case World Vision Haiti. They are the ones who are in a position to assess a project and determine if there is the necessary funding in their budget.

 Underneath that was an address in Florida with no telephone number or e-mail address. I responded:

Do I understand correctly that World Vision Canada has no control over the money that Canadians donated? This money is going through an American branch?

 Let me be clear: I am not an organization looking for funding. I am simply alerting World Vision to a very poor neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince with enormous needs. Three months after the earthquake, they have no tents, no food, no water. I want World Vision to act or see that some other NGO does. I am not looking for money to deal with it. I am a very, very poor Canadian working with a very, very poor Haitian to document the needs in Port-au-Prince. World Vision cannot send someone to evaluate the needs that we have documented in great detail?

 Johnny, a community leader in Plaine de Cul de Sac (Simon), can be reached at [Johnny’s telephone number]. Please see our site for the details:

 The Customer Service Representative for World Vision Canada wrote back saying that my message had been sent to the “appropriate” department and they would call me if they had any questions. I suppose that they didn’t have any questions, since no one has called back.

 The World Vision response is especially confusing to me since Dave Toycen, the president of the Canadian branch of the organization, has been giving interviews in American newspapers on the progress of the work in Haiti.

 I wish that CARE would write back to me as they said they would. My question is for everyone, however. When CARE says that they are not a funding agency and cannot fund other organizations, where does that leave the four community organizations that Joegodson and I discussed in “A Tribute to Haitian Patience?” They are registered as required by the Haitian state. They have a long history of community organizing. They are the only organizations that the people of Simon will trust. Why hasn’t the Canadian International Development Agency funded them, instead of Canadian NGOs? Why haven’t Canadians? If the Canadian NGOs are really committed to ensuring that Haitians control the reconstruction of Haiti, as they all profess, then why don’t they know that these community organizations exist already? Why have they not jumped at the chance that our article offers them to put money into the hands of a local community that is fully organized already? No “capacity building” necessary!

 If Canadian NGOs cannot respect the plain evidence that Haitians already have the capacity and know just what they want, what kind of help are we offering? This kind of charity requires victims. As Canadians, we can start by insisting that our NGOs hand over to the community organizers of Simon the relief supplies that we have donated. It’s ours to give as we choose. Surely we don’t choose to humiliate Haitians in the process of giving. Haitians have declared their willingness to accept poverty, as long as it is with dignity. Surely, we can give them that much.


One Response to “Can Canadian NGOs Help Haitians?”

  1. AR said

    I just got to Haiti in January with my partner. It’s bittersweet to be here – very interesting, informative, and my field of study was international development so it fits with the type of places I like to be. But this is painful, seeing ‘aid’ as it exists here. I think (as you’ve alluded to), Haiti is a kind of ‘ground zero’ of foreign aid but I think what I am personally discovering is that aid is every bit as much a business as any other. It’s not a warm, fuzzy feeling being here, seeing what’s happening. It leaves me very concerned for the future of this country. Good post. Glad you wrote it.

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