March 20, 2010
Positions And Proposals For The Haitian Diaspora Forum
“Contributing to a Strategic Plan for Reconstruction And Development In Haiti” Organization of American States, Washington, D.C. March 21-23, 2010
1- HRDF AND THE EARTHQUAKE EXPERIENCE
2- HRDF PLAN OF ACTION
3- AFFIRMATIVE ACTION” FOR HAITIAN DIASPORA ORGANIZATIONS
1- HRDF AND THE EARTHQUAKE EXPERIENCE
The Haitian Resource Development Foundation (HRDF) was established more than twenty years ago and for the past ten years has been based in Weston, Florida, Port-au-Prince and Aquin, Haiti. Members of HRDF include physicians and surgeons such who are also specialized in teaching emergency medical response and community civil defense. Recently, HRDF has added partners who are specialists on saving the environment.
HRDF has initiated numerous projects with the cooperation of civic leaders, Haitian and foreign organizations and since 2004 with the United States Military Southern Command when their humanitarian teams come to Haiti for medical outreach. Among the projects are: drinking water, establishment of a vocational school, teaching emergency medicine to physicians and nurses, as well as first response techniques to firefighters and other paramedical personnel. New projects include a fishery school, and mountainside catchment lakes to control flash floods. The total value of HRDF’s projects and contributions of equipments, supplies and medicine is more than 5 million dollars. HRDF is a fully tax-exempt organization in the Unite d States and is also recognized and registered in Haiti as a non-governmental organization.
It was ironic that the week before the earthquake, my colleagues and I were working in a project of environmental protection for the city of Aquin. The evening of the 12 of January, we were dining outside a friend restaurant when the earthquake struck. A nice evening with friend suddenly became a catastrophe. We were forced to spend the next week in Port-au-Prince. Without telephone services and only a trickle of electricity, we used our time doing what HRDF does best, emergency response. But this was HRDF’s first earthquake. In a series of emailed dispatches to the outside world, we begin to answer and advise teams, network with Haiti’s civil defense and address the mismatch among physicians, supplies and facilities. The following week, a rescue plane took us to Florida where we continued working from Weston with all the comfort of home, but still worried for the country.
2- HRDF’S PLAN OF ACTION
At this point, we are calling our work “Mission Possible” for two reasons: First, HRDF for a long time had a “culture of preparedness” built into all its projects such as the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), the medical training for physicians and nurses in emergency training, planning for catchment lakes, drinking water etc. This means careful design, budgeting, staffing and anticipating problems along the way because Haiti may be the most difficult place in the world to improve people’s living conditions.
Second, especially after the earthquake, it is essential to have a positive attitude that recovery is and will be possible. There is no room for failure or pessimism. Those who have the culture of preparedness should have the responsibilities for leadership. Others who have been living in blind faith have become victims. We hope they survive but there is no guarantee. The whole country has so much to learn.
If organizations such as HRDF are to accomplished “Mission Possible”, there are the usual requirements – adequate staff, headquarters here and in Haiti, equipment, mobility, program contributions. But there is also a unique requirement – a clear, detailed, practical and affordable definition of the “Reconstruction of Haiti” that everybody is calling for but no major power or relief organization has yet put forward.
For example, where the refugees live? Who will be trusted with the donors’ money? What would be the system of check and balances? Will old cities be repaired or new ones built? Can the food, water and housing come from Haiti or will everything have to be imported? Questions like these obviously need to be answered first, then people hired, money spent, refugees cared for, etc. HRDF and its partners have some answers, and are building a brain trust in Weston, Florida to take this farther. In term of specific work, “Mission Possible” is comprised of both expended and new activities:
Systematic and continuing assessment of medical and health care needs with status report to donors, suppliers and relief workers. For example, recent field visits earlier this month to the Hôpital in Croix des Bouquets, the Hôpital ….. in Petit-Goâve and the Hôpital Immmaculée Conception in les Cayes, has brought major pledges of equipment worth more than one million dollars for those three hospitals.
Community emergency response teams (CERTS). These are nine-day professional training sessions in each communal section that need to be followed by distribution of equipment and team assignments. HRDF initiated its HRDF-CERTS program in Aquin last year and has secured the support of Florida State Emergency Management Division as partner.
“Ecological sweat equity” for environmental refugees – People fleeing Port-au-Prince and other damaged areas need shelter and tools to resettle in safe areas and reestablish their lives. For this, HRDF has proposals for ecological restoration and disaster preparedness, vocational training in agriculture and fishery management for coastal zone cities. Partners include Cités Unies France and the Department des Hauts de Seine, France.
3. “AFFIRMATIVE ACTION” FOR HAITIAN DIASPORA ORGANIZATIONS
Haitian Diaspora input to a conference is not the same as participation on the ground. And the world is full of concepts for saving Haitians. To do their work, Haitian Diaspora organizations require funds, discretion and authority, otherwise is “déjà vu all over again”
Culture, Motives and Opportunities – HRDF may be considered highly evolved among professional Diaspora organizations, but it is not alone. There are hundreds, and they are a distinct class of NGOs in their shared culture, motives and opportunities. They work in and for Haitians years before, then during and after disasters. HRDF believes that these attributes – Haitian culture, motives and opportunities – are essential. Therefore, HRDF believes that great benefits come when the Diaspora organizations work in tandem with Haitians, mutually defining goals and objectives, expending money and materials, monitoring effectiveness and coalescing operations. Too often, donors and contractors ignore, forget or do not require this important working relationship. The results are typical of what we now see in Haiti’s earthquake zone – inefficiency, chaos and paralysis. This needs to be remedied.
Foreign Contracts – To HRDF, these above terms of engagement are missing from foreign government contracts in Haiti, not just since the earthquake but over many years. Since January 12, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in just two months. A review of published contracts gives the impression that recipients are frequently non-competing, favored companies, or semi-public, religious, professional or other non-profit organizations that have little or no particular historical interest, concern or experience in working alongside Haitians. They are contractors pure and simple. As more and more reports emerge from Haiti, HRDF is seeing this as a typical, wasteful and prejudicial practice. And from the view of many Haitian-American organizations, it amounts to unfairness of humanitarian rights at the international level, reminiscent are reminiscent of racial prejudice and civil rights struggles fifty years ago in the United States. Without a doubt, Haitian Diaspora companies and organizations with appropriate experience and credentials should share the foreign donors’ contracts for relief work in Haiti.
American Contracts – Where American government contracts for Haitian earthquake relief and recovery are concerned, all of them are paid for by American tax money. Thus, every citizen rightfully expects that:
– Access to and use of money will be subject to law, not to someone’s personal discretion,
– Requests for, justification, allocation and cost-benefit analysis of funding is a matter of public interest, and therefore should be transparent,
– The basis for access to funds will be open, competitive and on the merits of the applicants and their proposals. Exceptions for extenuating circumstances should be strictly limited.
Further, Haitian-Americans in particular ought to rightfully expect that:
– Government contracts will acknowledge the Haitian Diaspora’s three special attributes for work in their country of origin, namely shared culture, motivation and opportunity. The government should find direct and unambiguous ways to make the most of these attributes to increase success.
– Especially in the case of contracts for Haiti, something akin to the philosophy and practice of Affirmative Action is necessary to give the Haitian Diaspora minority a fair share of work and to use the aid money to help unify them with Haitians back home.
– Plentiful contracts in the range of up to five million dollars each should be available to match the capabilities of most Haitian-American NGOs or companies. Monster contracts in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollar range should be subdivided and individually competed for.
– Haitian-Americans companies and organizations with relevant capabilities should not be, as in the past, referred to major recipients to beg for subcontracts.
– Regardless of their size and experience, the American government ought to be actively recruiting bonafide Haitian-American companies, professionals, and NGOs for work during this momentous tragedy. This is the precise time and opportunity when small companies and organizations likes these could grow and mature while helping their country of origin.
Aldy Castor MD, President, Haitian Resource Development Foundation (HRDF)