This post is by Porter McConnell, an Oxfam policy advisor who focuses on aid effectiveness. Haiti has been on her mind a lot recently as attention has keyed in on how the US and other donors can help or hinder the Caribbean nation as it rebuilds itself after the January 12 earthquake.
Confronted with massive reconstruction following the January 12 earthquake, what do people in Haiti need most?
That’s the answer revealed in a new Oxfam-funded survey of more than 1,700 Haitians.
I’ve been thinking about that answer, and how it relates to all the ideas I heard at a panel discussion sponsored by Oxfam’s aid effectiveness team in Washington last week that focused on ways aid can help or hurt Haitians rebuild their country. Many of those ideas will get aired again at the UN today when international donors and government officials from Haiti meet to hash out next steps for the country.
But one idea stands above all the others: the need for Haitians to be in charge of rebuilding their country. Every one of the experts on the panel—including Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph, prominent Haitian Americans Paul Auxila and Joel Dreyfuss, and professor Robert Maguire–made that same point.
And they went further. They cautioned us not to think of Haiti as a blank slate.
Auxila, the chief operating officer for Management Sciences for Health, put it this way: “We need to realize we’re not starting from scratch.”
Haitians, from ordinary citizens to the Haitian government, have made tremendous efforts to improve their situation in the last decade. If we Americans are going to help Haiti recover from this terrible disaster, we need to use Haitian institutions, not build new ones apart. If we want Haiti to be better prepared the next time disaster hits, we need to make sure we’re not setting up temporary solutions with temporary technology and know-how that will fall apart when we leave.
So where do jobs fit into all of this?
“Haitians are telling us loud and clear that they want to get back on their feet and start working for the reconstruction of their country,” says Marcel Stoessel, Oxfam’s chief of mission in Haiti, citing the survey. “Haitians are not expecting charity. They want to get jobs, to educate their kids, and to make sure they have a roof over their heads at night.”
There’s a lot of work to do in Haiti—a stunning amount, from the physical reconstruction of the capital to the building up of a more responsive government, a robust civil society, and a strong economy for the entire country. And there is the will among citizens, thrown together in unexpected ways because of this calamity, to tackle that enormous job and get it done.
Maybe that’s why the words Ambassador Joseph spoke at the Oxfam panel have stuck with me.
“I have hope, real hope for Haiti,” he said. “Because of this situation, I have seen people come together.”