Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Big Fairytale Dragon

Three weeks into my new contract position as the Haiti Advocacy Officer at Action Aid USA, I realize something important. I really like this work. I really get this work. I’m really thankful to be doing this work right now and to be getting paid for it. (I got my first paycheck today, btw, which made me giggle with delight… somewhat unprofessionally, I’m afraid.) In short, I feel like it is a fairytale treasure at the end of a long 9 month quest. 

For the last three weeks, I have been using as much moxie as I can muster to try and help rally Congress to pass supplemental funding for Haiti. Ok, actually, that’s not really what I’ve been doing. Other people already worked on getting the supplemental funding into this proposed bill. I’ve actually been working on trying to convert some of the food aid in the bill (as in the commodity rice that we’re planning to dump yet again on Haiti, even though Bill Clinton admitted recently that this was a disastrous choice back in the 90’s) to cash so that Haitians can buy food from their own markets.

I have been doing my homework, working closely with great organizations like CARE, American Jewish World Service and CRS, and narrowing in on our congressional targets. It helps that I use to fight this same fight over at Bread for the World when we were working on Farm Bill reform back in 2007 and 2008. For goodness sake, even President Bush wanted to convert 25% of food aid to cash for local markets back then. Yet, the big bad farm lobby beat us that time. I remember taking the loss pretty hard, as did so many of the faithful partners who lobbied side by side. So, this time around, when I hear from different congressional offices that it’s just going to be too hard to change the way that we send food aid to Haiti, I just smile and nod and start calculating my plan of attack. These Staffers have no idea who they’re messin with.

You see, Haitians want to work. They want to sell in their own markets. They want steady income. It’s what they want more than anything else, actually. A recent Oxfam survey confirmed that the biggest thing on Haitians’ minds right now isn’t food or clean water or even shelters (though those things are indeed crucially important for survival.) It’s jobs. And herein lies the big disconnect. We, as a country, keep trying to deliver aid like we are a gallant white knight riding in to the rescue. Meanwhile, Haiti is the Fairy Princess who keeps saying, “Uh, thanks and all. But, I’d rather just rescue myself, if you didn’t mind lowering the drawbridge.”

Even though you don’t HAVE to have an official job to be a valuable asset to your community, it does seem to make a difference. This is something that we job seekers in the U.S. share in common with our neighbors in Haiti. Everyone wants to contribute their gifts. Everyone wants to receive some recognition and fair wages for their contribution. A vocation, like a good education, holds a special place of honor within our literal and metaphoric villages. To use one of my favorite quotes on vocational calling, true joy comes, “when our greatest skills and desires meet the world’s greatest needs.”

And so, tomorrow afternoon, I am going to march over to the House of Representatives, proudly carrying my part-time, short-term badge of Advocacy Officer on my sleeve, and I am going to join my new colleagues in the fight for Haitian farmers and Haitian jobs. Watch out, food aid dragon, we’re bringing the big guns.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Elise! What a fantastic post. Thank you for educating us about Haiti and for the wonderful work you're doing. Keep smiling and giggling when you receive those paychecks. You deserve them!