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Published: December 22, 2022

Maintaining a Commitment to Communities in Haiti

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Haiti is experiencing a unique case of converging and compounding crises. The rising cost of inflation, political instability, cholera, climate disasters, organised crime, and more. This presents an ongoing cross-section of humanitarian needs and unprecedented security challenges. How are some organisations managing the changing dynamics and enabling their programmes?

We recently spoke with Prospery Raymond, the country representative for several NGOs operating in Haiti, who shared insights on the current operating environment.

Q: How have challenges in Haiti impacted your ability to operate?

Prospery: Firstly, the costs of our projects are going up. For example, the price of petrol rose by 128%, impacting our ability to transport goods. Inflation is really high. The other obstacle is mobility. Some parts of the country are blocked, for example, in the south, where we have our main activities. We’ve had to find alternative routes to programme areas that also became blocked. Thanks to the UN, we received some needed support to reach these areas.

In addition to costs impacting programmes, so does the availability of goods. For example, we are doing some construction but haven’t had the cement we need delivered on time. The price of all the essential elements went up, as well as the cost of transportation. Knowing who to trust in some areas can also be challenging, which is an important consideration that our local partners help us navigate.

It’s important to note that in terms of human resources, people are stressed by the situation [facing the country]. For example, one staff member told me that she was in a house and there was a shooting, and a bullet fell not far from her at all. It is scary.

Q: Have you had to adapt your programs to continue operating in Haiti?

Prospery: Our values and mission are to be there with the most vulnerable people, treating them with dignity and supporting them as much as possible, even when it is especially difficult. For them, this is not the moment to back off and say that we are leaving people behind.

The other thing is that most of our staff are Haitian. It’s great that we could preserve the jobs of our staff and partners and be there for the people from the communities, even when the situation is critical. We need to be smart and find better ways to work, and we have managed to do so. Our work is saving lives, helping hundreds of thousands of people, bringing water, supporting women and girls, and cash distribution; it’s all crucial.

Q: Are you getting a lot of support and acceptance from the communities you work with?

Prospery: In general, the communities are extremely positive. We are only working through local partners, apart from the engineer for our WASH programmes that work directly with the partner. We help to give our partners the expertise they need by being with them and helping to move them forward. We value the competence, efficiency, and transparency of our staff. If we had a bad reputation, people would not respect what we’re doing. I’m grateful to work for an organisation that is trusted.

Most of our team are Haitian. They know the communities, are used to being seen there, and work with the communities as much as possible to understand the problems. There is also an issue with communities thinking NGO staff have big salaries, but while staff have decent salaries, they are not extravagant. Some are even finding it difficult to cope.

Our activities are embedded within the community, done by people from the community, which can help minimise risks, including looting, which our partners have not recently reported.

Q: What do we need to see more of from organisations working with local partners in Haiti?

Prospery: It’s about taking the time to listen. Sometimes, from one department to another, from one community to another, people propose different solutions to the same problem. We need to listen to and implement the best solution for the community. It’s easy not to listen, but our approach is not about giving resources. It’s a partnership. We take the time to learn from each other and talk to each other. Of course, there is the financial transaction element, but that’s only a small part of the connection and relationship.

Q: You mentioned earlier some scenarios your team are facing now. What are some of the things that you’re doing to support staff and care for their wellbeing? What do we need to see more of here?

Prospery: First, we provide transportation, so staff do not have to take the bus or their own vehicles. We are flexible in our ways of working, supporting people to work from home as much as possible. Every so often, when there is a birthday or a celebration, we all get together, sing, and have a good time. We want to organise separate sessions for support, but this is difficult. Staff receive regular updates on the situation every few hours. They also receive training, such as HEAT training, so staff know what to do in a difficult situation.

Even with all of this, there is still more to be done. For example, one staff member was at home with her newborn baby and shooting was going on all night. Two days ago, she found five bodies outside her gates. It’s traumatising. Someone from my family was kidnapped earlier this year, and we still don’t know if he is alive. Everyone has different stories to tell, and it is not easy.

Q: What are other considerations to keep in mind?

Prospery: We talk about tragedy, drama, and numbers. What I would say is that there are a lot of great, smart, beautiful, lovely people living on this part of the island. When I visit our projects, I’m going to see the staff and meet people in the communities. It gives me the strength to continue what we are doing because they are lovely, grounded people with good values. A few gang members and politicians are causing us issues. I would say that there is still hope. When I visit, they may not have access to a lot of food, but they provide me with some of the best food in the world and are some of the most honest and hospitable people. That’s why I’m still here. It’s challenging to stay, but I’m staying to support [the] people.

 

If you want to learn more about managing equitable partnerships in crisis, you can find out more in our Partnerships and Security Risk Management: from the local partner’s perspective paper, and our Partnerships and Security Risk Management: a joint action guide for local and international organisations.

Image Credit: UN OCHA/Matteo Minasi

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