A few months back, my brother-in-law Rod challenged me to stop talking about all the problems in Haiti and to start coming up with solutions. We all like lists, so let me make a “Top 7 Ideas For Haiti” list. Along with each idea, I will flesh out a small portion of the discussion on that idea.
1. Be A Benefit
First and foremost, any program that is to take place must benefit Haitians. That may sound obvious, but there are a great many programs around that sound great but have little “on the ground” impact for locals in whatever country you are talking about. When it comes to a poverty stricken nation such as Haiti, where the problems are myriad, this point demands that local Haitians become involved in the program, and in fact recruited and trained. I will cite two excellent examples in this respect, the first is a program called the Eden Reforestation Project and the second is Singing Rooster Coffee.
2. Addressing Critical Issues
Another very difficult problem to solve in Haiti will be the overpopulation, the overcrowding in cities, and the high unemployment rate. Any project that is to be of benefit to Haitians (as per #1 above) must employ a good amount of local labor. It is imperative to use good employment practices as well, and to find decent reliable local workers who can take over and manage the project.
3. Economic Benefit – Scaling Upwards
Any project undertaken in Haiti must be able to be cloned easily as soon as the first lessons are learned, and the local population can be taught to become “Teachers of teachers.” One of the key difficulties in this point is that most Haitians cannot read or write. Projects such as International Child Care Ministries (or ICCM – part of the Free Methodist Church World Missions organization) are working on the illiteracy problem, starting with the youngest children in Haiti, but the impact is limited. To become self-sustaining, any project must address the education of Haitians in order to best prepare them to become self-sustaining managers as well as being able to run and expand their own businesses.
4. Reforesting Haiti
Following the people issues in Haiti, and coming in very close to those is the deforestation of the island. No project will succeed in Haiti unless it addresses this key problem. Several aid programs have been instituted in the past 40-50 years in Haiti, where food aid was given in exchange for establishment of labor pools to work in the equivalent of a Haitian “Maquiladora” industry. Much of this labor has been dedicated to assembly of cheap shoes and other textiles. All the raw materials are imported and the assembly takes place in Port-Au-Prince and then the goods are exported from there with the “Made in Haiti” label proudly displayed. The problem with this approach is as I have pointed out before, the drain on labor and the cost to farmers is tremendous, resulting in markets flooded with cheap labor willing to work for $1-2 a day, and the farmers not being able to produce crops that can compete with the cheap prices of food encountered in the cities, thus falling Haitian food production over the past 50 years.
The deforestation issue intersects labor and farming in the area of food consumption (primarily). Haiti has never shifted the cooking method of the people from charcoal to something more sustainable. The Dominican Republic made a huge push in the 1960’s to convert the population from using charcoal to natural gas for cooking, and it’s been very successful. Thus, on one side of the island of Hispaniola there are trees (in the DR) and on the other side of the island there are no trees. Over 98% of Haiti has been deforested (mainly since 1950) – where Haiti was once known as “The Jewel of the Caribbean!” Any program that is to be of benefit to Haiti should address how food is cooked, as well as energy production and distribution.
5. Benefiting Haitian Government
Another key difficulty in Haiti is the lack of Government services. Haiti, being basically a third world country is run nearly exclusively by the Government. This includes Military, Police, Energy, Water, Sanitation as well as roads and other types of communication. One thing that I noticed down there was that there are cellular phone companies on the island, and all the people are desperate to have phones. A phone can mean a lifeline to other resources presumably, that includes jobs, food and basic survival in other words. While it’s not the job of any particular project to help the Haitian Government deal with all the issues they face in repairing and improving basic services, any project should seek to prove that it will at least not harm those services and will in fact work within the framework of local Haitian Government to impact the services. This can be as simple as being responsible taxpayers, and as another example, helping build and improve roads that lead to outlying areas on the island. I will give an example here of the organization that was started in 1974 by some folks from the Free Methodist Church in order to have a wider impact in Haiti: Friends Of Haiti Organization (FOHO). FOHO was started to not just benefit the Haitian Government and the people, but also to provide an avenue for both long-term and short-term mission’s support in Haiti. FOHO has worked with ICCM and Free Methodist World Missions and numerous other organizations – both in country and out – since its inception.
Plain and simple, no project is going to succeed without forming a network among other projects. Forming connections between business is valuable for pooling resources, sharing ideas and helping support one another when times are difficult. Again, this may be obvious to some, and it is the source of the notion of “The Mall” in this country, but that is of benefit mainly to retailers. Similar ideas apply to farmers, however, especially small growers and producers.
7. Making Fishermen
Lastly, I will just add one of my favorite quotes: “If you give a man a fish, you’ve fed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” It’s a point that I will make again and again that we need to teach people to fish, not just give them fish! All the aid programs in the world may keep people alive, but it leads to an “Entitlement mindset” in my opinion, and doesn’t give people basic human dignity nor does it even treat them with respect. We must empower Haitians to take over their own island and make something good out of it. From the ashes can come a rebirth!
The underlying principle in all these points is the fact that we’re following God’s direction when we work with the Haitian people, the Haitian Government and so forth to help build their economy to make them self-sustaining, and to build a “sustainable” workforce as well as agricultural and manufacturing resources. As I said above, belief in Jesus Christ is worth everything to someone who’s dying, but to be practical for everyone, our faith must make a difference in our lives and the lives of those we care about. The “difference” in this sense means applying our resources to help somebody in need – in this case an entire country.
I hope you all will read this and make comments. This is dialog and not a monologue! I relish hearing from others, getting new ideas, filling any areas where I have no knowledge. I’m always doing research and reading history. So help me out!
OK, so I’ve been continuing my research on ways to help Haiti. I’ve been reading a lot lately about Jatropha. There have been a number of folks around for the past 4 years or so who’ve been advocating this particular tree (Jatropha curcas) as being the literal “cure all” for Haiti’s (and indeed all of Latin America’s) woes. So, I’ve attempted to start collecting and cataloging these articles below. I’ll catalog stuff I find by whether it’s a business venture, an article (and roughly by subject) and so forth.
Businesses Doing Good Work In Haiti
Non-Profits and other Organizations
Articles About Haitian Reforestation
Biodiesel Magazine Article on Jatropha