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#1777 Re: #1774: How can we help? Corbett responds to Farrell
>From Bob Corbett (out of my role at president of PEOPLE TO PEOPLE, INC.,
not as list moderator!)
Geary, I was in the exact same place as you back in 1983. After an initial
visit to Haiti I wanted to get involved and the parish-to-parish support
was one of the options I was interested in. I ended up not going in that
direction, but I know the programs of Harry Hosey quite well and have often
been the person who delived funds for Harry's group on my frequent trips
A lot has happened in my life since 1983 and certainly one of the main
things is that Haiti has come to the center of it. I've been working in
Haiti at several levels for the past 16 years with much more wasted
energy and failures than I like to face, but some successes as well.
The strongest piece of advice I would offer is to NOT decide what the
parish in Haiti needs. Rather, let the parish in Haiti decide. They
will know much better than you what they need, and if they are getting
support for a project that is self-chosen and important to them, there is
a much better chance the project will succeed and go to where it is
supposed to go, achieving a success on your part and theirs.
However, this is a tricky and difficult business. You must realize that
poor Haitians have been conditioned by church and humanitarian aid to
perceive the foreigner as a sort of Santa Claus figure, thus if you just
come with open check book and say: what do you need? Not suprisingly
you will be asked for the moon with Mars for dessert. On the other hand
if you just decide what they need based on your assumptions you are
likely to end up with things that will please you but may not at all
involve or engage the larger community. Further, and I don't mean this
to be a blanket criticism of clery by any means, but not every priest
(Haitian or non-Haitian) is as ideally motivated as you may wish. Projects
which are controlled and managed by the local priest may well end up
being more about furthering the power of the priest, or, worse, more to
the priest's economic well-being than that of the parishioneers.
I would urge you to spend some serious time in the parish. Perhaps a
group of your parishioneers could visit the parish with a translator for
some extended period of time, at least a couple of weeks. Live there.
Don't have a car. Walk. Visit people constantly. Just talk. Don't
mention projects, but just ask about life in the village --get a strong
sense of their hardships and dreams and hopes. You don't need to ask
leading or specific questions, the people will tell you, and, indirectly,
they will make it clear what their vision is, what they think will improve
the quality of life in the village. But, be sensitive and remain observant
visitors, not "offerers" of aid.
All of this is not easy. Of course they will know who you are and will
have a sense that something will be forthcoming from your visit.
Nonetheless, time and patience give you a better chance to learn what
they really need and want.
Lastly, on this point at least, when you do decide on a project, don't just
empower the priest and turn it all over to him. Spread responsibility as
widely as you can with ways of continuing contact and feedback. This is
the hardest of all. I have heard from hundreds of groups like your own
that communication is the hardest of all. Basically, they never hear much,
they get few reports and virtually no accountability. This is why I would
suggest two things here:
-- FREQUENT VISITORS .
-- spread the responsibility and accountability widely in the
parish. Do not, under any circumstances, just turn the
money over to the priest and hope for the best.
When I talk about this strategy with other groups one criticism is that my
recommendation for the frequent vistor is an expensive waste
of time and money, money that could well go to the parish to alleviate needs.
I think that argument is the sheerest nonesense. The first time I ever
heard it was in about 1984, my second year of involvement in Haiti. I
was publishing a magazine on Haiti to raise funds for the work of People to
People, inc. in Haiti.
At that time it was about $900 to make a three week trip with me to Haiti,
which was air-fare from St. Louis and all living expenses. A farmer from
Nebraska wrote criticizing us for spending this $900 that way when it would
help Haitians so much to have the money. I could agree at one level.
However, in his case he didn't go to Haiti with us, nor did he donate the
$900. And that's the rub.
All the years I led groups to Haiti (30 or more groups, over 500 people),
we were raising about $100,000 a year to do work in Haiti. Of that
$100,000 at least 80% of was earned by people who had gone to Haiti,
been moved to care, and came home and did some fundraising -- a garage
sale earning a couple of hundred dollars, a progressive dinner, getting
the family to donate money to PTP in lieu of Christmas presents, dozens
of creative ideas. The going there, getting personally involved, tends
to be a motivator to do more. Thus I would argue the money spent going to
visit, see and experience is money well spent and in the long run generates
more money for Haiti than is used in the going there.
Now, on a totally different issues: All of the above concerns getting
involved in Haiti at what I would call the face to face, or individual to
individual or charity level. That is crucial and badly needed in Haiti.
However, I would urge you not to make that your ONLY focus. There are
other things that are very important and would make your involvement in
Haiti much more rounded and perhaps long-lasting.
The first is to have your group learn as much about Haiti as they can.
Buy books, read, discuss, share. Go beyond your own area of work and get
to know the country; its history, geography, people and perhaps most
importantly, extend yourself and learn some Creole. Important, I think,
encourage people not only to go to Haiti to "help," but vacation there,
go just for the sun, food, people, the art, the natural surroundings.
Visit the citadel, Jacmel, Les Cayes, Okap, walk in the mountains, ride
taptaps and cross-country buses and just play, and have fun.
Secondly, work not only at the charitable level, but at two other levels:
One is the level of economic development. People need schools, and food
and medicine and all that at the level of basic charity. But, for the
long-term they need jobs. To create a job place in the U.S. is
frightfully expensive, I think I read it cost in the area of $30,000 or
more to create a lasting job in the U.S. In Haiti it can be done at a very
low level. I would especially recommend reading the book by list member
Simon Fass, THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF HAITI, which, while fairly old,
holds up some very specific models of how jobs are created in Haiti at
the local level.
Further, on job creation, there is a good deal of literature on
micro-loan projects to individuals and small communities which is worth
Lastly, don't negelect the political. As some of the discussion going on
now on the list indicates, the United States is and has been dramatically
involved in the well-being (or rather, the non-well-being) of Haiti for
a century and half at least. As United States citizens this is our
responsibility and there are political groups which have interests in the
U.S.-Haiti policies and U.S. -Caribbean policies. It is part of what
caring about Haiti and being a U.S. citizen means.
Further, your group would need to get to know Haitian politics. You can't
(and I would think, shouldn't) be much involved in the internal politics
of Haiti, but on the other hand, much that you will do or have a chance to
do in Haiti will in fact have local political ramifications. Your acts will
have those ramifications whether or not you are aware of what they are or
aren't. If you become aware you can guage your actions in the areas of
both charity and economic development to have what your can judge to be
more progressive and positive political impacts than regressive and negative.
(For example, it has to do with political consequences as much as
anything else that I am very skeptical about putting large sums of money
and power into the hands of priests who operate locally with little
obligation to the local populace.)
There is much more, I could go on and on. I've been intimately involved
with the small charity I founded, People to People, INc. since 1983.
I've struggled and made lots and lots of mistakes, and never cease learing.
I'm sure even what I say above needs to be challenged, deepened, clarified,
and certainly added to a great deal. I'll leave that to others.
If your group would like to continue this discussion off-list, please don't
hesitate to follow up, it's a concern at the very center of my life.