In Haitian Kreyol “tout moun se moun” Means Every Person is a Person

Many people look at Haiti and despair. Some say that we have hungry and uninsured in America and that the people of Haiti need to somehow help themselves. Others though, like Dr. Paul Farmer, co-Founder of Partners in Health and United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, have worked in Haiti for years.  Paul Farmer has reason to doubt and yet he seems to have hope.

He recently testified to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The full testimony is here. (Emphasis is mine.)

Beyond hope, he has experience and wisdom and a history in Haiti and that is why I think he is worth listening to and potentially supporting with your financial dollars.

“They say that aid is wasted, that there is no hope for this country.  And indeed there are reasons to be cautious.

I would answer them with the positive experience of building Haitian-led programs in the Central Plateau and Artibonite Valley regions that have createdfive thousand jobs for people who would otherwise have no steady work. I advance this model not because it is associated with our efforts, but because job creation is the surest way to speed up the cash flow that is essential now. It is also the fastest way to make amends for our past actions towards Haiti, which have not always been honorable.  In other words, if we focus the reconstruction efforts appropriately, we can achieve long-term benefits for Haiti. The UNDP is helping to organize programs of this kind, which should be supported and extended around the country.Putting Haitians back to work and offering them the dignity that comes with having a job and its basic protections is exactly what brought our country out of the Great Depression.

Last night I read a New York Times article about the babies being born amidst the tragedy of Haiti.  My heart broke to hear of these mothers giving birth and having nowhere to go, no food or shelter.  Can you imagine?  Having done that three times myself I can tell you that it would be terrifying.

One, nineteen year old woman four days after giving birth was eating her first meal — a can of beans.  Another living in a sheet tent with her 12-year-old and eight year old and few days old infant.  Despondent as she lived outside the rubble of her home, because she does not want other’s charity.  Her husband is dead.  She has three children and nothing to feed them.  No way of providing for them.

“The street where I live, it’s so dirty; there isn’t enough food or water,” Ms. Antoine said. “I’m scared to bring a baby into this awful situation.”

The article said, ” roughly 7,000 who will give birth in the next month” of the 63,000 that were pregnant when the earth quake struck Haiti two weeks ago.

Back to Paul Farmer’s presentation:

“Despite $402 million pledged to support the Haitian government’s Economic Recovery Program in April of last year, when the country was trying to recover from a series of natural disasters resulting in a 15% reduction of GDP, it is estimated that a mere $61 million have been disbursed.

“In the Office of the Special Envoy, we have been tracking the disbursement of pledges, and as of yesterday we estimate that 85% of the pledges made last year remain undisbursed. Many of us worry that, if what’s past is prologue, Haitians themselves will be blamed for this torpor.

So here is our chance: if even half of the pledges made in Montreal or other such meetings are linked tightly to local job creation, it is possible to imagine a Haiti building back better with fewer of the social tensions that inevitably arise as half a million homeless people are integrated into new communities.

Haiti needs and deserves a Marshall Plan—not the “containment” aspects of that policy, unless we are explicit about containing the ill effects of poverty, but the social-justice elements. But we need to be honest about the differences between post-war Europe and Haiti in 2010. Part of the problem, I’ve argued, is the way in which aid is delivered now as compared to in 1946—well before the term “beltway bandits” was coined.

  • We need a reconstruction fund that is large, managed transparently, creates jobs for Haitians, and grows the Haitian economy.
  • We need a reconstruction plan that uses a pro-poor, rights-based approach far different from the charity and failed development approaches that have marred interactions between Haiti and much of the rest of the world for the better part of two centuries.

Our country can be a big part of this effort.  Debt relief is important, but only the beginning. As you consider donating to Haiti relief, remember that any group looking to do this work must share the goals of the Haitian people which are shared by Partners in Health as well.

They need:

  1. access to quality health care, and
  2. social and economic rights, reflected, for example, in job creation,
  3. local business development,
  4. watershed protection (and alternatives to charcoal for cooking), and
  5. gender equity.

Considering all these goals together orients our strategic choices. For example, cash transfers to women, who hold the purse strings in Haiti and are arbiters of household spending, will have significant impact. This is a chance to learn and move forward and build on lessons learned in adversity—to build hurricane-resistant houses with good ventilation to improve air quality from stove smoke; to build communities around clean water sources; to reforest the terrain to protect from erosion and to nurture the fertility of the land for this predominantly agricultural country. It is the chance to create shelter, grow the local economy and incomes, and invest in improved health. This will do much to decrease the risk of another calamity, and to decrease the vulnerability of the poor—especially as we face the second wave of problems, including epidemic disease born of the earthquake

“tout moun se moun” – every person is a person

Won’t you help an organization that has experience in the country.   There are goofy groups popping up that seem to be exploiting the situation in Haiti.  Don’t be fooled into thinking they are helping.   And look, I know we all want to help.  I want to scoop up those moms and babies and take care of them.  Offer them shelter and food.  I want to hold that starving 18 month old in the hospital in Haiti, comfort him with physical contact and food.  (He has since died.)  I would do anything, offering up my blood, sweat and tears if it would help.

But we must be reasonable — adults — logical and informed.  They don’t need our frickin’ shoes.  Or blankets.  Or old clothes.  They don’t even need us to go, no matter how much we want to help.

This website, Good Intentions Are Not Enough, provides a list of ideas of ways that you can truly help if you are so compelled.

Or you could just send money.

There are a number of online tools available for evaluating charities and making donations to a broader range of NGOs, including and

Be well friends.

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