The Business of Disaster: Where's The Haiti-Bound Money Going? Very disturbing article-- check it out-- and then read more on the ground reporting from Haiti.
Last night I had a dream that I am in a house with a few other people. There is someone trying to “get us”. It is broad day and I see him looking for us, and he has a gun. For some reason I don’t feel very scared. But he does have a gun and he has shot the one person in our group who has a gun. So it seems like there is not much more we can do when out of nowhere, through the back yard two older women with long grey hair come up behind him and tackle him so that he is no longer a threat. They are recognizable, in whatever community we are from, as old renowned prostitutes. They are the prostitute elders in the community. They tackle him and save the day. And then the police come rolling up. And they put him, and the two women in handcuffs. After a few minutes they put the women in the cop car to take them in and then turn and unlock the handcuffs of the man to let him walk free.
When I wake up and tell bev about it she says it is a “being in Haiti after Jan 12” dream, referring to the stories we have heard about the rape that is happening in the camps, and the women we know through KOFAVIV, who are themselves living in the camps and working to protect the rights of women with no help from the state or anyone else. And I tell her it is a mix, a being in Haiti dream, mixed together with a Springfield, MA dream, where things like that happen to women all the time.
The good news today is that I read that individuals in the U.S. have donated a total of $1 billion dollars with the average donation being $125 per person. I am amazed by this. This huge act of caring and generosity. And this doesn’t even take into account many more little ways that people have been being generous. Like, for example, my big heart friends who pledge $30 or $200, that I deliver to Jetro for his mom to buy medication, or Helia to buy a tent, or APROSIFA to pay a women to make food for the rest, or the farmers network to buy seeds.
$1 billion dollars! I’m not sure if I know a single person who hasn’t given money in some way. $1 billion dollars from the individual big hearted people of the world. That is more money than any organization or government. The largest donation. And many people here on the streets are very aware of that generosity, this compassion that transcends borders, and very grateful. And they distinguish between the intentions of so many kind individuals and what has been a largely disrespectful and disempowering presence of the U.S. military and the distribution by some NGOs.
Aid after the earthquake has continued to be given in large part with little input, participation, or consultation of Haitian civil society. An approach that is disempowering and destabilizing in the long-term. Haitians are put in the position of paying for the assistance they receive with their dignity, self-confidence, and long-term well-being. Those in the vulnerable position of needing to fill the bellies of their children have little room to complain.
The U.S. government gives its aid through contracts with U.S. corporations and international NGO’s, both of which continuously undermine local businesses and production, from farming to manufacturing to street vendors. Imported food (whether it be brought in to sell or brought in to give away) renders business for farmers, millers, and market women that much more impossible, and further enforces a cycle of dependence on foreign imports. Corporations import their own priorities and visions, offering cookie cutter solutions, and destroying a respect for local knowledge and confidence. Substantial portions of the disaster relief money will end up following these corporations home, bolstering their company profits without any long-term investment in the community where they are working.
It is a common recipe… guns, rice, corporations, trade agreements, humanitarian aid. And it is employed even more voraciously after disasters -and despite the very good intentions of a lot of people who are trying to help…with good hearts, but within a system that is not really designed to help in any long term, sustainable way.
I do not want to squash the celebration of what has been, on the part of the people, such a unified act of giving. And I hope that when people in the U.S. learn about the betrayals around humanitarian aid, that they are only more resolved to look deeper, and to find trusted, authentic ways to lend support or be in solidarity and that they don’t give up this time or the next time around, but are only more determined to make it right.
This is such a good moment for us to pay close attention. And it seems, at least to me that people are paying closer attention. Even Clinton got up the other day and publically apologized for promoting imported rice into Haiti and effectively destroying their rice market. "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."
It was also in the news recently that someone is donating several large circus tents previously used by Cirque du Soleil to become the temporary headquarters for the Haitian government. This is strange poetic justice. The government, which is widely agreed has been bizarrely absent since the earthquake and ineffective for much longer, will be housed under circus tents.
The other good news today is that the sun shone.
And the other good news is that I made a couple of new friends.
Photo from United Nations Development Programme's photostream at Flickr