Joseph Odelyn/AP
A police officer tries to bring order as earthquake survivors scramble for a handout of rice at a food distribution site in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Aug. 16.

How to help Haiti? Ask its citizens.

Solutions will take money, yes, but also time, patience, and a willingness to recognize the agency and expertise of the Haitian community.

The timing could not have been worse. Just five weeks after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse plunged Haiti into political chaos, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake ripped through the nation’s rural southwest coast, buckling roads, leveling tens of thousands of homes, and reducing already flimsy infrastructure to rubble. Residents and aid workers were still taking stock of the loss of life – more than 2,000 people, as of this writing – when a tropical storm descended upon the region.

The Aug. 14 quake drew a familiar spotlight to a beleaguered Haiti. Nothing snaps the world to attention like a natural disaster. Haiti has been here before. In 2010, when a similar magnitude quake struck the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the entire globe, it seemed, reached out to help. 

“Watching the world respond to Haiti in the immediate aftermath [of the 2010 earthquake] was incredibly gratifying,” says Kathie Klarreich, a journalist who lived in Haiti for two decades. “It felt like this was their opportunity – finally – to capture the world’s attention.”

In all, the international community pledged $5.3 billion in aid with promises to work with people on the ground to rebuild. It was all part of a familiar script that plays out in response to acute emergencies only to peter out before ever reaching the final act. Within two years, just half of the funds had been delivered, but the world’s attention had long since moved on. Haiti was back where it started – alone in the dark.

In the intervening years, much of the news out of Haiti has centered around misappropriation of donated funds.

The international community has “a fair amount of hubris when it comes to intervening in other countries and thinking we know what’s best for them,” says Robert Maguire, a retired international affairs professor who has spent decades studying Haiti, first with the Inter-American Foundation and then as an academic. “We don’t have a very good track record in listening to the people in these places and hearing what they are telling us.”

That leaves many onlookers wondering how they can help. The urge to assist is admirable, and support is most definitely needed. But, when it comes to Haiti, there are no easy answers.

“If you are an American who wants to open your wallet, my suggestion is to resist that temptation for the moment,” says Professor Maguire. “The look for quick results has really gotten in the way of the longer, slower work of helping to reinforce and create institutions.”

Emergency response is already on the way, adds Ms. Klarreich. “The big-deal organizations can fly in the helicopters. But what are they going to do for housing? What are they going to do for hospitals and schools?”

These long-term questions won’t be answered in the aftermath of any disaster. The solutions will take money, yes, but also time, patience, and a willingness to recognize the agency and expertise of the Haitian community. “There are people in Haiti who are begging to be listened to,” Professor Maguire says.

Those voices are a source of hope for Ms. Klarreich.

“The same people who survived and rebuilt after 2010,” she says, “they are still there. Despite all, this country is still there. The honest, hardworking humanitarians who live there will surface. They’ll have to fight a little bit harder, but they’ll go on. In that sense there is always going to be hope.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to How to help Haiti? Ask its citizens.
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/From-the-Editors/2021/0820/How-to-help-Haiti-Ask-its-citizens
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe