Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Voices of Haiti's Civil Society

Yesterday, after meeting with several Civil Society leaders and finding a little time to visit a local Artisanal Shop, I finally encounter something that brings me to tears. Maybe it’s because the sign is in English. Maybe it’s because the camps had finally gotten to me. But the words, “We Need Help. Food, Water, Tent and Doctor,” moves me in unspeakable ways. Packed onto the grounds of what must have once been a great palace, displaced Haitians are practically sitting on top of one another in makeshift tents. The old African-American spiritual comes to mind, “How long, Lord, how long?”

Even though the common theme in Haiti is that people need jobs, this sign reminds me that some people are still in desperate need of immediate help. This sign must have been a humbling one for people to have written. It is my understanding after 1 very brief week in the country that Haitians are a strong, proud, unified people. Creole signs like “Ansanm Nou Fo” are everywhere. “Together we are strong.” Over and over, I hear from people that they do not want aid handouts. What they want is national and agricultural sovereignty. 

Yesterday, I met with the organizations Tete Kole and PAPDA. One of my goals on this trip is to identify potential partners on the ground who can help our Haiti Advocacy Working Group to effectively lobby the U.S. Congress. Congress, the UN, the World Bank and the international media have often portrayed Haitian Civil Society as a poorly organized, dispersed force, much like the displacement camps that populate Port-au-Prince. Organizational leaders Jean and Camille, however, have a different story to tell. By their account, Civil Society is indeed well organized. The “4 G’s,” an effective coalition of peasant and agricultural NGO’s, can testify to this. Jean and Camille, whose organizations are members of the “4 G’s,” are eloquent, intelligent, detailed organizers and strategists. So, wherein lies the disconnect?

Camille Chalmers, Director of PAPDA

The truth of the matter is that Haiti has amazing talent and spirit, with a much better organized civil society than the International Community has portrayed. It does lack sufficient infrastructure; that is painfully clear. However, unfair debt and loan burdens, an elimination of tariffs that allow unwanted products to be dumped on their markets and exclusion from key national and international reconstruction planning are what have really choked the country. The havoc wreaked by this earthquake is not simply due to natural disaster. This many people did not need to die. Hundreds of thousands did not need to be imprisoned by displacement camps with sub-human conditions. This is a question about political will and needing to listen to the voices of the “4-G” and other Civil Society organizations. Haitians are crying out for inclusion in their own reconstruction. And it is up to us to start listening.


  1. Wow, Elise. So very, very powerful. Sending my love to you and to all the people of Haiti. Thank you once again for sharing your fascinating journey.

  2. Thanks for sharing your trip/journey with us. Your summary is well said.

  3. You tell 'em, girlfriend!