Republic of NGOs
In late June, Mennonite Central Committee U.S Staff and Board Members visited Haiti to learn about MCC Haiti's work, and to conduct board meetings. During this time they got a taste of Haitian food, culture, and MCC's past and current projects. Ron Byler, Executive Director of MCC U.S reflects on his recent experience in Haiti.
“How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” – Psalm 133
It is difficult to overstate the challenges the people of Haiti have faced. During an era of colonization in the 1600’s, for a period of time, 48,000 slaves each year were sent into Haiti, each one facing an average life expectancy of just five years. When Haiti finally became the first black republic in 1804, France demanded an indemnity of $21 Billion which was paid off through 80% of Haitian revenues for 100 years.
Today, the average Haitian lives on $800 each year and 24% of the people live in extreme poverty with only 17% having access to latrines. 92% of the schools are run by non-state actors. The promise of democracy since 1990 has largely been disappointing.
And then in 2010, an earthquake was responsible for 220,000 deaths and almost 2 million people were displaced from their homes. More than 90% of families lost a family member in the earthquake.
When you look at the history, says MCC Haiti country representative Paul Fast, “Perhaps the appropriate question is how has Haiti done as well as it has?”
Post-earthquake, Haiti has become the Republic of NGOs with more than 20,000 international organizations working there. MCC is one of only 243 officially registered with the government, but unlike many others, MCC has been working in Haiti for almost 60 years. In the larger context, MCC is a very small player, but it is well respected. MCC Haiti country representative Rebecca Fast even serves on a coordinating committee for NGOs.
During the earthquake, more than 300,000 homes in Haiti were destroyed. Through its partner, ITECA (Institute of Technology and Animation), MCC has helped to rebuild 80 homes in one community in Port-au-Prince.
Unlike many of the rebuilding efforts in Haiti, ITECA helps people stay on the land where they previously lived. While this has created a lot more work and cost, it has helped guarantee a much greater level of success with the families. The rebuilt homes cost under $15,000 each and ITECA has even begun manufacturing a new kind of interlocking cinder block to build the homes. In six years, ITECA has rebuilt 800 homes with 400 families still waiting.
ITECA director Chenet Jean Baptiste told us, “It makes a great difference whether we are building homes for people or with people.” He said that MCC has been a good partner and a great friend of the community who cares about the dignity of the people who are served. “MCC’s ideas and values match up with ours,” he said.
In the community, ITECA takes time to build solidarity among communities and neighbors. “We are helping people build homes, but ultimately, we are helping people build community,” Jean Baptiste told us.
With ITECA and other partners, MCC has helped to rebuild 900 homes and provided financial assistance for thousands of families. Training in earthquake resistant construction, trauma healing workshops and job skills training are other ways MCC has responded to the earthquake.
In addition, MCC has sent 38 shipments of blankets, food and school kits to Haiti valued at more than $3 million. MCC staff told us that MCC canned meat has become a valued brand and that the labels of the cans sometimes need to be torn off so that the they aren’t pilfered and resold.
Paul and Rebecca Fast are new MCC Haiti country representatives and that has given them an opportunity to view MCC’s work in a fresh way. They say MCC is well respected in Haitian communities because of its long-term approach, its flexibility, its insistence on working without armed guards and its willingness to serve communities no one else is serving. They said the respect MCC has in communities is the envy of other peer organizations.
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J Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Follow along with Ron's personal reflections at his blog.