Haiti: the complex world of reconstruction

January 10, 2014
by 
Gilio Brunelli, Director of International Programs

No need to be in Haiti itself to realize that the world of reconstruction of this country is both disparate and complex, and to see the variety of initiatives that have burst on the scene there. In Miami airport, where I wait for my flight to Port-au-Prince, I notice a group of men and women dressed as "volunteers." It says in red and bold characters on their shirts “Volunteer work for Haitian children." In their case, it's clear; they are going to Haiti for the children. I then observe a couple in their fifties with a guitar. As we learn in the Gospel, man does not live by bread alone, and it is clear they are going to Haiti to sing and want to help the Haitian people other ways than through a material contribution. He plays; she sings. They don't really know for whom or with whom, but on the eve of the fourth anniversary, it's their way "to help relieve the Haitian people’s pain.”

Seated on the Boeing 757, which finally takes off, I discover that my seatmate is also on his way “help” the Haitian people. Since the earthquake, a small group of Haitians living in the United States has taken on the mission of helping orphans from the western suburbs of Port-au-Prince. For four years, around sixty orphans have been housed, fed, sent to school, and psychologically monitored thanks to the help of their compatriots living anywhere from Miami to Chicago.

I talk to my seatmate about his project. How many orphans are there in Port-au-Prince? How many in Haiti? Where are their parents? Why, in Haiti, does the term "orphan" refer to children who have lost their parents and also to children whose parents do not or cannot look after them? At the end of the day, it seems like everyone wants to help Haiti's "orphans." But why do they need help? Who should be looking after them? Which institutions, social programs, or national leaders take them into consideration or care for them? How much longer will we have to wait before all the children who are orphaned, abandoned, dumped, farmed out as servants, or abused can simply live and not just survive? My seatmate admits to never having thought about all of this. His good heart led him to take action, but he also acknowledges that more strategic actions that take root causes into consideration are needed as well.

When I arrive at passport control in Port-au-Prince, I run into a small contingent of military personal arriving on a direct flight from Montreal. They are also coming to help Haitians. But then, what more can Development and Peace do amongst all this help? Why do our actions give us the right or duty to stay? Through our work, we try to go a bit deeper, and make contributions that lead to long-term solutions. When all is said and done, Development and Peace still has good reasons to work with its partners in Haiti. We can support Haitians who are helping their children, facing numerous challenges, and struggling to build and implement solutions that last.

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