Much of the money sent to help Haiti ended up being spent on western citizens at the expense of Haitian suffering.
“These organizations were merely there to colonize anew.”
Someone at International Organization for Migration turned to me and said: “What Haitians want more than anything else is not a house, not even food. They want a job.” Finally, I thought, someone working with an NGO who actually understands Haiti.It was the Spring of 2010 and I had gone to Haiti to help out with the disaster relief after the 15 January earthquake which left over 300,000 people dead and devastated the country’s infrastructure. As I went with the intention of doing what was asked of me, I soon became involved in working on the problems of child trafficking while writing an ethnography of UN and NGO abuses in the country.
Haiti was flooded with NGO and UN workers and not only were Haitians being ignored by the international presence, none of the money was put to hiring Haitians for the higher-levelled jobs. As one Haitian engineer told me, “Why are they paying for super high salaries for a German engineer when I am a well-trained engineer in need of a job?” Most of the $13 billion in fundingin Haiti went straight to trans-national contractors and NGOsinstead of the Haitian government and local specialists. I spoke with Haitian doctors, engineers, those working in IT developing website builders. All of them were unemployed and commented upon the irony that foreigners in their own fields were brought in to do what they knew better.This was the new kind of colonialism intended to give young Oxbridge and Ivy League graduates a super woke line to put on their CVs while also allowing for thousands of organisations to flood the Haitian market with the many foreign “specialists” flown into the country. In the end, much of the money sent to help Haiti ended up being spent on western citizens at the expense of Haitian suffering. The 2010 earthquakemarketed “humanitarian aid” while it was simply serving the most elite of developed nations.
“None of the money was put to hiring Haitians for the higher-levelled jobs.”
Most of those working for NGOs and the MINUSTAH (the UN mission in Haiti) were well-educated, and intelligent, and they were as critical of their roles in this country as they are of the institutions for which they worked. They spoke of inefficiency of these organizations which brought people into the country for very brief periods of time (usually from two weeks to three months) only to then rotate over to a new team with the very same mandates, where little to nothing was accomplished. They told me about the difficulties in creating any sort of continuity since each time staff is switched up, communication is abruptly broken, records are often not kept (depending on the organization) and projects are often begun and never finished. Meanwhile, months of salaries were paid to create a theater of “humanitarian aid” even if nothing ever happened.Still, despite their criticisms, these aid workers were very happy to be drawing a salary for engaging in the business of creating a new colonial subject with a team of experts in place to “fund raise” and amass more donations.
“Salaries were paid to create a theater of “humanitarian aid” even if nothing ever happened.”
One aid worker told me that many working in the UN were earning $10,000 per month stating, “Haiti is like one of the top destinations.” He was not speaking of tourist destinations where you can book a holiday to visit the Valley of the Kings in Egypt with Memphis Toursor take a wine-tasting tour of Tuscany. He was specifically referring to another form of “humanitarian tourism,” one of many disaster relief destinations which became a feather in the cap after East Timor. It was clear to me that these organizations were merely there to colonize anew, or as Jean-Marc Biquetwrites, “It is therefore legitimate to ask how much leeway (independent assessment, evaluating constraints and action) such a system allows and whether this system exists for itself or to respond to real needs.” The humanitarian sectoris broken and yet the West continues with its theater.
Outside of where I was living, a man in his early thirties sat on an unused motor. I rather loved his bright blue socks and lime green shirt. His name was Willyo and we spoke about the effects of the earthquake on his life, his family and his livelihood. He spoke of the fact that the streets of Port-au-Prince are crammed with NGO and UN vehicles which are stuffed with foreigners sent to “fix” his country. “We know how to fix our country. Why are they not giving us the money?” he asked me. I said that this was a very good questions. Willyo offered me a seat on the motor and instead I asked him if I might take a picture of him.
Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development http://www.amazon.com/Earthquake-Haiti-Pornography-Politics-Development/dp/0992835402 (2015). She can be reached at: [email protected] , mailto:[email protected]
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