Canada remains the highest ranked on the Human Development Index in the Americas, while Haiti remains the lowest in ranking, with the country’s condition that much more dire following the January 12th, 2010 earthquake. How can this major rich/poor gap be addressed? Is the answer to simply donate more money? To pour resources into aid and charity? Create new foreign NGOs to send more aid workers abroad? Donate 6 million more to fund elections?
A 2005 report put out by CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) stated that the role of NGOs (many of them Canadian) have ‘contributed to created parallel systems of service delivery, eroding legitimacy, capacity and will of the state to deliver key services’. The report goes on to sate the NGOs have ‘undermined efforts to strengthen good governance’.
We do not wish to undermine all NGOs or to say that aid has not helped people at all. What we really want to do is question the greater implications of a charity system which seems to have gone corporate and relies now on the feelings of goodwill it provides for those who donate money rather than what services are actually provided. The notion of charity often creates a sense of hierarchy amongst nations one that is vivid in ad campaigns. NGOs and charitable organizations often rely on feelings of guilt to encourage people to donate money. Just take a look at a commercial by World Vision featuring children who the charity claims are desperate for your love and money, to tell them they are worth something because you cared. Attached to the money donated is the notion that YOU, yes YOU ALONE have created change in ONE person’s life. While this could be true, maybe the child will now attend school it is not a sustainable means to change. Attached to the donation is the idea that we have the means to help others because somehow we did it right over here. We can look after our children, we are the responsible ones, and alone we will solve problems.
Perhaps this seems cynical. It means not to be. I believe in the power of one, but I believe much more in the communal power of kindness. Were we to really want to create change, then this change needs to extend beyond a donation and a feeling of guilt. NGOs, non-profits, charities and even corporations are not all evil, in fact many are not. The majority simply need to be reworked in their structure of how they function and interact with others.
We are a globalized world and as such will react to devastation in a global manner. This is testament to the goodwill of people. However, this individualistic means of ‘development work’ needs to be readdressed and shifted into a community sense of development. A new relationship, one that relies on an equal playing field rather than a hierarchy of those giving and those receiving needs to be created.
Following Haiti’s earthquake Canada (and many other nations across the globe) came together in what was deemed solidarity for Haitians. Events were held, money donated, money sent. Yet what has been accomplished? 2.5 million people lost their homes in the earthquake and a staggering 1.5 million Haitian people remain living in tent cities in squalid conditions. Even more horrifying than this statistic is that according to Mario Joseph, lawyer and human rights activist for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, is that tents are seen as a luxury to some as many people have only blankets to use as shelter.
The question of housing is made that much more difficult in Haiti as many did not own the actual land their homes were erected on and therefore will receive no compensation from the government in order to help remove the rubble and rebuild homes. Beyond this, landowners where many of the tent cities have been built are pressuring people to leave. Those living in the tents do not wish to stay forever in the tents, they simply need somewhere to stay until they can begin to rebuild their lives.
These inequalities and dichotomies between Haiti’s rich and poor, internal corruption and intervention on behalf of the UN and international NGOs have all only been further accentuated, at least by the media, by the presidential elections that took place yesterday in Haiti. The elections are alleged to be plagued by fraud and ballot stuffing. We will watch and post as the results unfold over the next week.