Why Does No One Care?

May 11, 2010

 by Joegodson and Paul

 Four months have now passed since the earthquake in Haiti. On April 17, we wrote an article, “A Tribute to Haitian Patience,” about a community adjacent to Cite Soleil called Simon. We discussed four of its community organizations that had united after the catastrophe to work together to survive and rebuild their lives. We wrote, repeatedly, to all of the major Canadian NGOs with a presence in Haiti, that had been the beneficiaries of the ”Canada for Haiti” fundraising event, alerting them to the critical condition of the people of Simon. Three months after the earthquake, those people had no water, no food, and no shelter. Babies were sleeping under the stars with their fathers and mothers who were caught in a daily struggle for survival. We asked that the NGOs provide the humanitarian aid that the people needed for that survival.

 Most NGOs chose to not respond at all. One wrote to say that it wasn’t working in that part of Haiti. Two others wrote a couple of weeks later, after another update on our site. They took (once again) the coordinates of Johnny a community leader whose organization, Dialogue pour l’action et le développement, has tried since 2007 to assure the most basic necessities of life for the people of Simon – with no support whatsoever. They promised to call Johnny. Meanwhile, we alerted the foreign affairs critic of the New Democratic Party to the obvious debacle in the distribution of humanitarian aid that Canadians intended to relieve the suffering of Haitians. He did not respond.

Johnny

No one from any Canadian (or other) NGO has called Johnny. The people of Simon are in more desperate need than ever. Johnny persuaded Haven, an Irish NGO, to supply the material to build latrines. Now, as the rainy season is upon them, the neighbourhood is once again mired in mud. They have had no help with food, water, or shelter. There are 832 residents in the neighbourhood (Johnny knows to the number how many people he represents). However, there are another 2,205 people who live in the adjacent neighbourhoods and rely upon the community organizers in Simon. Johnny thinks that NGOs have not focused on this area because of the relatively small population. However, the people will not leave their destroyed properties in order to live in large camps elsewhere. They want to reconstruct on their own properties and keep the community together.

 How is it possible that none of 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, once alerted to the problem of an entire neighbourhood in desperate need, (who were desperately poor and had no basic services before the earthquake), cannot coordinate any help whatsoever four months after the earthquake?

 Not one cent has gone to the people of Simon, after we alerted all of the NGOs and the Parliament of Canada to the need. Not one of the NGOs nor the government has any excuse not to have contacted a community leader who is extremely friendly and would warmly welcome anyone of goodwill into the neighbourhood. No one has even called!

How could Canadians help and at the same time respect the dignity and will of the people of Simon?

First, they need potable water. Presently, there are two sources of water. People buy small sachets of dlo from street vendors as they always have. Others fill their buckets, for 3 gourds, from the cisterns of nearby, more wealthy residents. Those people, with the means to pay local water companies to fill their private cisterns, profit from the desperate need of the people of Simon, who have no other access to a necessity of life. They bring with them the same buckets of water for use in the shower stalls that Haven helped to construct next to the latrines. There are eight reserved for female residents and four for males. They would like to have access to drinking water in their own neighbourhood.

The residents are buying food on credit from the local street vendors. But their accounts will need to be settled or they will be cut off. They definitely do not want foreign food. Haitians may eat very little, but their alimentation is more wholesome than that of the populations of the industrialized countries. They will need money to continue to buy the local rice, beans, and produce that more than ever is necessary to keep them physically healthy to confront the challenges they face.

The residents of Simon building the latrines sponsored by the Irish NGO Haven. Johnny convinced a representative from Haven that he encountered on the street to return with him to see the living conditions in Simon. Haven agreed to sponsor the construction of the latrines and twelve shower stalls.

They have been able to buy plastic sheets for protection from the rains that have begun in earnest. They secure four posts of whatever material will serve and attach the plastic to the corners. However, rains at this time of year are stronger than these shelters. Johnny says that everyone is left wet after the most recent rains. There is much expertise in the neighbourhood. They don’t want anybody to come and build shelters. They simply want the materials to construct for themselves temporary shelters that will resist the rains.

 We know, firsthand, that the crisis is deepening. The people of Simon are worse off now than they were on January 13. The children especially are at great risk. The local committees that have come together to face the crises have prioritized the need for a home to care for the street children of Port-au-Prince. The children of Simon are being cared for in their families. However, the residents are concerned about the increasing number of homeless, abandonned children throughout the city. They can care for them themselves. They do not want foreign NGOs to assume the responsibility for the abandonned children. But they could use a hand in establishing a centre where the community can care for them adequately. They will build the centre (that had already been part of their plans for neighbourhood development before the earthquake) and manage it. They simply want the materials to accomplish that. 

 If Canadians cared on January 12, they should care more now.

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