Dispatch 14 March 18, 2010
The Responsibilities of Foreign Donors to Haitians Abroad for Earthquake Recovery
From the point of view of Haitians living abroad, the past two months have been “déjà vu all over again.” Incipient stereotyping, unfairness and exclusion of Haitians Abroad from earthquake response policies, priorities, decisions, contracting, monitoring, quality control and evaluation are reminiscent of racial prejudice and civil rights struggles fifty years ago.
DISASTERS, DIASPORA AND THE MARCH OF HISTORY
1. Disasters – Civilization, no matter how advanced, is vulnerable to disasters. The result has been a terrible toll in lives and property, especially in the so-called underdeveloped parts of the world.
2. Where does humanitarianism come from? – In the big picture, the most valuable product of civilization is the Family of Man. This is an overarching and unifying concept. It is multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-skilled, and shares a distinct “humanitarian trait” that compels people to help each other in times of trouble.
3. Mutual Aid – Looking more closely, within this trait is embedded in the principle of mutual aid. Today’s disaster responders may suddenly become tomorrow’s disaster’s victims and, conversely, today’s disaster survivors may be needed to respond to someone else’s disaster tomorrow. Thus, there are good reasons for everyone to a) prepare for disasters, b) be willing to respond, and c) maintain sufficient resources at their command. This is the principle of mutual aid.
During disasters, the expectation and need for help on the one hand, and the ability to offer it on the other, is often strongest among those who share occupations, nationalities, culture, religion or types of suffering. And in the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes, of course, a huge number of teams of all kinds have crossed international borders in the same spirit of mutual aid. They fully expect that someday, Haitians may come to their rescue.
4. What about the Diaspora? – There is also mutual aid among national, cultural and ethnic Diaspora, such as Haitian-Americans, living outside their countries of origin. In general, Diaspora members have improved their lives and have become critical to the survival of poorer friends and families “back home.” In this regard, the United Nations High Level Dialog on Migration and International Development recognized Diaspora populations as economic life-savers because their remittances rival the size of foreign aid itself. Further, Diaspora
a) Remind host countries that there is a world beyond their borders,
b) Help interpret the meaning of events occurring in their homelands, and
c) Help countries learn how to adapt to each other’s strengths and weaknesses, needs and trends.
This kind of information and understanding is valuable and probably cannot be acquired any other way. So, wise democracies would best regard their Diaspora as valuable human resource. Diaspora participation in international disaster response is a good case in point.
5. Haitian Diaspora Resources – Three hundred years ago, Haiti’s African forebears became an intermingled population among indigenous and colonials in the Caribbean and the Americas. As history will have it, many chose to leave or were forced to flee. Today, hundreds of thousands of bright and successful Haitians live abroad, mostly in the United States. They are a significant portion of Haitian human resources in the world.
Because of its accumulated but seldom acknowledged talent, some view the Haitian Diaspora as a kind of disembodied brain. It grows more intelligent with every emigrant student, graduate or professional who leaves the country. And among them are almost certainly some who anticipated the earthquake, advised against shoddy construction on dangerous land, and who could have mitigated the disaster given the authority and sufficient resources.
Haiti can either borrow or transplant this intelligence. If borrowed, it would be for functional purposes – advisors, teachers, doctors, farmers, foresters, designers, etc. If transplanted, it would be for structural purposes – voters, land-owners, elected and appointed officials, etc. Either acquisition would benefit the country, especially now.
INTRODUCING THE HAITIAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION (HRDF)
1. More that twenty years of distinguished service – HRDF is a Haitian-American organization that also has active partnerships with European agencies, municipalities and citizen organizations. HRDF’s directors, staff, teachers, trainers and advisors have been both Haitian and non-Haitian. So in this way, it is intermingled in the world, the same as the Diaspora and the whole Haitian population at large.
As an organization, HRDF maintains the capability to scale up to meet increased needs.
A month ago, the Haitian Resource Development Foundation decided its earthquake response program. HRDF believes that Haiti’s most valuable assets are its people. Therefore, the welfare, resettlement and employment of the displaced – HRDF considers them environmental refugees – plus access to natural resources for food and shelter, are pre-eminent. HRDF has been seeking contributions, contracts and partners to carry out this program.
2. Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Teams – No matter how large the pool of first responders in the world, the severity of the earthquake effect has forced everyone to make a big decision – either scale up or get out of the way. This is reflected in the government of Haiti requests for long term rotations of doctors, engineers, inspectors and such rather than for short “fly-in and fly-out” sorties typical of the first weeks’ response. It is probably a wise decision, and HRDF concurs. But this puts much more emphasis on the need for team orientation, accommodations, supply lines and sustaining funds plus support of a distinctly Haitian nature. This includes a variety of services, including translation, interpretation, negotiation, mobilization, intervention, monitoring and evaluation. This implies interdisciplinary and intercultural teams and contracts.
For example, when humanitarian teams of the United States Southern Command [SOUTHCOM] have come to Haiti over the years, they wisely used HRDF’s senior staff along with those of other Haitian-American organizations. The roles of Diaspora team members have been to a) help assess and select communities, b) introduce and link SOUTHCOM’s professionals to Haitian professionals and local populations, and c) work side by side with them. HRDF has worked in a similar fashion with the French on a variety of community development, environmental protection and education projects. With all these kinds of partnerships, HRDF receives full responsibility and funds for their implementation.
“AFFIRMATIVE ACTION” FOR HAITIAN DIASPORA ORGANIZATIONS
1. 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.
2. 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.
5. 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.