Saturday. Half day of work followed by an afternoon with a few interesting discussions.
In the morning I worked at the base with seven other volunteers, pre-fabricating the studs and trusses that will compose school five. Lots of sawdust, sweat, and laughs.
Come 2pm, I strolled down Rue Belval to Jackson Bar, a watering hole/bicycle mechanic/motorcycle mechanic shop composed of a shaken wooden hut, a wee sheet of tarp, and some palm tree trunk benches. Here I chatted with Chris, the All-Hands director of operations here in Haiti, who doubles as a fellow Canadian engineer. He described to me the lack of functional coordination between the countless aid groups working in Haiti. Considering the presence that these groups have had and grown ever since World War 2, he is disheartened by the lack of resource and information sharing and organization. Much of this coordination is run by a United Nations partition by the name of “Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs“. In the bureaucracy that is the UN, and aid groups in general, there is a rotating lead for this office every three months. Three months is not a very long time to gain a grasp of understanding for Haiti’s modes of governance (oft scattered, corrupt and dysfunctional), the multitude of issues (education, health, economy, violence, lawlessness, …) and the manners in which to appropriately convey aid while being sensitive to Haiti’s pride. This results in a lack of continuity and building of momentum in aid efforts. I hope that I can gain entry to an OCHA meeting soon so that I can learn more about this issue.
Another group of fellow volunteers then shuffled into J-Bar. We were pleased to recognize that the seven of us were each from different countries- Haiti, Brazil, Wales, Mexico, England, United States and Canada. Our discussion ranged from religion to sports to politics. Being a Doyle, my interest lied principally in the latter. This coming November, stretching through to February, Haitians will cast ballots in a series of votes that will whittle away at the long list of Presidential candidates to eventually find a winner. While there is a general skepticism on the part of Haitians with respect to politics due to the incessant corruption, there is hope in light of the earthquake’s devastation and subsequent melee that this election will be wholly embraced as a stepping stone to equality and prosperity. In direct contravention of this hope for equality is the international community of developed countries which do not permit the Lavalas Party, supported by the vast majority of Haitians, to participate in this election as well as all elections since 2001. You might rightly ask why developed countries, Canada included, are accused of using their substantial clout (clout in the form of threats to discontinue aid) to disallow the democratic interest of Haitians. From my little understanding, it is related to the divide between the poor Haitian majority and the few Haitian elite, those who willingly succumb to the will of developed nations. However, I have no idea why my Canadian government is purported to support this terrible inequality. You can read in length about this issue at Canada Haiti Action.
Lastly, I walked back towards base with a newly arrived volunteer from the US. I bought him and myself an egg sandwich at a street stall, and was coyly asked by a Haitian gentleman sitting at the stall if I would buy him a sandwich as well. As someone smartly dressed and with a fancy cell phone on his hip, he did not strike me as someone so in need of my hard-earned dollars so I told him so. He asked why I, also fairly smartly dressed, could not afford to buy him a sandwich. I explained that there are many many poor Haitians, and many poorer than him. If I were to buy them each an egg sandwich, I would not be able to stay in Haiti very long to put to use my abilities as an engineer. This seemed to subside his contempt somewhat.
I have a lot to learn!