This week’s guest writers are Katharine and Ted Oswald, policy analyst and advocacy coordinators for MCC in Haiti.
In July 2014, after traversing a swift-flowing river and taking a short hike in the midday heat of Haiti’s Central Plateau, our international MCC advocacy team sat with representatives from a tree nursery committee in the rural farming village of Savannawòch. One woman from our team, an advocacy specialist with MCC’s UN office, asked the peasants about the history of their community’s relationship with the Haitian government.
The elected leader of the group responded with a laugh. He then said, “The rain is our government.” In other words, their relationship with the Haitian government is nearly non-existent.
This particular sentiment is not common only to the countryside. In Haiti, civil society groups in Port-au-Prince and across the country approach the government as an enemy or expect little from those in power. We believe that MCC Haiti’s advocacy program must focus on bridge-building and dialogue to help address this rift and create the potential for long-term positive change.
The time for such work is ripe. Five years after the earthquake that destroyed so much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, people’s exhaustion with their government has peaked once again. On the surface, there have been some improvements in Haiti’s capital city post-earthquake: the rubble has been cleared and 90% of people displaced by the earthquake are no longer living in camps. Yet, a massive housing shortage of 500,000 homes is expected by 2020 and the majority of the 1.4 million displaced persons who have left camps since 2010 are living in substandard housing with little to no sanitation or water infrastructure. In the worst cases, entire camps were forcibly evicted – tents torn to shreds and personal belongings stolen by bandits, sometimes under the supervision of Haitian police. (You can learn more about the housing crisis by watching the video below. You can also read about MCC’s five-year response to the earthquake here.)
As policy analyst and advocacy coordinators for MCC Haiti, we look at the underlying causes for the country’s intractable problems including its housing crisis, identify where changes in national and international policies might foster change, and then ask ourselves how we might organize different actors to effect this change. One of MCC’s approaches to its work of addressing oppression and injustice is bridge-building – “to connect people and ideas across cultural, political and economic divides.” As part of our work, we rely on the hope that God can transform relationships in unlikely ways.
A recent example was a recent housing conference in Washington D.C. hosted by MCC and Church World Service where members of Haitian civil society, academics, international donors, and government officials spoke alongside one another to explore solutions to Haiti’s housing crisis. A gathering with these parties is a rarity. The atmosphere among different participants was tense at times, yet over the next two days of meetings, a new dynamic emerged from these interactions. Beforehand, one panelist wondered aloud how he would engage in dialogue with a member of the Haitian government who “speaks a completely different language than me.” However, at the close of our meetings, he remarked on the benefit of exchanges that focused on what might be accomplished together rather than simply lobbing criticism. All parties agreed that there needed to be formal venues for dialogue between government officials and civil society in Haiti, and we will continue working on this in the new year to come.
As progress post-earthquake remains slow, we continue to hope that the difficult work of building bridges between the government and civil society will lead to real progress for Haiti’s displaced and dispossessed. We hope you might join us in this work of prayer, remembering that God is faithful and that Christian love has the surprising potential to turn enemies into friends.