The standard narrative around Haiti since the January 12, 2010 earthquake involves cholera, dysfunction, and violence. The reality, however, in some rural communities like Gran Sous, is that of transformational change. Our partnership with APDAG, the community association based in Gran Sous, has led to tangible successes.
According to IOM Haiti, 360,000 homeless Haitians still reside in tent camps. Although small in size APDAG has attacked this problem, building 16 permanent homes at a cost of $3,500 per house. At least one international non-profit spent the same on constructing transitional shelters as APDAG did on building permanent homes. The $3,500 budget for APDAG’s homes pales in comparison to the now abandoned housing expo in Zoranje where model homes’ prices ranged up to $69,000.
An article in the New York Times less than a month after the earthquake, stated that “aid groups, United Nations officials, experts and Haitian government leaders reveal[ed] that communication was not a top priority early on. Inexperience and a go-it-alone approach contributed to the dysfunction. Contrast that depiction with what we saw on La Gonave where a community was able to control their own relief efforts.
Less than a week after the earthquake, APDAG had visited several surrounding communities, formally assessed the damage, and created spreadsheets that clearly identified the families that were hit hardest. A week later, APDAG went into Port-au-Prince where they purchased 10 tons of food from a warehouse, rented a truck, and then hired a boat to transport the food to the island. Within 48 hours APDAG managed to purchase, transport, and distribute food to over 330 families.
All too often, international groups have invested in large projects that don’t account for local input. By April 2011, only 23 of 1490 U.S. government contracts had been awarded to Haitian businesses. Some large American contractors, such as Chemonics International have come under fire for their poor performance. A government audit of just 22 of 141 Chemonics projects in Haiti found several serious problems. While Chemonics employs many Haitian workers, a report on the government audit noted that two “projects failed altogether because Chemonics did not involve local residents in the process.”
Meanwhile, GFDAG, a local all-volunteer women’s group, launched a wholesale food business in late 2012 and is already seeing significant profits. These women have a mission to create a social enterprise that reinvests in their community. Now, GFDAG will be paying for local orphans’ educational costs with their profits. This is all a part of our vision: local ownership and sustainable development.
If Haitian groups are truly allowed to manage their own development, we expect to see great results. From access to basic needs to educational workshops, Roots of Development has provided APDAG the means to shape the future of their communities in a remote and neglected part of Haiti. When Executive Director Chad Bissonnette started working in Haiti, another NGO worker told him “You’ll need to have someone on the ground there to manage things.” APDAG continues to prove otherwise.