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Brian's Beat: Haiti - A perennial garden

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Ward 11 official website

I landed in Port-Au-Prince at 3:15, at my hotel and in planning meetings by 5:30. Thinking back on my arrival here six months ago, I was considerably more prepared this time. While the noise, heat and humidity is overwhelming at the airport (your first impression of Port-Au-Prince is one of cacophonous chaos), once outside it was much tamer. A rain storm had just blown through and people had dispersed. This is a city where people live, work and play on the street, so the streets empty during a storm.

One of the things I was aware of last time, and noticed more this time, is the number of Americans and other nationalities here. There are over 400 Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) working here, and that doesn't include those working in the large number of churches! They each have their own way of operating, with their own idea of what Haiti and Haitians need. In the end, it all becomes quite a mish mash of people running around trying to do good, or at least what they think is good.

But, too often, while some short term benefits are achieved, the results are fleeting and quickly slide back. This is a frustrating country to work in; there is corruption and nepotism everywhere, infrastructure is completely lacking, and government is barely functional at delivering services to citizens. So, in a way, it is understandable that NGO's get fed up and start bypassing officials and just do their own thing. After all they are here to build a school, or an orphanage, they can just go ahead and do it!

The problem with that approach, as understandable as it is, is that it doesn't actually serve Haitians. The NGO builds their school and leaves, satisfied they have made a difference. But in the process of building that school they have done little to help government understand where to build schools or how to build them. There isn't any ongoing maintenance for the school, nor any teachers. If the locals are lucky, another NGO will know about it and get books for it. The NGO feels good about building a school, but because of the approach, they have built no local capacity for Haitians to develop and manage their own schools. With no local capacity, it quickly slides back.

The great thing about the work we are doing here with the PCM is that we are very specifically building capacity at the local level. We are working with municipal governments here to develop the processes for them to deliver and manage services for their own citizens. In French, we use the word "pérennité" to describe what we are building. It is slower and more difficult work, but in the end, Haiti will have the tools and capacity to manage their own affairs and destiny. It will be Haitians working with and for Haitians.

The French word is much more apt. We are working together to build a perennial garden, that will continue to bloom for many years to come.


This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

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