Haiti reflections…










If you look at the map you can see that Haiti and Dominican Republic share one island. Haiti is French speaking and DR is Spanish. DR has one of the fastest growing economies in the Caribbean and Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Look again at the map and see how close they both are to Miami, to Cuba, to Nicaragua (on the left), to Colombia and to Venezuela. The island is in an interesting geographic neighborhood.



Peta ~ “Highlights”
1) Meeting Regine and spending time with her having many interesting discussions about Haiti, its history and the upcoming elections, on her rooftop patio (with round kitchen and solar oven)

2) Meeting Jenny and spending time with her at her house amidst the pine trees and compost piles. We will be using her guest house for Alex when he goes from Raan to Haiti in January (Alex is a young architect from Oregon who specialized in low cost relief housing and spent 9 months living in India building bamboo houses there) and now works for CO2 Bambu.. When we next return to Haiti we will probably stay at Jenny’s place… its quiet and tranquil and there is much to learn from her.

3) Interacting with little kids in the tent city of Petionville. They were shy at first, but after a while were animated about seeing pictures of themselves on my camera.
4) Experiencing Haiti from the back of a motorcycle taxi. There is no way to see it like this either on foot, or In a car. On the last day we were there, Blake got into two motorcycle accidents but luckily was hurt in neither. Yeah its not the safest way to get around, but it is the fastest and the most interesting.



Most difficult aspect:

One sees pictures of the tent camps, but until you see them for yourself and even then, one is not able to fully comprehend what life can be like for these people (1.3 million out of 5 million) who have been living in tents for almost a year now. From the formalized tent camps in uniform tents in straight lines, to the more random haphazard “squeeze in” approach, the visual will remain with me.











One of the worst sites I saw was one row of tents placed on the small strip of land between two busy streets with traffic going in both directions. Amazingly, people adjust and their spirit of survival is tested every day, but is strong. I think the Western media and international aid seems to thrive on depicting Haitians as pathetic /sad and incapable of solving their current crisis. But my sense is that this is not accurate. Haitians are bearing the brunt of the crisis and bearing the brunt of post disaster recovery. It is Haitians who are dealing with a day to day realtiy of camp life. It is Haitians who are dealing with the food, water, medicine shortages. It is Haitians who are dealing with an unexpected outbreak of cholera. While international aid workers come waltzing in for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, and notwithstanding their best intentions, let’s not forget that the heavy lifting of post disaster recovery is on Haitian shoulders.


The disconnect between the broad spectrum of need, urgent need, in Haiti after 1) the earthquake, 2) the subsequent hurricane and 3) the outbreak of Cholera and the lack of visible progress on the part of the international community is baffling, disappointing, disheartening. There seems to be a lack of urgency. Some of the discussions I had during this trip were so absurd, SO ABSURD, that they become laughable, in the tradition of Jewish concentration camp humor.

One of the more memorable discussions had a frustrated NGO program manager explaining to me with a straight faces that she had encountered resistance on the part of donors because the permanent shelters they were seeking to distribute had two rooms, one for parents, one for children, and that the donors had raised concern about “what if there are boys and girls amongst the children?”. She intimated that donors would not want to support the deployment of gender neutral housing…. WHAT?! These are people who are living in plastic tents, if they are among the lucky ones to have tents, and donors are worried about gender specific “bedrooms”?! In Haiti, as in Nicaragua, it is culturally the norm for many family members to share a bedroom and even to share beds, in shifts. To hold back on the distribution of permanent shelters on the basis of lack of gender specific bedrooms is… absurd.

And, closer to my reality, relative to bamboo shelters CO2 Bambu is seeking to deploy in Haiti, another NGO Program Manager, reflecting on why there hasn’t been faster movement re our ecologically sound solutions “we are not sure we want to participate in the “bamboo-ization of Haiti”, and further “some (not sure who the SOME are?) are concerned about a Nicaraguan INVASION” (WHAT??!). And, from the same person “what are your humanitarian actions? What do you do with your profits?” I tried to explain, that, after 3 years of investing my own money to start a bamboo-based business that results in job creation in an area of Nicaragua where unemployment is 85%, and, further, that after several trips busting my chops to get eco shelters in Haiti, in the hope of participating in the reconstruction of Haiti, my conscience was clear re “MY humanitarian actions”. I asked in return why it was that so much material was stuck in this NGO’s warehouse without being deployed for people who need a roof over their head. There was an air of exasperation on the PM’s voice and the all solving justification came: “its’ very complicated, you know”.

Yeah, maybe.

But as far as I can tell, there is a whole lot of organizational politics going around and not a whole lot of urgency re getting homes built.

Maybe things will change / accelerate after the November 28 elections. Maybe.


2 thoughts on “Haiti reflections…

  1. boydjensen

    Governments have always ignored the poor until embarrassed into action. Humanitarian support comes from good people like you and Peta who care, donate their lives and DO make a difference. You two are helping!

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