Every visit to Haiti is a new adventure for me. I can still count on one hand the number of times I’ve been here – each time never longer than a week – so I suppose that’s to be expected.
It doesn’t take long to realize that life here is hard. It’s nonstop; it’s passionate; it’s raw. Brief though my visits are, I’m grateful for the reminders of what I so easily take for granted from my cozy, Headquarters office back in the capital city of the capitalist free world.
Even when I’m here though, it’s not hard to miss the fact that I’m still privileged with comforts the majority of the population we’re meant to be serving can only dream of … like satellite TV.
One of my favorite channels is HGTV. I can’t get enough of those renovation shows. In the span of just a few days a bathroom, a kitchen, a basement, a yard, or even an entire house becomes completely transformed and upgraded almost beyond recognition. It’s unreal!
Seriously, it’s completely unrealistic. In the average person’s world, at least. Yeah, it’s entertaining, and inevitably something always goes wrong that eats into the budget. But how is the problem solved? Something else from the original plan gets sidelined, presumably for the homeowners to tackle later and on their own.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m proud of the work the Red Cross network is doing in Haiti. But I’m still human and I find myself frustrated at times with the pace of progress. Naturally, being in communications, I’m guarded against freely and publicly admitting when things don’t seem to be going according to plan. Even less do I wish to seem as though I’m blaming anybody or accusing any institution of failure. But it was while watching the aforementioned channel the other night that I was struck with an idea for why things in Haiti might be the way they are.
Going back to the scenario of a home renovation, I’ll use the example of finishing a basement. From what I’ve seen, one of the most common issues a reno crew runs into is a foundation problem – either cracking, rotting or both. Because it’s the foundation of the house, the problem absolutely has to be addressed, and it’s never cheap; what’s the point of fixing up walls and flooring and plumbing if the basic support structure is damaged?
In the case of a single family home, that sort of setback is often hugely frustrating for all involved, including the home owners and the construction crew. But it gets taken care of quickly enough, usually simply by opting to forgo expensive finishes or high-end furniture, etc.
Now multiply that situation by, say, 100,000, and you have a better understanding of why NGOs like the Red Cross continue to face questions like “why hasn’t more been done?”
Obviously, there are more than 100,000 Haitians in need of housing assistance. And the starting point is incomparably worse than the average HGTV target. But here’s why I say the premise of those shows are so unrealistic: in real life, finances are not handled willy-nilly, and any kind of project delay will result in a ballooning budget as crews put in more time and effort to solve the problem.
In the humanitarian sector, such issues are furthered complicated by layers of bureaucracy in program implementation and operations decisions. Add to that the complexity of accountability – to both donors and beneficiaries – and even the slightest speed bump can become a full-blown mountain within a matter of hours.
Like I said, this is not meant to seem an excuse for any delays in progress. And in no way do I claim to know the ins and outs of programs (I’m a communicator, remember?); I’m sure I can’t even begin to fathom the number of potential obstacles that could affect any project, especially in the context of a developing country infamously known to be the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
What I do hope is that by using a comparison that may seem to be oranges to apples, I have answered a little better all of you who’ve asked me my personal perception about how things are going in Haiti and whether I’m seeing any progress. The bottom line is: yes. I do, and I think it’s great. And now, not only do I have a better appreciation for how much has already been accomplished, but a renewed patience for the continued efforts to move onward.