16 June 2012

Alumnus

In the past month since I posted last, I have been working lots, travelling lots and have lots of blog posts started but not published. Need to get back onto them. In the meantime, I was asked by my MA university to write an article about my work in Haiti for the inaugural edition of their Alumni newsletter. What an honour! So for those who are interested, I publish it again below!
Link to the whole newsletter here


The day in January 2010 when the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti will go down in history as one of the most catastrophic days in modern Haitian times. Over 200,000 people were killed, 2 million more displaced, and countless others affected.

I remember that day vividly. It was a Tuesday, and I had just returned home from the Senate house library where I was preparing for our lecture and seminar in Securing Human Rights the next day. I turned on my computer to relax a little before bed, and opened up the BBC news website. As the site loaded a breaking news headline popped up: “Haiti devastated by massive earthquake.” As soon as I saw that, my heart jumped and I knew. This was the last thing Haiti needed.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti’s history is filled with coup d’├ętats, hurricanes, dictators, occupations, and a constant stream of human rights violations. As the well-advertised statistic says, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere with over two-thirds of its population living on less than $2 per day. An earthquake of this scale, with the epicentre located only 25km away from its populous capital city, Port-au-Prince, had just set Haiti even further back on the development ladder.

As an American attempting to learn French, not Spanish, I had always had a particular interest in the nation, being one of the largest French-speaking nations in the Western hemisphere. With previous work experience working in the relief department of a large NGO, when the earthquake struck, I wanted to go. I read everything I could about the response; I blogged on the topic; I even communicated to my previous manager about what the chances were of me going. But as it was the middle of the year for the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights, I knew it was not the right time. Yet.  

I first arrived in Haiti on 10 December 2010, only a week after walking across the stage to receive my MA in Human Rights degree. At the time, Haiti was approaching the one year anniversary of the earthquake, a massive cholera epidemic had struck the country, the election process was in a stalemate marred by fraud and violence, and two of Haiti’s ex-presidents in exile had just returned to the country, which spurred questions on their return and what it would mean to the country. To put it succinctly, it was a mess. In the almost two-and-a-half years since the earthquake though, it is evident that the country has taken quite a few steps forward to “build back better,” now having a somewhat functioning government, IDP camps disappearing, a cholera epidemic that exists but is more manageable, and NGOs returning to long-term development projects. Complete recovery and stability, however, still yet remain elusive; the situation here can change overnight.  

I have lived in Haiti off-and-on since graduation, working mostly with a few humanitarian organisations with donors and reporting, and implementing assessments, and project monitoring and evaluation. While none of these positions have worked directly in the human rights field, the knowledge and skills I gained of human rights through the MA course has been very influential in the roles, as I am working to develop proposals, write reports, conduct assessments, and engage with donors, beneficiaries, and the UN and other NGOs here.

Working out in the field undeniably gives an interesting insight to the field of human rights and the work of NGOs. It is definitely difficult work! I appreciate how much the international community attempts to integrate human rights principles into the development of their projects and their organisational strategies, particularly the principles of impartiality, participation, accountability and advocacy. But just because we attempt it, doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially in an emergency response. Participation and advocacy take a long time, and it is hard to encourage duty-bearers to take responsibility if the government is non-functional! However, I have seen first hand how essential these principles are to respect and dignify the communities we are working with. For example, communities love being able to contribute to the design of their own shelters; the sense of pride is astounding when meeting with small business owners who have been able to bring their businesses back to life through partnering with our organisation!

However, the realities of the field, the realities of living in a developing country do bring to light how much further we have to go. How can we assure the effective implementation of a rights-based approach in an emergency response that needs to be implemented quickly? How do we hold a government accountable to their human rights obligations if it can barely function on its own? How can one change a societal perspective of power that leads to feelings of entitlement and selfishness?

Being field-based, I get to see the fruition of the work that we are doing, the projects we are designing and implementing, the impact we are making to the lives of those who are vulnerable and it is the best part of being out here. But I also see how much further we have to go. The work of human rights is a long, difficult, complicated process and I can only be thankful for the role I am allowed to play to uphold these important principles and the contribution I can make to give others the opportunity to live a life that is “free and equal in dignity and rights,” as the UDHR says. I know I will keep working and striving to reach this difficult and lofty goal.

Human Rights in Haiti Resources:
·          Haiti’s Human Rights international treaty adherence: http://www.adh-geneva.ch/RULAC/international_treaties.php?id_state=84
·          International Disaster Response Law in Haiti, IFRC: www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/87274/MAA0000410ar.pdf
·          Measuring the way forward in Haiti: Grounding disaster relief in the legal framework of human rights, Amanda M. Klasing, P. Scott Moses, and Margaret L. Satterthwaite:
·          Indicators in Crisis: Rights-based Humanitarian Indicators in Post-Earthquake Haiti, Margaret L. Satterthwaite, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1833530

No comments:

Post a Comment