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Haiti: It’s not all bad news

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A food seller in the market in Port-au-Prince, May 2010. Photo: Ami Vitale / Oxfam America
A food seller in the market in Port-au-Prince, May 2010. Photo: Ami Vitale / Oxfam America

If you’ve been following the news, you know things in Haiti have been sounding pretty grim of late. Between the stories of the cholera epidemic affecting nearly 20,000 people, and issues of voting irregularities during the recent presidential elections, it can seem like the situation hasn’t improved much since the devastating earthquake that struck the capital last January. When two of my colleagues left for Haiti earlier this week to capture people’s perspectives on the one-year anniversary of the quake, I couldn’t help but worry about what they might find.

But if you look closely, there’s also been a trickle of good news mixed in with the bad. Recently, The New York Times published “Can Microlending Save Haiti?” , a look at how microloans are helping small businesses get back on their feet. While the story noted, rightly, that microlending isn’t a perfect solution, it did capture the resilience of Haitian business owners, many of whom have rebuilt in the face of overwhelming losses.

“I want to make my own money and care for my family,” entrepreneur Marie Ange Joute told The Times about her business selling eggs and heating oil from her house. “I want to provide for us if something goes bad. I know how to work.”

Many of Oxfam’s programs in Haiti are designed around people’s determination to get working again.

“Oxfam has reached over 35,000 households (around 175,000 people) … with hot meals and a grant of $175 to enable them to re-start small businesses,” wrote Oxfam’s Phillippa Young in a November 22 report from the field. “Eighty-seven per cent of the families assisted through these activities successfully restarted their enterprises. …  In addition, Oxfam has retrained over 1,000 people with professional skills in the reconstruction industry. All these people lost their tools in the earthquake and have been provided with toolkits to be able to respond to the huge demand for their skills in a city that needs to be rebuilt.”

When I think about the situation in Haiti now, I also think about the determination of people like Jacqueline Morette, a rural leader and Oxfam partner who I met in October during her US speaking tour.

“Haiti is a country that wants to develop,” Morette told me when I asked what message she’d like Americans to hear about her home country. “We do need the assistance of the US—but it’s an assistance that I want to see in partnership, so that Haitians can live in dignity.”

If we support Haitian community leaders like Morette—and continue to invest in local people’s determination to rebuild—maybe we’ll finally start hearing some more good news.

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  1.  avatarMichael Nolan

    With all the reports that 80% of the monies donated to help the people of Haiti hasn’t been spent, it’s reassuring to read that Oxfam is actually doing something. Reform is needed to make sure that the money we donate (be it through private charities or government aid) actually gets to the people.

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