First full day on the ground is done. We started the day with more orientation meetings where we got a better understanding of the lay of the ground and the goals of the Program for this year as well as the next five years. And we spent a lot of time talking about security. The safety of the visiting “experts” is paramount here as it will only take one incident for the Department of Foreign Affairs to pull their funding and say everyone must leave. So, security is about personal security but in the larger picture it is about protecting the aid program itself.
It is in the orientation around security that the Haiti that you hear about starts coming out. The PCM project covers a large area, from Port-Au-Prince, the capital, heading southeast along the coast through the Region Des Palmes: the 4 Communes of Leogane, Gressier, Petit Goave and Grand Goave. We are based in Port-Au-Prince and it takes about 2 hours to get to the Petit Goave. A basic rule of the project is that meetings are done at 4:30 and everyone is back at the main office by 6:00PM. The reason for this is to ensure that no one gets caught outside after dark. There are areas that we have to go through that are simply not safe after dark, no matter that you are in a vehicle. As well, there are areas of Port-Au-Prince where people only go in armoured vehicles.
And everywhere, there are armed guards. The office is gated and an armed guard lets you in. The hotel is gated and protected by armed guards all day and night. Grocery stores and restaurants, including the Haitian version of fast food, are protected by armed guards. And beyond the poor roads and lack of garbage collection, it is in this that you realize that the civic structure is missing. It is in the things that we take for granted, that in Canada we never think about, where you begin to see a whole level of civil structure that is missing.
It really jumps out at you: this is why we are here. To work with the local governments to put in place the civil structures and processes that we take for granted. As the meetings begin, the challenge is never what we need to accomplish, everyone sees it, it is always how. How do we literally start from scratch to create local government that can deliver service to residents that can make such a difference in their day to day lives? Services that in Canada, we never even think about, because they are simply there.
Haiti is a beautiful mess, a beautiful challenge.
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