Tag Archives: aid

DJKennyMix plays Champ de Mars; local outreach, my four jobs

Here’s a short video I made of our registration process, currently talking place around the country. Our first stop was the large settlement in Champ de Mars, the public park outside Port-au-Prince’s destroyed presidential palace.

It is an important part of the big picture. The information we get gets plugged into a larger strategy to (as far as we can) beat the rains, which consists of four main approaches – enabling people to go home (debris removal from home areas etc), helping people find host families, to support the ad hoc sites where people have gathered, and to plan and create new sites. (We have a very cool map on cccmhaiti.info which, with Google Earth, you can fly around the city examining all the sites in intricate detail.)

In all of this communications are crucial: and that means talking to Haitians in their own language and culture. As the media and communications officer for the International Organization for Migration, I have four jobs – dealing with international press, coordinating within the UN system, producing my own media (like the video below) and local outreach.

The last part is in many ways the most important; absolutely crucial to the success of the entire operation here.

Traditionally people had a sense of “this is the project” and “this is the communications of the project”. That is changing – albeit not fast enough. The humanitarian aid system is learning that you cannot delink the success of a project from the communications around that project, especially in a country like post-earthquake Haiti which has very limited local communications capacity.

In the first days after the Jan 12 earthquake, radio was central. An organisation called Internews organised a regular slot on 27 local radio stations in creole. There was also a lot of activity around SMS, which is clearly a growth area worldwide – with Thomson Reuters organising messages out, and Ushahidi organising messges in – but it’s effectiveness remains a little unclear.

Then there are more direct forms of communication. The video shows one: the soundtruck, with a DJ, going around playing music, talking to people.

Haitians, as all people, need more than food and shelter. They also need entertainment, and fun. These are basic requirements for a fulfilling life. So we try to address both with the roadshow – we play some nice music, and also talk about what is happening.

The result was heartwarming. Kids and women dancing in the street, smiles, a good mood all round. This was a valuable outcome in itself.

Even more encouraging, people the next day lined up peacefully in their thousands. What could have been a threatening tense affair, was remarkably relaxed. I like to think we had something to do with that, although I am also constantly amazed by the internal discipline of the Haitian people during this crisis. Given the situation and context, there has been remarkably little violence.

We have also created flyers with a local comics artist, Anthony Louis-Jeune. I have a new guy on the team – Bertrand Martin – who set up a marketing agency here before the quake, and who is proving invaluable at taking some of the load.

This is the flyer we are using in our next registration:

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In the longer term, I have many ambitions. I would love to create a radio soap opera, starring Haiti’s best comedians, charting the life of a family dealing with displacement.

It’s a winning formula, that has worked in many countries. Again, the mantra is to both entertain and inform. We let the artists do their thing, make it a good laugh, a fun event, but also push one message per show – which could range from wash your hands, to how to form a local community structure.

So much we can do, so much we can do. Interesting times.

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On being berated for not doing enough

A letter by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes was leaked to the Washington Post.

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations’ top humanitarian relief coordinator has scolded his lieutenants for failing to adequately manage the relief effort in Haiti, saying that an uneven response in the month after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake has undercut confidence in the world body’s ability to deliver vital assistance, according to a confidential e-mail.

Well, so be it.

No doubt many things could have been done better. For example, it would be better if so many emergency workers didn’t only come for two weeks. I understand everyone has lives, family, friends etc, but this constant throughflow of people really does make it difficult to get things going.

But I wanted to comment on what was not in the article. (And this is no reflection on Colum, who wrote an entirely fair story based on the Holmes letter. And this is in a purely personal capacity, no reflection of my organisation).

A lot of UN people died here. We were decimated.

This is not even mentioned any more.

For the first week, everyone was running around shellshocked, with no working communications.

We lost friends, partners and children. Families were ripped apart.

We were victims. Yet we have not been allowed any time to grieve, to cope with our loss. We are not considered victims, despite our lives being traumatically disrupted. Would have been worth a mention, I would have thought.

And people gloss over “logistical difficulties” as though it is a mealy mouthed excuse.

It is not. Haiti is a very poor country with very limited infrastructure that has just suffered a catastrophic earthquake, disrupting social systems, disrupting all governance, leaving roads clogged with traffic, rubble everywhere; with a road from the DR that floods, a small airport and a half-broken port. This isn’t just a logistical difficulty – this is a herculean challenge. Why is it so hard to get this message across?

It is as though one month after the world’s largest natural disaster we are expected to have reversed two hundred years of stunted development.

Have you ever tried adding a garage to the side of your house? How long did that take? Getting the planning permission, desgning the garage, contracting the builders etc etc. In the richest countries of the world, with working government and infrastucture, from start to finish how long would that take? A couple of months?

In Haiti, an entire capital city has to be rebuilt, with no infrastructure. With the rains now falling. With a hurricane on the way. With regular aftershocks and a new earthquake expected. While we all live in tents ourselves, moving around constantly, operating on very little sleep.

I am not saying don’t criticise where criticism is due. We must always search for better systems. It is important to recognise shortfalls.

But a little empathy would also be a nice thing.

Camp life at UN base

As we all work overtime to help Haitians recover, I wanted to touch on the crazy world we all inhabit here in UN camp.

There is a large logistics base by the airport, called UN log base, which is overrun by hundreds of aid workers, all crammed into tents and containers, trying to run an enormous logistical operation under quite tough conditions. The heat in the day is stifling; there are clouds of mosquitos, open sewers and very few showers and toilets. Overall, pretty disgusting.

IOM has had to build, then dismantle, then rebuild its offices twice already, and will have to do so again in the next few days. It’s a little like one of those games where you move tiles around slots, with only one free space, trying to make a coherent picture. Only the free space is a toxic sewer. I made a fun video of our most recent relocation.

On the flip side, it is actually really fun interacting from people and organisations from all over the world. A small bar is crammed with aid workers and soldiers of every cast and colour; quaffing a few overpriced beers after a tough day. A PX sells various drinks and nibbles, as well as giant TV sets (who would buy one, I don’t know) and rows of hair conditioner, but no shampoo. The single street of the central compound was for days littered with people hanging out by the curb, chitchatting, ocasionally pulling out a guitar and strumming. A camp dog appeared, which nibbles people with sharp teeth, is widely loved, and is creatively known as “camp dog”. Tonight we heard a Middle Eastern call to prayer at sunset, possibly from the Jordanian battalion.

Over the past few days we have slowly been moving into tents at a new Swedish camp, 15 mins from log base, staffed by Vikings who are militant about handwashing. The sleeping tents are giant white rubberised affairs separated into 16 little cubicles each – with a cot and mattress, and European plug sockets (very useful for a system that uses American plugs).

But it has hot showers! Ah, a hot shower after two weeks of a rancid cold dribble. People pay between 20 and 40 bucks a night for this privilege, but also get a slow wifi and two meals a day – one decent dinner (no pudding) and a rather meagre breakfast (to my British palate anyway) of cheese and porridge. In the evening aid workers gather around two long ranks of tables, and tap late night emails into laptops, chat about the day, sip a whisky and wind down a bit before getting up again at the crack of dawn.

People are getting very tired, and its beginning to show – especially in those who lived through the quake. People are also rotating in and out quite often – which can also be hard to manage, as every two weeks you have a whole bunch of new faces to get to know.

Tough it is. But it also very special; we are all very aware we are part of something rather remarkable, and it keeps everyone going.

Scenes of an apocalypse; more distributions; touring a slum

Drive to the distribution point at Eglise Bolosse – an extraordinary trip through often apocalyptic scenes; an ad hoc tent camp under the ruins of a former gas station…

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…hillside houses crushed; overflowing gutters filled with rubble and plastic and rubbish; a makeshift infirmary under blue plastic awnings, a child with a swollen foot, welts and flies, who squeals with delight when I snap pics and show him the results.

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We are handing out tarpaulins, water and jerrycans to a thousand destitute families; an old woman comes to me and asks “di ri, di ri”. I realise she wants rice. “Desolee; on n’a pas du riz ici.” She walks off, despondent.

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A small scuffle later on as some men sneak round the back and try to steal boxes, but overall an amazingly disciplined affair, hundreds of women patiently in line waiting their turn, happy some help has arrived.

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We continue to explain the shelter strategy – why starting the basis of a transitional shelter is better in the medium term than tents – but it can be difficult to explain.

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So many demands – why haven’t we fixed everything yet? But even in the insta-twitter age, some things simply take time, and in a deeply poor country, clogged by traffic jams, where the government and international aid community were themselves devasted, with only a small airport, port, and a bad overland road to the Dominican Republic, there are absolute limits to what even the most powerful nations on earth can do.

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We have seen those limits plainly enough in domestic tragedies, in rich countries with working systems, let alone here. We are all working very hard to get a difficult job done.

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A guide takes me through a hillside slum. Some of it still stands, some of it has been destroyed. I will post video tomorrow. Spirits still seem OK. Simple kites are flying. Local markets are working – a woman carries a panful of courgettes on her head. Re-establishing basic social systems. Coping.

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Nuns on a hill; outreach; a tale of two cities

It’s been an exhausting few days, doing many jobs at the same time. Emergencies are both horrifying and exhilarating – so much to do, structures in flux, time-frames so tight, that you can often determine what you want to be involved in, and get stuck in. No waiting on ceremony here.

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I am doing three main jobs right now: liaising with the international press, taking photos and making videos (in itself actually a 3-person job), and helping design a comprehensive strategy to reach local populations with crucial information – using all sorts of tools, from radio, to sms, posters, mobile cinema units. So much going on, so much going on. Information structures are in crisis here, and we need to help support the reconstruction of the entire media world.

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I made a quick film of a distribution we did by helicopter in the far hills beyond Port-au-Prince. Tough conditions, but a real community there. In the capital things can get chaotic fast, many people trying to get political and financial advantage from the situation, but here it was a delight to work with people who knew each other. We were working closely with a religious order, doing great work. I am not religious myself, but these sisters and brothers are really on the front line, in tough, tough conditions.

Meanwhile Port-au-Prince is reverting to its former two worlds status. Petionville, the more wealthy area, is returning to form. Most buildings there are fine, the restaurants are up and running, shops open, systems are back in place. The main noticeable difference is a vast number of displaced camping out in the town squares, but you can feel some kind of normality creeping back.

But other parts of the city, and in the regions, remain utterly brutalised. Great deprivation. Everyone wants to know why we haven’t fixed it yet. But please realise – this is the country’s major city, and it has fallen to pieces. Not only buildings, but community structures, society’s glue. And us also. Many of us died too. It is amazing that Haitians continue to bear their load with such patience. This is a long long job.

So, a return to what we already knew in Haiti: the wealthy and the deprived, side by side, but magnified, exacerbated, many times.

Every so often, driving around, I get hit with an overwhelming sense of the momentous times I am living through. This is unprecedented stuff, it will be in the history books. I hope we get it right.

Aid, priests and sexual misconduct

International assistance and sexual exploitation have, sadly, often gone hand in hand; during the middle part of this decade, I was one of the reporters who covered the story of misconduct by UN peacekeepers in Congo and beyond, while Anna worked on a seminal report on the issue with the charismatic Jordanian UN ambassador Prince Zeid.

At the time, the scandal was used as a stick with which to beat the UN by its detractors in the United States – although that same country subsequently led opposition to UN efforts to create a more effective disciplinary system. The UN has nonetheless, within its limited powers to control the troops of member states, implemented an official ‘no tolerance’ policy, and the rules in Haiti appear quite strict – we quickly learn a long list of no go zones, such as certain bars, where officials may not tread.

But the UN has no monopoly on such practices. Abuses occur wherever powerful people from rich countries find themselves in proximity with the poor, and it comes as no surprise to discover this piece in the  Windsor Star (thanks to Povertynewsblog for finding it).

Youth who claims he was abused by a Canadian aid worker - according to the Windsor Star

“He was 16, and like most Haitian teens, surviving on street smarts. One day, he accepted a job helping a humanitarian aid worker carry supplies to his home.

‘After I finished he asked me to come back for a talk,’ recalled the man, now 23, speaking Creole through an interpreter. The aid worker offered him money for sex, the man alleges, and a relationship began.

‘It was to pay for school for me. That was the main reason. If you do it for me I pay for school.’

Mission sex — it’s Haiti’s dirty little secret.

The western world’s poorest country is, according to one aid worker, a ‘perfect storm’ of socio-economic conditions for abuse by visiting humanitarians. Its tropical temperatures and breathtaking natural beauty are easily, and cheaply, accessible from North America. Heavily dependent on foreign aid and with virtually no regulation of its schools and orphanages, Haiti’s justice system is ill-equipped to deal with a rising tide of sex tourism.”

[UPDATE – The Montreal Gazette has also written on the matter in this piece ‘When evil is cloaked as good

His 12 years of good deeds with impoverished kids prompted Association Grandir, the humanitarian group to which he was aligned, to dub him “a true Father Teresa.”

“You have to see him among the people, eating and sleeping as they do, to understand that a commitment like his is a rare thing,” Grandir said on its website.

Five years later, Father Teresa is a Quebec prison inmate.

Huard, 65, was sentenced to three years for sexually assaulting young Haitian boys while a second Quebecer, Denis Rochefort, 59, received two years.]

Sex tourism appears to have been fairly prevalent in Haiti during the Duvalier era, but took a dip after the Aids epidemic – and subsequent (misguided) claims that Haiti had exported Aids to the US. Most likely, it was the other way round.

These cases remind us it remains a serious issue, and might become more so as Haiti grows a little more stable. Most disturbingly, two priests are separately facing sexual abuse charges:

John Duarte, 43, former leader of the Windsor-based Hearts Together For Haiti, was recently arrested by Dominican authorities on a warrant issued in Canada, on charges of sexually abusing teenage Haitian boys – according to the  Windsor Star. Douglas Perlitz, 39, was indicted in September by a grand jury in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and faces 10 counts related to the sexual abuse of nine boys for about a decade, CNN reported.

Joao Jose Correira Duarte, a former Windsor priest, is now facing extradition to Canada, where he's expected to face 12 charges in the sexual abuse of Haitian youths, age 12 to 17, the Immigration Office and National Drug Control Directorate said in a statement sent to Canwest News Service. Photograph by: Handout, CNS Source Windsor Star

One is left wondering about the religious sector in general.

Despite the Catholic priest scandals of the past decade, I am not aware of any major focus upon missionary work. Haiti is awash with religious groups, largely unregulated and unsupervised.

One suspects the vast majority of such endeavours – as those of UN officials and NGO staff – is extremely well-intentioned. But wherever power is wielded without scrutiny, abuses occur.

With so many missions in Haiti, it might be a valuable endeavour to take a closer look at the spiritual, as well as the profane.