As soon as we tore our eyes and ears away from the news on Jan. 12, those of us who could donate to Haiti quickly did so. Indeed, the aftermath of the Haitian quake has been marked by one of the fastest and largest fundraising campaigns in modern history.
But as world leaders meet in Montreal to talk about strategies to rebuild Haiti, many of those on the ground are only cautiously optimistic about the untold millions of dollars now pouring into the country.
Haitian researcher and aid worker Tim Schwartz, who has spent a number of years in Haiti, recently wrote in Now Magazine about how the delivery of aid has gone so wrong. Schwartz explained how “piyay,” which he described as foreign goods “habitually distributed … with little or no accountability or control”, has hurt Haitians more than it’s helped them.
“Piyay from foreign missionaries and aid agencies with the best of intentions but little understanding of the culture they are working in too often turns the village sociopath or criminal into the wealthiest member of the community,” lamented Schwartz.
In the middle of the mess, a small group of Canadians are trying to buck the trend. I recently interviewed Scott Gilmore on our re-launched podcast. Gilmore is the executive director of Peace Dividend Trust, an organization based in a handful of troubled spots around the world.
He explained to us that over twenty staffers from that organization were in Port-au-Prince when the quake hit.
“They were all in the office when the earthquake hit,” Gilmore said of the staff, some of whom were sent from New York and Ottawa to open a new project office the Friday following the earthquake.
After getting initial word from the Haitian team that they were all safe, no one heard from them for 24 hours. Gilmore was in New York at the time, and he had shortly made plans to get to the airport, fly to the Dominican Republic in the middle of the night, and drive overland to Port-au-Prince in a waiting truck.
On the way to the airport, though, Gilmore got word from Haiti that the team had survived the earthquake relatively unscathed.
“Some of our people have lost their houses and are actually living in tents on our compound, but everyone is safe and within about 48 hours we were back to work,” he said.
Gilmore explained how PDT is working to reverse the trend illustrated by Schwartz. He said that the group is now undertaking projects similar in nature to its work in Afghanistan. With millions of dollars being spent on the relief effort, Gilmore wants Haitian businesses and suppliers to benefit – not their foreign donors.
Although Haitians are reeling in the aftermath of a life-shattering disaster, Gilmore estimated that about 30 percent of businesses in the country are up and running. He said they are able to supply bottled water, clothing and food to those who need it most.
PDT has a list of 200 businesses based in Haiti that are able to deliver relief, and they are working to direct aid to those organizations. It’s very similar to their work in Afghanistan that Gilmore spoke about in that earlier podcast.
“In Afghanistan, we found that the vast majority of the aid money wasn’t actually entering the local economy. Stuff was being bought overseas and flown in, and that was billions and billions of dollars of missed opportunity,” he said.
“So we put a team of people on the ground whose job it is, is to make it as easy as possible for the laziest procurement officer to buy local, to find an Afghan entrepreneur to provide him with the wheat or water or tires as opposed to finding it in Dubai or Italy. And so far it’s redirected over $370 million of new spending in the Afghan economy. It’s created thousands of jobs, and because of its success, the U.S. government, the British government, NATO and the UN have all changed their procurement policies globally, recognizing one of the fastest and healthiest ways for them to help local economies is to buy local.”
Gilmore hopes that the same strategy can have a similar effect on Haitian rehabilitation efforts. He added that more PDT staff will travel to Haiti in the coming months.