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‘Haiti doesn’t need a hand out, it needs a hand up’

Updated: January 24, 2013 9:20PM



What is to become of Haiti?

Now that the second anniversary of the earthquake has come and gone and much of Port-au-Prince still lies in ruins, will the world shrug, hang up its helping hand and go about its business, leaving Haiti to wallow in its Third World status?

Depends on who you ask.

The earthquake turned Haiti into a nation of NGOs. Most of the 12,000 nongovernmental organizations that paratrooped in to help have skedaddled, the work they started left unfinished.

“Haiti was really sexy right after the earthquake,” said Tim Morton, project coordinator for Operation Blessings. “A lot of NGOs were made by the earthquake. A lot of new programs were started. But where are they now? A lot of them just ran out of money or desire and they just peeled out.”

Media reports claimed that billions of dollars had been pledged for the cleanup, and yet the mess remains. Why?

The Rev. Rick Frechette explains why so many financial promises were never filled. Most of the pledges were nation to nation, he said, and much of that money was contingent on a new presidency being put in place.

To acquire the money, he explained, Haiti had to wait until a new regime was elected. That happened last April, when Michel Martelly was named president.

“Only now will we able to start judging if Haitians will do good by that, and if contributors will also do good,” he said.

Other money that was supposedly destined for Haitian relief has been held up in organizational limbo. Certain large NGOs have such strict rules that they can’t release the money people have donated, he said. Their own structures won’t allow them to work within certain situations.

For example, one very large organization with millions of dollars in reserves will not allow the funds to be spent unless the group can first establish land ownership. In Haiti, land ownership is a mess, mostly because all of the deeds for property owned in and around Port-au-Prince were on paper — paper that was destroyed in the earthquake.

So the money sits, unused.

“A lot of the money that was spent here was not used in a way to build infrastructure,” Frechette added. “A typical breakdown of how such money was spent: 1/3 on expert opinions, 1/3 on planting foreign teams here and keeping them comfortable and 1/3 on actual aid.”

The real success stories coming out of Haiti, Frechette and others say, focus on the work done by smaller NGOs, particularly those that were in place years before the catastrophe.

Sue Gross, of Orland Park, has been helping Haiti for more than a decade through Lutheran Church Charities.

“All of our donations are dollar-in, dollar-out,” she said, meaning every cent contributed is spent in aid. The mission groups who travel to Jeremie, Jacmel and Les Cayes to help build houses and schools pay all their expenses.

“It’s really the smaller groups that are making the difference,” she said. “Unfortunately, people tend to trust the bigger groups more. That’s where they send their money.”

In its 25 years in Haiti, Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos has built a pediatric hospital that offers free services to Haitians, an orphanage in the hills of Kenscoff as well as several outreach posts, including a new trauma center in the slums of Cite Soleil.

Frechette, who oversees the operation, says world economic turmoil, plus unfavorable reports about Haiti’s failure to make a comeback from the earthquake, have taken a toll on contributions.

Money is running low, he said, but hopes are high.

“It’s hard to believe that in our silver jubilee year, we would just close. I think we’ll find a solution, but we’re really required to work for it.”

Morton says the same about Operation Blessings International. “We’re here to stay. We don’t have an exit strategy for Haiti.”

Companies are afraid to invest in the country because of a fear of coups. There is history of political regimes coming to power and simply ousting or overtaking foreign investors.

So the smaller NGOs try to help Haitians take ownership of the mission. Not only does it make better business sense, it’s more humanitarian to give Haiti back to the Haitians.

“We say let the Haitians run the companies, they can develop a job base and won’t have to be so dependent on government or outside aid,” Morton said.

Because they share a similar philosophy, NPH and OBI work together for the common good.

Beyond economic challenges, or perhaps because of them, there is concern in the United States about the potential for anti-American political alliances forming in Haiti. There is talk of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and Cuba Dictator Fidel Castro courting Haitian president Martelly. There are rumors of an upcoming visit by Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Frechette likens Haiti to a human stem cell: “It is valuable because it can become anything, but once it makes a choice, once it becomes something, it can’t be anything else.”

The United States’ plan for Haiti is very different from the vision that Cuba and Venezuela have for the country.

Gena Herarty, who has worked with special needs kids for 18 years in Haiti, said the country needs jobs. It needs basic services for everyone.

“Haiti has been in a state of emergency for a long time,” she said. “We need help. We need existing programs to be supported and we need investment for new programs.”

Every place has its problems, but the problems in Haiti are so much worse than anywhere else, Herarty said.

Still, she added, “People here don’t want charity, they want opportunity.”

John Shattuck, a Frankfort businessman who has organized more than $16 million worth of aid to Haiti, agrees.

“Haiti doesn’t need a hand out, it needs a hand up,” he says. That’s what he aims to provide with his cargo containers of goods.

Sewing machines provide jobs. Musical instruments instill dreams. Books and desks enable education. And medical supplies save lives.

If people want to help Haiti, he said, help by donating time, talent and materials or money to those NGOs that have a proven track record, that are in it for the long haul.

For more information on Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, visit www.nph.org.

John Shattuck can be reached at (815) 793-5935.



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