Tuesday, July 6, 2010

the last day

The last day for me in Haiti, that is, the reconstruction work will go on for a long time to come, as long as the international community remains committed to this, and can keep the attention focused on Haiti.

Five months it has been, well within the window of three to six months that I originally agreed to with Save the Children back in January, when we first started talking about joining their team. Five months well spent, I don't regret having come back. I have seen the emergency program taking shape, and getting better integrated between various sectors. Operations have been established in three of the worst affected areas of the country, and have been stabilised. And I'd like to think that I have made my modest contribution to this.

I also have seen Haiti pick up the pieces. I have seen a remarkable transformation, from when I got here first in February, and the place was subdued - almost dead, literally -, to what it is now, a vibrant society, back to its active self, colourful, noisy, smelling. I have been amazed with the resilience of Haitians, I have said that many times in the past five months; I have been amazed with the determination with which rubble is being cleared from plots, and with which people have started to rebuild their houses, even if only tents and transitional shelters on their own little plots of land.

Mind you, I have also sometimes been appalled with the pride of Haitians, which in my view was often misplaced, not taking into account the reality of the task ahead of them, not willing to accept that they cannot do that alone, and that they need an enormous amount of support if they want to succeed in rebuilding their country to a better level than what was a dysfunctional society before. The price for that support is to share the leadership of that rebuilding with others, with non-Haitians who provide the cash, but who also provide unique experience. Like it or not, you cannot expect, given the history of graft and corruption, that the international community is going to hand over billions of dollars, just like that, and good luck with using it. I have also been appalled with the short-terminist, often opportunistic attitude of some of the Haitians. Predictably, this includes the political opposition - even though the current government is not demonstrating a huge amount of initiative, it is unlikely that others would do better, and political instability is the last thing this country needs right now. Also: the gangs, who have regrouped remarkably quickly, and have wasted no time to get back to business as usual - it is really unhelpful to have a bunch of criminals targeting the new money, and those who have come to deliver it, through kidnappings and car jackings, but anyhow, I don't think any crook has ever listened to reasoning of this kind. Sadly, opportunism is not limited to politicians and gangs, many others fall prey to the attraction of short term advantage.

But mostly, I am happy that I have been able to contribute to the efforts to get Haiti back up and running again. I probably could not have chosen a better vehicle to do so: through Save the Children I have had the opportunity to contribute to a huge relief, recovery and rehabilitation program, and I'd like to think that I have been able to steer the direction of this program somewhat, towards long term sustainable development - not something that comes natural to most of the emergency response crowd. For three months I have also been part of the Humanitarian Country Team, where the heads of the largest NGOs and the key UN agencies discuss the challenges ahead, and what to do about it. And hey, I even met the president! Now the only thing we have to hope for is that my advice was the right advice - and more importantly, that everybody agrees on that and handles accordingly... right!

The weakest part of the whole story is, of course, that I am not going to hang around to find out, I just don't think I am convincing enough to make everybody fall in line. I also have a life back home, small detail. But I'll watch from the distance.

And even if nothing works, nothing comes from it, at least I'll have cocktail party talk for the next ten years!


  1. Bruno,

    thanks for the highly entertaining "Bruno style" reporting and of course your personal efforts in the relief operation.

    Jan Pieter & Lacerdina

  2. Now, and there was I complaining that nobody ever comments on my writing, that nobody was actually reading anything!! It was fun doing, glad you enjoyed it.