Haiti: The Graveyard of Good Intentions

Full Video Transcript

Haiti: The graveyard of good intentions

Bertrhude:
So they always tell you before a big presentation to imagine everyone in the audience naked, but no one’s naked right.  Because clothes are such an essential part of our society and culture we’re all here today covered up with our goodies put away . Clothes are weaved into the very fabric of our daily lives.

Priscilla:
We use them to protest. We use them to attract others. We use them to find employment and most importantly we use them to help others. Most of us donate these clothes because we intend to meet an apparent need. What if we were to tell you, no empirically show you, that at times we can do more harm than good with our “good intentions”? That these lifeless, familiar items can very easily be turned into weapons of mass destruction.

Bertrhude:
Now, when we make references to clothes, we’re not just referring to fiber and textile material. There is a bigger picture. Because clothes stand at the forefront of unsustainable aid, for the purposes of this talk, clothes represent the greater body of destructive aid. It represents the millions of tons of rice, beans, shoes and other goods shipped off to various communities.

Priscilla:
We’ll illustrate this dilemma through a country that lies less than 500 miles away from us. Haiti, the most economically impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere is most acquainted with these practices. Nicknamed the republic of NGOs with well over 10,000 Non-Governmental Organizations, the second –highest per capita in the world, - Haiti does not lack good intentioned people. Many of these good intentioned people, however have unwittingly participated in a viscous cycle of aid that inhibits the growth and development of the Haitian Society.

Bertrhude:
Our goal today is to unearth the fundamental errors in our giving practices and introduce a holistic approach to aid.
Now, perhaps you’re sitting in your seat thinking: What qualifies these two “oh-so-fine” minority-women to be speaking about such a crucial topic? First and foremost, Thank you!

Priscilla:
-and to the latter, we still have much to learn, but we want to share with you what we’ve gleaned thus far through our journey, and offer a concrete example of what sustainable development looks like. While undergrads at the University of Florida Bertrhude and I co-founded a 501c3 nonprofit organization called Projects for Haiti, P4H. We had a burning desire to see change in Haiti. And if our passion and commitment wasn’t enough, the fact that I was from Nicaragua and Bertrhude was from Haiti, the two economically poorest countries in the western hemisphere, confirmed to us that we would be advocates for the third world.

Bertrhude:
Throughout our time in Haiti, we’ve discovered that the popular approach to aid has three fatal tendencies:

1) It fails to tap into the potential of those being helped.
2) It feeds into the American drive-thru syndrome.
3) It focuses on inappropriate stages of a country’s development.

Allow us to illustrate these tendencies for a minutes:

1) Instead of equipping people with practical tools and training we continue to bombard them with hand-me- downs. We’re  focusing on the temporal, immediate, needs rather than the deep rooted needs. We all know the proverb, so help me out: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day...teach a man to fish, he eats for a...? When we are taught a skill, we become aware of our potential and the possibilities become endless.

Priscilla:
2) It feeds into the drive-thru syndrome that we have in America. For us, time is money and money is time. Lets take a look at some of the symptoms of the drive thru syndrome. This mentality bleeds into the way we approach aid. We want to see results and we want to see them now. So giving a homeless child a shirt becomes more appealing than teaching them a trade.

Bertrhude:
3) Much of our aid focuses on inappropriate stages of a country’s development. Dr. Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett professors at Covenant College in Chattanooga Tennessee, lay out 3 stages of aid in their book “When Helping Hurts”. Relief takes place right after a disaster. So we send clothes, food, and other goods. Rehabilitation happens when we help others rebuild schools, churches, homes and other civil systems. And finally, Development , is when we help sustain and further develop systems that are already in place, creating independence and sustainability- also known as “sustainable development”.

Priscilla:
We often assume Relief as the most crucial part of delivering aid, when in many cases that step can be skipped and we can move right into Rehabilitation or Development. Staying in a constant state of Relief or even Rehabilitation only cripples the development of capable bodied individuals and creates a savior complex for those coming with aid.
So, with these 3 tendencies in mind, we’d like to delve into our journey to sustainable development. Today, Projects for Haiti, operates on a definition of sustainability that emphasizes human capacity building, but this hasn’t always been our practice.

Bertrhude:
As our first big mission, in 2011 Pris & I organized a team of 19 UF students to go to Cap-Ayiti, Haiti and THIS was our empire. Now, these images probably look familiar to you because we participated in the unsustainable aid we made reference to earlier. These are our images, our apartment.  Oh my goodness, our poor roommates. For months we collected old clothes and goods for our trip and by the time we were ready to fly to Haiti, we had clothes and clothes galore. We had every style, every shape, every size, every color and let me tell ya, Goodwill had nothing on us.

Priscilla:
After our first trip as a nonprofit, we knew 2 things. 1) You can successfully fit 19 people in an 12-passenger van IF you’ve played tetris before.  2) We could do better--- we had to do better. Despite our good intentions we had contributed to one of the biggest problems that has hindered Haiti’s advancement. Ketcia Pierre-Louis, a local businesswoman and affiliate of Croix-des-Bouquets Chamber of Commerce, said, "Haiti has practically become a trash can, where everything people in other countries don’t need comes here."

Bertrhude:
After having multiple conversations with our various partners in Haiti, we were compelled to dig deeper as an organization and meet people where they were instead of where we assumed them to be. We spoke to tailors who essentially lost jobs because of our work. Vendors who lost customers, I mean who can really compete with free? We were giving hand outs instead of hand ups - all because of our default to operate from the relief stage.

Priscilla:
So you know I was in Haiti under this mango tree, by the way those are the juiciest mangoes you’ll ever eat, and I was with my dear friend, Frislin, an orphan. We were talking about our hopes and dreams, I shared with him my dream of partnering with educators in Haiti and he shared with me his dream of becoming a successful and honest politician and how he wants to help turn the nation around. I had a big aha moment when I realized I had left him with a sack of clothes but had done nothing to help him achieve his goals.

Bertrhude:
So we regrouped. We identified where screwed up and began to operate off a new but simple model of aid. Instead of aid starting in the US it starts in Haiti. We begin with an assessment of a problem and strategic planning with our local partners. We then move into a stage of training and building human capacity. Next we establish an association to maintain the training process even after we leave. These associations then advocate throughout Haiti. Which leads us back to evaluating the problem after our contributions.

Priscilla:
This loop ensures that our organization is constantly assessing our efficacy and our connection to the Haitian community. One of our favorite successes has been within the education sector. As a second grade teacher, I may be a bit biased.

Bertrhude:
In 2012 we sat down with 6 Educators in Cap-Haitian. We learned that of the  65-75,000 Haitian Educators approximately 75% lacked basic teacher training and nearly 25% had not attended secondary school. This would be a critical problem for any society. So, we collectively decided to host an Educator Professional Development Conference that June.

Priscilla:
We brought together 60 Haitian educators. We also brought along 3 Haitian-Americans, and 2 Americans, who desired to take part in mutual capacity building, meaning they delivered the training but received personal and professional development opportunities.They trained for 3 full days in classroom management and procedures. That year we graduated all 60 Haitian Educators. After reading through all the evaluations we began collaboration for the next conference alongside our Haitian partners. Last year, In 2013 we brought 8 educators and pre-registered 135 Haitian Educators, who collectively had 5,000 students. Our sphere of influence had widened considerably. After 4 days of intensive training in best practices for 5 subject areas, we graduated all 135 participants in our ending ceremony.

Bertrhude:
One of the events that made this year amazing was a guest appearance from Jisten Metelis, the Director of the Ministry of Education of the North. The word had spread that there was a conference for the Haitian people, by the Haitian people and he was eager to take part of it. Director Metelis met us later that evening to vision cast for the following years conference.  
As a result of the training they received at the conference, 15 Haitian Educators assembled to form the Teacher’s Association. Now this is exciting. This group of Educators travel to different parts of Haiti hosting 4-day conferences for those who have never received training. When our association travels, they create a network of professional teacher groups.

Priscilla:
On the first Sunday of every month these groups meet together in different cities to collaborate and network. During these meetings, educators discuss current educational challenges within their communities, engage in peer-to-peer learning experiences and share resources. The presidents of each group then communicate with one another to exchange agendas and plan future meetings.

Bertrhude:
We provide resources and funding, and they… they do everything else.

Priscilla:
We are thrilled to see them advocating for educational collaboration and academic achievement within Haiti.The impact of our conference and Teacher’s Association has been phenomenal. We’ve received countless emails from teachers that have gained newfound confidence in their abilities.

Bertrhude:
This confidence is directly benefitting the thousands of students that they lead. Because these educators are now using student-centered teaching models and collaborative learning structures, students are receiving higher notes in class and experiencing increased levels of engagement.

Priscilla
This is Firins Franscisque. Firins is the president of the Teacher’s Association. Two years ago, he was working as a classroom teacher in a public school in Cap-Haitian. Attending our trainings increased his pedagogical knowledge and as a result he is now the Director of Le Fondment du Cap-Haitian a local primary school. His newly established position enables him to lead teachers and impact the lives of his students.

Bertrhude:
As for the future of The Teachers Association, they have been requested to train other Haitian Educators all of the country. American nonprofits and Haitian teacher groups, from Jeremie to  PAP to Hinche eagerly request them. As for our Annual Conference, together with Director Metelus we’re planning to register 405 Haitian Educators in 2014. This time, were hoping for a guest appearance from the Haitian President. President Martelly, if you’re listening rele’m non cheri, holla-atcha-girl.

Priscilla:
For us in the US, we have decided to bring our experiences from the Haitian education system to the American education system. a October 2013, we launched a campaign called 10K Connected. Through this campaign we go into Gainesville classrooms giving 50-minute presentations on poverty, sustainable development and Haiti. Our goal is to connect 10,000 students in our community to Haiti. In partnership with the Center for Latin American Studies at UF,  the P4H staff and interns have presented to over 1400 students.

Bertrhude:
Now finally, our model (picture of model)... Our initiatives have proven it to be successful within the context of education. While we realize that there will be fine-tuning in the future, we will continue to work with other NGO’s and the Haitian government to maximize the reach of our model. We will not stop until every teacher in Haiti has access to proper training and is connected to like-minded educators.

Priscilla:
In the future, as we develop, we hope to introduce our model beyond Haitian borders and into developing countries like Nicaragua. This model breaks away from the popular notion of aid. It’s designed to train and equip individuals to make a difference in their profession as they collaborate with like-minded individuals.

Bertrhude:
As we conclude we’d like to highlight the generosity of the American people, after all organizations like P4H wouldn’t exist without it.

Priscilla:In 2012 alone, Americans donated 316 billion dollars to charity, over 7.9 billion community service hours, and millions of tons of goods.

Bertrhude:
We’re not suggesting that these acts of kindness cease, or that Americans give less… on the contrary we are challenging everyone to give more. More time to researching, more effort in partnering, more dedication to challenging assumptions…So that our good intentions can mature into good and sustainable actions.

Priscilla:
And Haiti, Haiti doesn’t need our old clothes, Haiti needs a chance to move forward on the feet on its resilient people.

Bertrhude:
As Haitians like to say, Ayiti n’ap avanse...Haiti we’re moving forward.

Priscilla Zelaya, Ph.D.