PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – One year after the earthquake, Haitians are growing impatient with non-governmental organizations, humanitarian aid workers, and its own public officials. Disorganization, bureaucracy, and confusion among humanitarian organizations have left the majority Haitians frustrated and discontent with the progress (or lack thereof) since January 12, 2010. The once welcomed humanitarian organizations and workers are now the subject of resentment and disdain.
Amidst the vast sea of humanitarian organizations lies International Action, a small Washington based non-profit with a staff of 4 in D.C and 10 in Haiti. Since 2006, International Action has been working in the most impoverished communities in Haiti to provide clean water. The organization functions on the key operating principle that Haiti needs a hand up, not a hand out. Out of the thousands of foreign aid organizations in Haiti, few have Haitian input. International Action is among the few humanitarian entities with a staff that is entirely Haitian. A rare occurrence in a country where heavy criticism has been directed towards humanitarian organizations spending aid money on housing, security, and food for non-governmental organization (NGO) staff, while Haitians languish in the camps.
International Action's Haitian staff has continuously shown a sense of accomplishment and pride in their ability to do something significant to improve the lot of their communities and country. Hence, the organization has developed a strong reputation for adopting innovative approaches and providing services to support sustainability and effective use of resources. Through its life saving chlorinators and water tanks, it is currently protecting the water supply and providing clean water for more than 500,000 Haitians. The organization's clean water campaign entails strong community participation while providing sustainable benefits to the people of Haiti.
In order to make any progress, there is no doubt that NGOs need to do a better job of listening to and working with the Haitian people. International Action understands and recognizes this too well. Its Haitian staff conducts monthly meetings with the water board members of various communities in which it has installed its chlorinators and tanks. The water committees have helped in organizing communities to influence water programs and initiatives that affect them. Through its Haitian staff and local water board members, International Action is in greater and closer proximity to its target beneficiaries, creating greater trust with the people. Furthermore, community involvement has helped the organization create programs that are more responsive to the needs of the people.
The ongoing cholera crisis in Haiti highlights the importance of clean water for drinking and preparing disease-free food. Without clean water, an adequate standard of living is out of reach. As is typical for many developing nations, deprivation in access to clean water is a silent crisis experienced by the impoverished. In Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, lack of access to clean water is a crisis that is consigning large segments of the population to lives of poverty, vulnerability, and insecurity.
International Action is demonstrating that it requires a true partnership with the people of Haiti to help. Humanitarian aid organizations should follow its blueprint by hiring more locals to rebuild their countries. The model of Haitians helping Haitians empowers and inspires dignity, courage, and leadership in a country that has suffered so much for many years. Perhaps, it is time that we let Haitians take the lead in rebuilding their country.
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