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Reflections on Haiti, Five Years After the Big Earthquake

January 1, 2015 Leave a comment

When the ten-year anniversary of the Asian Tsunami was lurking a few weeks back, it prompted me to reflect on what I have learned about disaster response and recovery.  In a blog published soon before the December 26 milestone, I emphasized the importance of leveraging, creating and enhancing local institutional capacity in order to make rebuilding sustainable – a way to give real meaning to the post-disaster cliché “build back better.”  This theme was picked up in an AFP wire story that quoted me. Now the international community must confront the five year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake this month.  Hopefully there will be more than just hand-wringing punctuated by the odd story on some well-intended church group or celebrity donor, and instead include some accountability for what has been (and has not been) accomplished and learned (see this for a model of an accountability report, published 14 months after the disaster by Fonkoze).  My hope is not just that Fonkoze will get some attention, but that all the anonymous people who labored for years before and after the earthquake inside local institutions that are there for the long haul will be recognized somehow. earthquake stock photo I was touched by Time magazine’s choice of “The Ebola Fighters” as the Person of the Year, which reminded me of a time in 1988 when my friend and mentor Michael Rigby observed about the famine of that year in Ethiopia that the untold story was of the heroism of the truck drivers bringing food aid to the hungry despite incredible risks (there were several civil wars there at the time).  Too often in international humanitarian work, we focus on the CEOs, the Board Chairs, the donors, the celebrities – and not the rank and file staff and long-term volunteers.

Fonkoze's Head Office, Post-Earthquake (Credit: Leigh Carter)

Fonkoze’s Head Office, Post-Earthquake (Credit: Leigh Carter)

In the case of Fonkoze, which I continue to research a book on while also serving in several demanding volunteer roles, I have been impressed by the drive, vision and results these past five years  of people like Marlise Voltaire, Alexandre Hector, Gautier Dieudonne and Dominique Boyer.  These four senior staff labor mostly outside whatever small spotlight shines on Fonkoze, but they are the heart and soul of the “building brick by brick” process that I wrote about in my last post to this blog.  Two of them are not confident English speakers, so do not represent Fonkoze much internationally; two have worked overseas and could command much higher salaries in more comfortable environs. I am grateful that a small number of patient, caring and flexible donors and investors have been there for Fonkoze during the last half-decade.  Their capital combined with a very rigorous internally-driven assessment that began in February 2012 to identify and address institutional weaknesses – especially relating to coordination between the Fonkoze family organizations – is transforming this organization to be ready for whatever the future may bring. I am also grateful to my employer, Grameen Foundation, for giving its blessing to my active involvement in Fonkoze even after its day-to-day institutional involvement was significantly reduced (due to a shift in strategy in the Latin America and Caribbean region unrelated to Fonkoze’s performance).  My involvement with Fonkoze at the governance level will conclude next November, after a decade of volunteer service that has allowed me to get to know some extraordinary individuals and learn a lot.  Once those roles end, it will allow me to get to work on finishing my book on Fonkoze.

Credit: Leigh Carter

Credit: Leigh Carter

In any case, I will be interested to see how much coverage there is of the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, and what kind of coverage it is.  I encourage everyone who was involved with the recovery effort (whether as a volunteer, humanitarian worker or as a donor) to make your voice heard.  You can use the comments section of this blog as one place to share your recollections, questions and insights. First Photo Credit: Haiti earthquake of 2010, Photograph, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online, accessed January 01, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/151773/A-woman-walking-down-a-devastated-street-in-Port-au

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