Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts on Haiti and development from an aid worker

Here is an interesting blog post from an aid worker in Haiti.  He details the frustration that often assails people doing development work in some of Earth's most forsaken places.  The self-doubt about one's mission, the exasperation at your reception by locals, etc.  I have felt many of these things before, in different contexts and in varying degrees. 

That said, I have not felt as much of this type of frustration on my latest visits to Haiti.  In fact, despite the common descriptions of the country on the news and such, I don't think of it as one of Earth's most forsaken places (in my biased mental framework that distinction goes to places like Somalia or Afghanistan).  I'm not sure why this is.  Maybe it's because Haiti is a less desperate place than when I first came, or because I'm more comfortable there.  It's probably in large part because I haven't lately (ever?) gone to Haiti in the context of an extreme aid mission that might bring me in contact with the most impoverished, beleagered, diseased, violent, or earthquake-hit areas.  When I go to Haiti, although it's usually under the aegis of some aid-related effort or group, it seems I deal with people in "normal" situations.  They may not have much in the way of clothes or luxuries or even a very diverse diet, but the poor Haitians I've met live in a relatively stable, manageable peasant poverty, not the dire emergency straits of a camp-dweller or an AIDS victim or something.  And this is not to speak of the middle-class Haitians I've palled around with.

Maybe I am no longer as vulnerable to the despair of the blog author simply because my mindset has changed, and I no longer think of myself as an outsider coming to help (which would make me frustrated when I see that I'm not helping that much) but rather as a person with very set objectives, be they professional or recreational, and hence I can take satisfaction in fulfilling my limited duties or desires.  I'm seeing and appreciating what little is in my control, and not the great deal that is beyond my control.  Likewise, when I go to Haiti I'm not "doing time".  It's not for a long stint that I'm thinking of as "my time in Haiti".  Even if I did spend a longer stretch of time there, at this point it would be with my wife and son, so it would feel less like an extreme project, divorced from real life, and more like my normal, everyday routine of work and family.

On the same note, I haven't often experienced the type of anti-foreigner vitriol the blog author describes.  I chalk this up to my visiting or working in areas or in social contexts where people aren't as embittered toward foreigners.  I can imagine the earthquake-shattered population of Leogane must see a lot of foreigners, and there might be more angry sentiments there than in Cap Haitien, where I went on my last trip to Haiti. 

At any rate, I wanted to link to this post because I think it's a valuable insight into the psyche of an aid worker, as well as raising some important issues and questions about aid and development in general.

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