Sowing Seeds or Plowing the Sea?

  • Posted on: 22 January 2006
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

seaIt would be naive of me to suggest that there is not growing frustration in the diverse community of individuals and groups that care about Haiti and are working with Haitians to build a better tomorrow. Security continues to erode and elections, merely the first step in establishing a participatory democracy, are delayed regularly. Is development possible without a transparent, accountable government that represents the long term needs of the people instead of the short term gain of politicians?

This is a political question but it is important to discuss. A friend and colleague of mine and I have been discussing this issue. In a recent conversation, he said, "The key issues are down and dirty political (both domestic and international), security, and corruption issues. Until these are effectively addressed, until the international community makes a realistic and sustained commitment to addressing these along with a core of the Haitian leadership from across interest groups, there will be no progress. All our humanitarian aid, good intentions, elections, etc., are...simply a plowing of the sea."

Corruption is rampant. However, all the more reason to support "positive deviants", organizations that are effective, transparent, and are making a difference in their communities. Politicians could learn a thing or two about leadership from these groups.

Insecurity is worse than we've ever seen it. 1100 kidnappings in ten months. Haiti will, sadly, probably find its way back into the next revision of "The World Most Dangerous Places". However, this is mainly in Port au Prince and the majority of Haitians do not live in Port au Prince. It is unfair to blame the rural Haitian for the sins of the city. Most of Haiti remains safe, calm, and much the same today as it is tomorrow.

The diverse groups interested in Haiti are fragmented along political lines. Cohesive strategies for change are not being delivered to policy-makers in compelling ways. The Diaspora is not as engaged as it could be which is not surprising, considering laws that prevent them from voting and fully participating in the political process. But there is much more they could be doing. We've been contacted by Haitians who know they want to make a difference, but do not know how. To them we say, find a successful organization that resonates with you, support it, talk about it, and be an ambassador for Haiti.

The common thread throughout Haiti's history is struggle. As long as our friends, family, and colleagues in Haiti continue to struggle for a better future, so will we. When they throw in the proverbial towel, then I will do the same. We're still in this fight.

I agree with my friend that sustained commitment of the international community is needed. But if history is any guide, the UN will leave when it is expedient to do so. There will be coups in other countries, natural disasters that divert resources, and a bevy of other factors that will tempt the international community to focus elsewhere. We should not be complaining about the disorganization of the country if we cannot organize ourselves. Perhaps it is time for the non-governmental organizations to form pragmatic partnerships to reach key players in the U.S. Government and the International Community. Politics aside, we should be able to unite behind an interest in continued engagement.

My friend, myself, Peace Corps Volunteers, the organizations we work with, have made a conscious decision to work where we feel we are needed most. If we all decided to work where we could be most effective, you would most likely be viewing a website called Costa Rica Innovation right now. But here you are, reading this blog, staying involved.

When living in Haiti, when I was down, there was always someone there for me. I could do a little bit to help the community when I was there, but now that I am back here, I can do more. And together we could do yet more. We can get funding to our partners, keep constructive pressure on key stakeholders (and please thank them when they do!), and keep a dialogue going.

Frustration is normal. We all feel it sometimes. And none of us will change the big picture by ourselves. However, we can help to change communities for the better. Let's focus on that, then.....planting seeds for change that will [grow] some fruit now, and perhaps even more when the right variables fall into place.

Hang in there everyone. Kenbe pa lage.


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