Thursday, October 20, 2011

Judging a very likable person

Jean-Max Bellerive is the former prime minister of Haiti. In addition to that position, he was also the head of the all-powerful Ministry of Planification and the co-director of the Interim Commission, tasked with the responsibility of reconstructing Haiti.

To hear Mr. Bellerive, President Preval and he did not only do their best in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, but they did the very best that could be done under the circumstances: things were understandbly chaotic and there were very few resources at their disposal. Moreover, he reminds everyone, many of the top government officials were themselves affected, from the loss of homes and ministries to the loss of colleagues and children.

It is hard to reject such eloquent arguments, especially from a clearly eloquent man, one who, by all accounts, has led a moral and orderly life beside.

Except, his argument is, and this is hard to say because he is likable, hollow. One look around Port-au-Prince, 20 months after the earthquake, evidences what media stories have described in painful details: Haiti has been badly served by those whose job it was to respond to the disaster.

That lack of results debunks Mr. Bellerive's words.

To accept them, one would have to believe that the millions spent, the 1000s of meetings, the high "expertise" levels, and the countless compromises and agreements reached, all of that could do not lead to improved results.

Mr. Bellerive's basic explanation is the following: "I know you could not tell, but trust me: we were good leaders."

By some standards, he may be right: how well he can speak or knows the "dossiers"; how well he got along with Haitian politicians and international players alike; how personally upstanding he is.

But Haiti needed a visionary, reassuring leader who would have painted for us a picture of a country reborn from the "decombres," and would have marshalled good will and resources, first at the local and national levels, to make it a reality.

No one in the government did that. And as it was your government three times over, Mr. Bellerive, I respectfully dissent.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Home Schooling, Haitian Style

School has finally started here in Port-au-Prince. Parents, radio personalities, policitians, members of the international community, all are pleased that almost all children (at least around the capital) are in school. 

This joy is a bit misguided:  two-and-a-half year-olds should not be taking tap-taps at 6:30  every morning to go to school. They cannot even walk.

I would love to see a push by the government to encourage parents to keep their children at home until age five, while "home schooling" them: introduction to colors, numbers, letters, shapes, Bible verses, the Dessalinienne.  With some simple materials (educational videos, music tapes, large crayons & coloring books, puzzles, etc.), even the non-reading parent can "teach" her child at home for the early years.

Clearly, two parents working full-time outside the home may well have to send their child to daycare, but that situation is rare here: most people simply do not have jobs requiring the traditional 9-to-5 day, so at least one parent can dedicate time to a child's early education.

For the parent who really cannot or simply will not be the "teacher," private tutors provide a clear answer.

These tutors can be chosen among the 1000s of young Haitian men and women who, having completed their education, cannot find jobs. Imagine thousands of them, early in the morning, getting into tap-taps, going to "home school" very young children at home.

Makes more sense, no?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Small Expectations

An INGO employee,  speaking in a meeting in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake, explained that his work was “to bring a measure of humanity, always insufficient, into situations that should not exist.”  

This view, oh so timid, may well be responsible for the lack of results of those large entities, except as providers of basic emergency materials in acute situations.

The problem is that INGOers who adopt this philosophy feel as if they have done ‘the Lord’s work’ by doing very little indeed. All that is required is “measure of humanity” – a cup of water or a bag of rice. Nothing more efficient or productive or intelligent.  

But a more complete analysis is necessary: not what was done, but what should have been done, given the stated objective, the resources, the expertise, the time, the conditions – in a word, what was possible.