Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

February 15th, 2010 10:38 AM

Putting 'Humanitarian' Back in 'Humanitarian Aid'

One of the first things that Haitians now living in the streets want to talk about is their disgust over the international food aid program. In such places as the camps in the downtown parks on Boulevard Champs de Mars, residents report, food is given sporadically – last week not for four or five days. Moreover, it is uncooked rice, and many of those living in the crowded shelters have no way to cook it. Some have been able to sell the rice and, with the funds, buy food that they can eat.

In a heavily militarized operation, U.S. Marines distribute rice from CARE and U.S. Agency for International Development. Haitians stand in lines for hours in the hot sun, sometimes receiving nothing, or scramble for food dropped from the air. “We are not dogs,” said one woman in front of a sheet which serves as the front door of her new home in a public park. “The way they do it just breeds indignity,” said another.

Lance Jean-Francois, of the community organization Solidarite Ant Jèn Veye Yo (Solidarity Among Youth / Be Vigilant), says, “A danger of aid is that it infantilizes people. We say that what will traumatize the Haitian people even more than the 35 seconds of the earthquake is finding themselves, from one day to the next, standing with bowls in their hands and waiting for someone to give them a sheet so they can sleep. This dependence is terrible for people’s identity.”

The Marine-led distribution, involving weapons on the part of the givers, frustration on the part of the receivers, and more frustration still among those who do not receive, has led to violence. There has been neither security nor equal access for women in the process, though some of the food operations are now offering women separate lines.

Tanya Felix, also of SAJ Veye Yo, says, “U.S. soldiers giving rice… our problem isn’t insecurity. This is not how we should be helped. We need people helping us who won’t humiliate us.”

Some grassroots Haitian organizations here are showing how humanitarian aid programs can do just that, provide help without humiliation. One of these is in the extremely economically depressed neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles. There, the Association for the Promotion of Integral Family Healthcare (APROSIFA) has contracted with twenty timachann, small food vendors with roots in the community, and will soon contract with thirty more. Each serves one meal a day to the same ten or fifteen families, usually with upwards of seven members per family. By the time the project has fully scaled up, it will formally provide food for approximately 5,400 people each day. Moreover, says Roseanne Auguste, the technical advisor of and organizer of the program, when the women finish serving those they’re responsible for, they keep serving hungry people who come until the pots are empty – for free, out of solidarity. The program is financed by grants made to APROSIFA, and will continue until the end of April.

The food served is all domestically grown. Roseanne says, “Instead of sending rice from the U.S., I would like to tell the international community that the earthquake didn’t affect production in this country. We can produce food.”

One of the timachann’s operation takes place in the lakou, communal courtyard, of three extended families. There an enormous mango tree provides shade. This afternoon, Madame Gabeau has just finished the preparation of three industrial-sized, blackened pots containing rice, bean sauce, and vegetables. As Madame Gabeau’s team – or what she calls “her family” - awaits their food, they exchange news with each other in the shady courtyard. They are neighbors, if not friends. Two elderly matriarchs in nightgowns and short gray braids, 77-year-old identical twins, come over to tease Roseanne. Little kids strike vampy poses, pushing each other out of the way to get in the center of a photographer’s camera frame. A young woman sits on a high tree root with her baby on her lap, examining her face in a hand mirror inside a plastic Elmo frame.

People calmly talk and laugh while Madame Gabeau ladles mountainous servings into the containers they hand her: lunch buckets, tin bowls, a Styrofoam to-go box. The scene is no different than many pre-earthquake Sunday afternoons in Haiti, except that all the people here are hungry and homeless due to one of the worst natural disasters in history.

Another humanitarian aid operation is underway in a damaged kindergarten building in the beaten-down neighborhood of Belaire. Each day the youth group SAJ Veye Yo feeds 400 people and shelters 200 people, from a bright-eyed baby to a very elderly man. SAJ Veye Yo’s resources are a combination of free truckloads of water from Oxfam Quebec and a local Haitian company, and funds given by the Haitian state and a German company. Three doctors, Haitian and German, fill volunteer shifts three afternoons a week.

The main room is dark, with people sitting in small groups or alone. The walls are lined with stacks of bundles tied in sheets. Above the bundles, white banners read ‘love,’ ‘solidarity’, and ‘respect.’ A boy and a girl play checkers on a piece of cardboard; the boy assures visitors that he’s the best. A two-year old dressed only in a T-shirt toddles towards a photographer’s camera, beaming and calling, “Photo. Photo.” One woman, in response to whether she wants her picture taken, replies in perfect English: “No. I don’t want my family to see me in a shelter.”

Out back a woman sits on a stool washing a big battered pot with a small bowl of water. Two women swing on children’s swings, next to a slide which is now buried under a collapsed cement-block wall. One woman cooks in a little concrete building, while another offers glasses of cold, fresh orange juice all around. In a classroom, three volunteer medical students arrange first aid supplies on shelves.

Lance Jean-Francois says, “People need to know that we can count on ourselves. We don’t lack anything, we have the capacity. That’s what behind this initiative. We accept support that comes, but in the framework of respecting people’s dignity.”

Could these community-run responses be scaled up adequately to meet the need? Probably not; the numbers of those who cannot now afford food is unknown, but vast. The capacity of Haitian non-governmental groups is limited.

But could the international organizations offer Haitians a way to stay fed while maintaining dignity and security? The grassroots models show that the answer is yes.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many? ...by Ray McGovern www.michaelmoore.com Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative...

Mar 2nd
9:25 PM
Read More

Latest from David Sirota on Enron billionaire John Arnold smuggling anti-pension propaganda into "neutral" institutions like PBS and now, the...

Mar 1st
12:58 PM
Read More

Second Guessing a Life: US Health Care System Robs Security and Human Dignity ...by Donna Smith michaelmoore.com The dysfunction of the US health care system...

Feb 27th
1:40 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles