News article

Click here for some  recent pictures from the earthquake


(MIKE & FRIENDS BLOG, Feb 15, 2010)

Putting ‘Humanitarian’ Back in ‘Humanitarian Aid’

One of the first things that Haitians now living in the streets want to talk
about is their disgust over the international food aid program. In such places
as the camps in the downtown parks on Boulevard Champs de Mars, residents
report, food is given sporadically – last week not for four or five days.
Moreover, it is uncooked rice, and many of those living in the crowded shelters
have no way to cook it. Some have been able to sell the rice and, with the
funds, buy food that they can eat.

In a heavily militarized operation, U.S. Marines distribute rice from CARE and
U.S. Agency for International Development. Haitians stand in lines for hours in
the hot sun, sometimes receiving nothing, or scramble for food dropped from the
air. “We are not dogs,” said one woman in front of a sheet which serves as
the front door of her new home in a public park. “The way they do it just
breeds indignity,” said another.

Lance Jean-Francois, of the community organization Solidarite Ant Jèn Veye Yo
(Solidarity Among Youth / Be Vigilant), says, “A danger of aid is that it
infantilizes people. We say that what will traumatize the Haitian people even
more than the 35 seconds of the earthquake is finding themselves, from one day
to the next, standing with bowls in their hands and waiting for someone to give
them a sheet so they can sleep. This dependence is terrible for people’s

The Marine-led distribution, involving weapons on the part of the givers,
frustration on the part of the receivers, and more frustration still among
those who do not receive, has led to violence. There has been neither security
nor equal access for women in the process, though some of the food operations
are now offering women separate lines.

Tanya Felix, also of SAJ Veye Yo, says, “U.S. soldiers giving rice… our
problem isn’t insecurity. This is not how we should be helped. We need people
helping us who won’t humiliate us.”

Some grassroots Haitian organizations here are showing how humanitarian aid
programs can do just that, provide help without humiliation. One of these is in
the extremely economically depressed neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles. There,
the Association for the Promotion of Integral Family Healthcare (APROSIFA) has
contracted with twenty timachann, small food vendors with roots in the
community, and will soon contract with thirty more. Each serves one meal a day
to the same ten or fifteen families, usually with upwards of seven members per
family. By the time the project has fully scaled up, it will formally provide
food for approximately 5,400 people each day. Moreover, says Roseanne Auguste,
the technical advisor of and organizer of the program, when the women finish
serving those they’re responsible for, they keep serving hungry people who
come until the pots are empty – for free, out of solidarity. The program is
financed by grants made to
APROSIFA, and will continue until the end of April.

The food served is all domestically grown. Roseanne says, “Instead of sending
rice from the U.S., I would like to tell the international community that the
earthquake didn’t affect production in this country. We can produce food.”

One of the timachann’s operation takes place in the lakou, communal
courtyard, of three extended families. There an enormous mango tree provides
shade. This afternoon, Madame Gabeau has just finished the preparation of three
industrial-sized, blackened pots containing rice, bean sauce, and vegetables.
As Madame Gabeau’s team – or what she calls “her family” – awaits their
food, they exchange news with each other in the shady courtyard. They are
neighbors, if not friends. Two elderly matriarchs in nightgowns and short gray
braids, 77-year-old identical twins, come over to tease Roseanne. Little kids
strike vampy poses, pushing each other out of the way to get in the center of a
photographer’s camera frame. A young woman sits on a high tree root with her
baby on her lap, examining her face in a hand mirror inside a plastic Elmo

People calmly talk and laugh while Madame Gabeau ladles mountainous servings
into the containers they hand her: lunch buckets, tin bowls, a Styrofoam to-go
box. The scene is no different than many pre-earthquake Sunday afternoons in
Haiti, except that all the people here are hungry and homeless due to one of
the worst natural disasters in history.

Another humanitarian aid operation is underway in a damaged kindergarten
building in the beaten-down neighborhood of Belaire. Each day the youth group
SAJ Veye Yo feeds 400 people and shelters 200 people, from a bright-eyed baby
to a very elderly man. SAJ Veye Yo’s resources are a combination of free
truckloads of water from Oxfam Quebec and a local Haitian company, and funds
given by the Haitian state and a German company. Three doctors, Haitian and
German, fill volunteer shifts three afternoons a week.

The main room is dark, with people sitting in small groups or alone. The walls
are lined with stacks of bundles tied in sheets. Above the bundles, white
banners read ‘love,’ ‘solidarity’, and ‘respect.’ A boy and a girl
play checkers on a piece of cardboard; the boy assures visitors that he’s the
best. A two-year old dressed only in a T-shirt toddles towards a
photographer’s camera, beaming and calling, “Photo. Photo.” One woman, in
response to whether she wants her picture taken, replies in perfect English:
“No. I don’t want my family to see me in a shelter.”

Out back a woman sits on a stool washing a big battered pot with a small bowl
of water. Two women swing on children’s swings, next to a slide which is now
buried under a collapsed cement-block wall. One woman cooks in a little
concrete building, while another offers glasses of cold, fresh orange juice all
around. In a classroom, three volunteer medical students arrange first aid
supplies on shelves.

Lance Jean-Francois says, “People need to know that we can count on
ourselves. We don’t lack anything, we have the capacity. That’s what behind
this initiative. We accept support that comes, but in the framework of
respecting people’s dignity.”

Could these community-run responses be scaled up adequately to meet the need?
Probably not; the numbers of those who cannot now afford food is unknown, but
vast. The capacity of Haitian non-governmental groups is limited.

But could the international organizations offer Haitians a way to stay fed
while maintaining dignity and security? The grassroots models show that the
answer is yes.By Beverly Bell


One Response to News article

  1. Graham Sowa says:

    So many time Haitians told me the same thing: we don’t like food distributed like this. I encouraged some people to organize the community in Carrefour Aviation to just surround the food trucks and sit down, and demand that another system be used to distribute food. Not standing up and taking any food until a system was in place that was accepted by the receivers, or at least better than thousands of people in terribly slow lines cutting and fighting and acting like fools to get some food that is destroying their agriculture sector.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: