Haiti has been referred to as the nation of NGO’s or non-government organizations. I’d heard that in the capital and areas heavily damaged by the earthquake that these hopefully well intended groups were bumping into each other in their efforts to help. Even with my limited exposure to those areas I’ve had no trouble believing this to be true. Still, I didn’t think it would affect me or the people with whom we work.
Why? Let me set the scene for those of you who haven’t visited. We live and work in a community of approximately 35,000 people spread over a several mile area. It’s rural, about 90 miles north of the capital of Port au Prince. Just this year, our community is getting paved roads in town but we still must drive on dirt roads for a minimum of 19 miles to reach a paved highway. So, we’re a bit off the beaten track. Even with that, there are four NGO’s in the area with different spheres of influence as well as some pockets of unrecognized (by the government) missionaries and charities. Those of us who are long term residents of the area generally try to help each other when we can.
This past week, I had the fun role of visiting the homes of some of our sponsored students so that their visiting sponsors could get to know them better. Five donors and I headed out throughout the week meeting parents and allowing the kids to show us their bedrooms and homes. Everyone said they really enjoyed the experience (the families, too).
On the final visit, one couple was visiting a first grader they’ve assisted for two years. I had met the boy’s aunt earlier in the week to ask their permission to visit. We arrived and spent a fun time together, distributing gifts the sponsors brought, and meeting his extended family. I was serving as an interpreter for a question and answer period when a pick-up truck rolled up. I was little surprised at this as we were pretty far off the beaten track. A half dozen men and women hopped out and came up the walk. The boy’s aunt who we were visiting was bristling, and obviously not thrilled that they were there. She got up and greeted them and started talking, eventually calling the boy we were visiting to go to the back of the house to take a picture with her.
Given their interest in the same child we were visiting, I became nosy/interested. I was curious what their mission was and what their interest was in the student. All of them had photo ID’s and T-shirts listing their mission as UNICEF partners. As we visited back and forth, they explained their mission was to make sure kids affected by the earthquake were re-connected with their families. I nodded my head and agreed this was quite noble. The boy’s aunt had already told me they’d been by before. I remarked that it was great this boy was already re-connected as he was living with his aunt. (His mom was killed in the quake and his father worked as a driver in a nearby town) They told me they come by periodically “just to make sure the boy is still there.” We exchanged info. back and forth for a while and then they went on their way. After they drove away, the boy’s aunt grumbled to me that, “they come by every once in a while but never do anything for us.” I explained to her what their goals were, but she continued to shake her head. Frankly, I did wonder why once they established he was with family why they’d come back, but I have more important question to pursue. I chuckled as I explained to our visitors that our little community must really be growing because now even the NGO’s were bumping into each other.
A surprise awaited me at home for lunch when I arrived. I knew we were entertaining some visitors including our cousin, Samuel who is a supervisor of a large NGO in the capital. Over our meal I mentioned what had happened and he elaborated on their goals as technically it was one of his teams. Again, a small world, but I did suggest to him that he should instruct his teams to explain the importance of what they were doing because the people in the community weren’t able to figure it out. Ah, the eternal question, if you don’t realize you’re being helped, are you being helped at all?