Monday, March 8, 2010

into the real world and off to haiti?

so looks like i got my first real stateside job in more than 3 years (the greenpeace stint doesn't really count). yeah! holler at your boy!

i'm the new coordinator for international action, an ngo that works on providing clean water to communities in haiti through disinfection vis-a-vis chlorination.

i returned from thailand shortly before the earthquake, and immediately knew that i wanted to help. i initially planned to volunteer for a couple of weeks at international action's office in dc before going to michigan to serve as an intern for tillers international.

when offered a staff position at ia, it was difficult choosing between the two. i'd been wanting to go to tillers to learn valuable trade skills such as draft plowing, blacksmithing, and woodworking for a few years now. tillers is an international rural development training center that stresses the importance of using low-technology and fossil fuel free methods of growing food and artisan building skills for self-sufficiency and a more sustainable way of living.

having these abilities would have given me greater self-reliance and independence, deeper empathy for farmers and artisans in lesser developed countries, and allowed me to put to the test a lot of development and agriculture/permaculture theory that i've learned over the years.

i truly looked forward to working with them, but ultimately decided that i was needed at ia. it's a small organization, and i believe i can help them grow. i couldn't conscientiously turn my back on the unbelievable post-earthquake suffering and destruction that i saw in many field photos.

as many of you know, haiti, a product of colonialism and rampant corruption, is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. infant mortality is high, and thousands fall ill and die because of preventable waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, and diarrhea.

we aim at providing clean water to neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, and orphanages through a simple chlorination system that provides clean water for $0.25 per person per year. this is a much more sustainable solution that alternative complex and expensive filtration systems that costs hundreds to thousands times more.

january's earthquake destroyed much of port-au-prince's water system, so our local staff are diligently working to provide water relief and starting to plan to rebuild and expand the whole water system.

i'll most likely be heading over myself in a couple of weeks to help cement partnerships and network with other ngos. apparently, after the earthquake, a slew of humanitarian groups jumped right in, but unfortunately with racist undertones. my impression is that there's very little engagement with local haitian groups working on the ground, and that they are mostly written off as incompetent and ineffective. this is hardly the case.

case in point, our haiti director, a haitian himself, had taken gps readings of all the water tank/chlorination systems in the city before the earthquake. these coordinates were given to usaid and the us military to make the first and only reliable and thorough map showing the condition of port-au-prince's water system after the earthquake. *just as a small disclaimer, nothing that i write here reflects the views and opinions of international action.*

i'm excited but also hesitant to go, for i want to help out, but don't want to be automatically cataloged as a "disaster tourist." you won't belief how many inquiries we've gotten from people who are seeking opportunities to volunteer on the ground. although they mean well, many are unskilled and would more likely get in the way of relief and reconstruction efforts. after i tell them that we need help in our office and that our local staff are working hard on the ground, very few reply back.

i understand that witnessing destruction and despair is "sexy" and speaks volumes on resumes, but i just question how much good that will do (unless said person is a superstar photo/video journalist, reporter, or philanthropist).

although i don't speak creole or french--again, reinforcing the idea of unsuitable foreigners coming into help the helpless idea i abhor and don't want to play into--i want to do what i can and help. let's hope this works out.

time to crack open the creole language software program...