In the bleakness of Plateau Central
Charity perpetuates poverty
Charity is dishonest
Charity takes away choices
Beganabe, in the Central Plateau and a few miles north of the city of Hinche, is a remote desolate expanse, dry and treeless which leaves the air thick with dust. Hinche is the home of Haitian revolutionary, Charlemagne Péralte who led a resistance movement known as Cacos against the US occu pation from 1915-1934. Péralte was assassinated by the US in 1919 and in an act of barbarity, crucified his body to a door for public display.
“Le Mouvement Paysan Papaye (MPP)” commune outside Beganabe is an agricultural project of 6 hamlets each with 10 individual homes created to support 60 family units engaging in sustainable agricultural livelihoods. In January this year, I visited one of the hamlets of which 8 homes were occupied. Each family in the project has received the following: a 3 roomed house with one small outhouse at the rear; a vegetable garden area with seeds and a promise of 2 goats and 6 chickens which have yet to be delivered; a short term supply of basic foods such as rice, beans and oil.
Some distance from the houses are a number of latrines, one shared by two or three families. There is one water tap for the whole hamlet about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile from the houses depending on location of the house. This single water supply is for gardens, washing, cooking and drinking. At the center of the village is a community building.
The houses have no windows, just slats for air. There are no ceilings below the zinc roof to protect from the extreme cold nights and burning hot days. There is no plumbing and no bathrooms. The outhouses have no doors and it is not clear whether they are supposed to be kitchens or bathrooms. This is how houses for the poor are built in Haiti, always the bare minimum.
Many of the families came from the IDP camps in Port-au-Prince for the opportunity to grow their own food and create a ‘home’ for themselves. The reality has been quite different. Initially it was not possible for whole families to move so one adult would work on the land whilst another returned to the city in search of work returning home whenever they could. This is a long journey, first to Hinche and then a long wait for some form of transport to the project. The cost of the journey is prohibitive, and then there is the dust. I drove from Hinche to the project 4 times and each time there were trucks with passengers stuck in the muddy water of a river that had to be crossed.
The general misery of being in the middle of this desolate space has not brought much hope and as I write, 5 families have chosen to leave one hamlet and return to the overcrowded camps in Port-au-Prince. The lack of water, no electricity, no clinics, no market nearby, little food and struggles with the health impact of living with thick dust, forced them to leave. Their choice to return to the harsh conditions in the city is indicative of the lack of design and utility of the project and it’s location. I cannot speak for the other 5 communes but I do wonder how many others have left. The project was built with the support of an American church group who visited while I was there. I did not speak with any of them but they seemed pretty pleased with themselves and the houses they had built for Haitians with no plumbing, no windows and no water in a place with no trees.
Haiti is awash with an assortment of NGOs and missionaries of various Christian denominations. It is also awash with failed projects or intermittent ones, those that start and then have to wait for more funds to be raised before continuing leaving the ‘beneficiaries’ back where they started. Hardly anyone actually has a transformational experience. People come to Haiti to give food, give shelter, give medicines, give clothes and other assorted consumer items or to provide low paid jobs and make huge profit for themselves. People hardly ever come in solidarity to work together to build something creative and sustainable.
The questions remains – how much was raised for the building of these houses? How much was actually spent on building these houses?