“Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.” Chances are you’ve read this cliché recently if you have followed even slightly Haiti’s recovery efforts in the wake of the destruction brought by category-4 Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 4. According to these media sources Haiti is little more than an unfortunate country that for centuries has known nothing other than disaster and suffering. How would your interpretation change if they started instead with “Haiti, the first post-colonial independent black nation in the world and the only nation whose independence was gained through a successful slave rebellion”? Both of these facts are true, but the Western media only wants you to focus on one. I’ll tell you why.
Your emotions drive your donations, and your donations keep the industry of humanitarianism operating. In the age of the click-tivism and global interconnectedness, we believe that anyone can make a difference behind their screens and have their emotional needs satisfied. Sometimes you can make a difference with a click, but the wrong click hurts more than it helps. In the words of Teju Cole, “If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.”
One major problem with the Western media’s representation of Haiti during crises is that it suggests that the best way to help is to send loads of foreign aid. Portraying Haiti as a helpless and desperate nation on its knees ignores the fact that although Haiti is indeed struggling to develop, there are global power structures that impede its development beyond the isolated hyper-broadcasted catastrophes. Graphic images of starving children, newly-homeless people treading through murky waters and the skeletal remains of old bridges and homes testify to the emergency, the need for urgent help. They don’t show how foreign policy that remains even after the story disappears from the headlines, exacerbate the complex local problems of corrupt governance, a flawed justice system and weak infrastructure.
In the early 1980s, USAID exterminated the Creole pig due to fear of the swine flu. The U.S. then exported American-bred pigs which very quickly died due to their inability to survive without clean drinking water, vaccinations, and imported food. They were called “four-footed princes” by Haitian farmers. In the 1990s U.S. rice subsidies sent to Haiti under the Clinton administration destroyed local rice production. Again after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, 15,000 tons of U.S. rice were donated and remaining local rice farmers instantly lost their income and ability to provide for their families. Just this year, 500 tons of surplus U.S. peanuts were to be dumped in Haiti to “feed malnourished schoolchildren,” a move which would halt local peanut production and crush the livelihood of thousands of Haitian famers.
Haiti needs industrial reform to support national production, not a constant flow of donations. The needs of the people will not be understood until they are consulted to propose solutions. This is why if you want to help, you should donate to local organizations that make positive impacts without undermining local economy.
Being from Haiti, I have found it unsettling to scroll through the sensationalistic headlines that dominate my social media newsfeeds. Readers are still being encouraged to donate to the same international NGOs that have become increasingly untrustworthy for handling massive donations inefficiently and failing to make a constructive dent in emergency situations. After the earthquake of 2010 in Haiti, over $13 billion dollars were collected in donations, much of which flowed through the hands of large humanitarian institutions like the American Red Cross, USAID and UNICEF. Large amounts were unaccounted for and promising claims made by many organizations didn’t match the actual impact felt by those in need. Simply put, with high overhead costs and poor understanding of cultural context, aid does not trickle down to where it is most needed. It is funneled through actors who don’t understand how to best meet the needs of locals.
In this time of need, I urge all interested in donating to send their money to more trustworthy grassroots and local organizations based in Haiti who have insider experience, receive funds directly and know how to put them to good use. These organizations are better equipped to use aid to make long-lasting differences. They have long-standing relationships with the communities they work with, before and beyond the moment of disaster. Be conscious of how you use your click today and I can assure you that you can help out where it counts.
List of local organizations: Heartline Ministries (Haiti Housing Fund), Gaskov Clerge Foundation, Fondation Aquin Solidarite, The Three Little Flowers Center, Paradis des Indiens, Project Saint Anne, Fonkoze, The Lanbi Fund of Haiti, Flying High for Haiti, Saint Boniface Foundation, PRODEV, Sow-a-Seed
Krystelle Rocourt is a Trinity senior.
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