Our Lives, Our Responsibility

June 10, 2010

Yesterday, the people of Simon were talking about the tragedy of a young boy who died of heat prostration in one of the tents distributed by foreign NGOs. It was bound to happen. Haiti – and especially Port-au-Prince – regularly experiences extremely hot temperatures during the summer months. It will get worse. During the day, with no air circulation, the tents become death traps. Anyone who remains inside, for whatever reason, is in danger.

Jhony's baby girl, never far from his side. The people of Simon insist that they are responsible for their children. They are not delegating that responsibility to anyone.

”The foreign NGOs are not responsible for our children,” says Jhony. ”We are.” The tents are not safe; they are not right for the conditions. His little eleven-month old girl prattles next to him, as if in confirmation.

That principle underlies all thinking in the neighbourhood of Simon, a small, poor enclave next to Cite Soleil. Who is responsible for their lives? They are, of course.

Over the recent years, the people of Simon have created a number of committees in order to promote their common interests. (See the post ”A Tribute to Haitian Patience” for a summary of the committees in existence.) They meet formally to deliberate over the changing situation. They gather in the streets and in whatever is left of their homes. If anyone has a new thought, it soon spreads around the neighbourhood and enters the general debate.

Over the years, they have registered several of their local non-governmental organizations with the Haitian state. While they have clear ideas about the kind of community they want, they have never had any help from outside the very poor neighbourhood to realize their visions. In this posting, we are offering this site as a source of information and an opportunity for anyone who wants to deal directly with the people of Simon to contribute to their recovery and development. We will be posting information detailing their thinking and their progress. The conversation is open to everyone. Readers should feel free to contribute.

After the earthquake, a number of the local organizations joined forces to create COAViS, Coordination des organisations pour l’accompagnement des victimes du séisme dans la zone de Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. The four organizations that work together are OFEDES (Organisation des femmes dévouées pour le développement et l’éducation sexuelle), FFAMIPL (Fondation famille pain de lumière), MAD (Mouvement d’action pour le développement), and DAD (Dialogue pour l’action et le développement). Since FFAMIPL has all of its certification papers and is ready to accept funds, we are creating a page on this site that allows anyone to donate directly. We are happy to create another page that lists all of the donors who want to be acknowledged.

We will be giving the site over to people from Simon who want to talk about their situation to the world outside of Haiti that has taken so much control away from the local communities. The most recent post (”Dés…espoirs”) that Deland has authorized is an avant-gout of what we will be posting daily. However, we offer below the general sense of what COAViS has in mind.

Well before the earthquake, the community groups had identified the need for a cafeteria where local people in need could be assured of one nutritious meal each day. Now, that need is greater than ever. In a central location, they want to build a shelter, tables, and benches, where people can come to eat in (relative) comfort and dignity. Like everything that the community is envisioning, this will be a local initiative. Cooks will volunteer to prepare their specialty on a rotating basis, so that the people who make use of this canteen populaire will be assured of a healthy and varied diet. Funds are needed to build the space and then to buy the daily supplies from the street merchants who sell the local produce.

The local people built their latrines with the NGO Haven with a Cash for Work program. They will extend that principle to the other projects that Simon needs to rebuild.

The people of Simon want to build this canteen populaire with their own labour. They propose a Cash for Work program, as already operates in other parts of Haiti since the earthquake. So, the residents will design and build the canteen and pay the local workers five dollars US per day out of the donated funds.

Likewise, there is a great need for local reconstruction. Six months after the earthquake, few inhabitable structures remain in Simon. The tents are not a viable option and are, in fact, dangerous. There is already a wealth of knowledge in the neighbourhood. Most people built their own homes and have skills as carpenters, plumbers, and general labourers. They are open to advice regarding how to construct more earthquake-resistant structures, but they cannot wait until the government and foreign interests decide to proceed. The heat, rains, and hurricanes make that untenable. And so they intend to work in cooperatives (in konbit), as they have always done, to help each other rebuild their modest homes. They have begun the process, but need funds to buy the materials. They are clear that they want to built their own homes, as they have done in the past. They are not interested in receiving structures pre-fabricated elsewhere or having foreign workers build the homes that they will live in.

Another need is for microfinance to help those local people who lost their businesses in the earthquake re-establish themselves. We will document the people who need a helping hand in the days and weeks to come.

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