Posts by topic

haiti (2)
personal (3)

Haiti and the Common Good - Part 2

The role of local communities and non-local aid.

March 25, 2017 - 4 minute read -
personal haiti

Many Americans and international organizations already see the inherent dignity of all people, including the Haitians. NGOs and charities will work in service towards bettering the situations of poverty in Haiti. In fact, the plane rides in and out of Haiti were almost entirely faces of white people despite all the local Haitian faces being black. But, do these fellow outsiders see the work that the Haitians already do for each other? Why must the Haitian people rely on outsiders to fix their problems? Most importantly, are these service organizations truly helping Haiti or are they helping themselves? Many people participate in charity to feel good for themselves. This is not usually so bad since supporting our fellow man was programmed in our DNA to release positive hormones and encourage community survival. However, the recent trend in globalization and ease of travel can lead to superficial connections with community. Travellers can temporarily visit most anywhere in the world, do what they want, then leave almost as fast as when they arrived. What must be asked is can these outsiders really contribute to community growth if they are not long term members of the community themselves.

In the case of Haiti, many of the external aid organizations have done little help in comparison to the long term strife they mistakenly perpetuate. Of course, in the case of natural disasters, an initial wave of support is very much needed and appreciated for recovery especially when government infrastructure crumbles due to these extreme events. However, too many NGOs (more than 10,000 in Haiti) and aid organizations have overstayed their welcome and driven out local economic development opportunities for the recovery. Jobs and money are now being taken from Haitians and given to the aid economy. This is especially the case by the ill-informed US stakeholders who imposed our own rice surplus on Haiti, cementing our foreign agriculture trade in the country while ignoring the rice production possible by Haiti itself. Now, Haitian rice crops don’t exist and can’t compete with the Haitian dependence on cheap US rice. We became ignorant to our own capitalistic greed when providing rice. In it’s wake, our good intentioned aid is left to rot in the streets.

Haitian Street Market in Port-au-Prince, rice from the United States trashed in the gutter

So, how should aid change? Since I don’t currently work in the politics of public aid, I’ll rather ask how should I dedicate myself to public service and the Common Good? First, why do I want to serve others; I gain satisfaction from serving others, as well as a great enrichment to my life being able to learn from all the people I meet and thus the opportunity to pass on that knowledge to others. Answering the why could go on, but I don’t have the time fully flesh out what will be a lifelong question of mine as I seek continual motivation in my work.

Thus, I’m left with how. Haiti has taught me that there is richness in all life regardless of circumstance. This richness should be a motivation for others to fully immerse themselves in the people they serve and assuade their fears on their differences. To truly give to the others, like the people of Haiti, you can’t simply give your money or your time (Note: Financial charity and volunteering can still do good). Rather, you must give yourself and your trust in the people you serve. You and the organizations you support must join in solidarity with those you serve so that the locals, the Haitians lead their own development. The people of Haiti must be supported through their own recovery but still allowed the space to lead it independently. In truth, Haitians will be the most knowledgable and prepared to solve their problems. All we must do is support that development through trade and sharing of knowledge and resources.

Therefore, in my own pursuits of addressing environmental concerns, sustainability, and climate change, I realize that my role can only be in the communities to which I belong. For now, this tends to be homes back in Madison, Wisconsin and Indiana at Notre Dame. But I want to serve a global common good since climate change affects people regardless of their origin. So I need to immerse myself in communities outside my own and be humble while learning from those communities and the leaders who push their success. Maybe then my stories can influence fellow Americans to be more mindful about the impacts of their consumptive habits. With my current scientific work on understanding the dynamics of monsoons, their interactions with climate change, and the impacts they have Indian communities, I hope that I will find a way to more fully immerse myself and become respected amongst not only international scientists in my field, but also a group of Indian local communities just like Prof. Karen was with the Haitians. All it takes is an openness to the gifts and love that others offer. The Common Good is in all of us and not just ourselves.