On The Road Blog
FT Behind the Scenes: From Relief & Rehabilitation to Recovery & Renewal
- By Victoria Dunning on December 26th, 2012
- Category: Blog, Featured, Featured Blog, Home, Latin America and the Caribbean
Often when I talk about The Global Fund for Children’s grassroots grantmaking model, I share the critical importance of strong local organizations for sustainable communities. If things get bad, I say, you want your microcommunity to be capable and resilient. On my recent trip to Haiti with Financial Times reporter Orla Ryan and photographer Charlie Bibby—where I was a guide not to tourist destinations but to the role and value of GFC’s work—this tenet was all the more clear.
Nearly three years after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, the lingering daily challenges are still apparent. Certainly, much progress has been made. Sprawling tent camps that once dominated the capital’s landscape are dissolving and dissipating, but numerous smaller tent communities of 20 to 30 households remain. Many buildings have been repaired and rebuilt, but there are still piles of rubble that are taller than I am. And cholera outbreaks and the recent natural disasters of Hurricane Isaac (August 2012) and Hurricane Sandy (October 2012) continue to batter Haiti and hinder progress.
Amidst it all, strong, dedicated community-based organizations forge on—responding to community needs, adapting, and rebounding. Here lies the most marked distinction between “relief and rehabilitation” and “recovery and renewal.”
Whether it’s natural disaster, a political coup, or armed conflict, community organizations are the real first responders. They are the trusted entities, the information hubs, and the gathering places of people in distress. Within hours after the earthquake, GFC grantee partner Asanblé Vwazen Jakè, a neighborhood association running a community school with GFC support, organized brigades to search for survivors and to check in with the families of the school’s students.
In the weeks and months after a disaster, community organizations provide a dynamic and fluid social safety net that not only meets basic needs but begins to provide an anchor for community rebuilding. SAKALA (Pax Christi Ayiti), based in Port-au-Prince’s most notorious slum, seized upon devastation to revision its future. It built its community center, sports fields, and gardens on the grounds of an abandoned sweatshop, a new beacon for the community. It created an urban demonstration garden where old tires have been recycled as clean raised vegetable beds on a lot that formerly was an impromptu junkyard. And SAKALA provides a safe and nurturing space for tutoring, utilizing locally available resources and admirable innovation, such as using a metal warehouse door as a chalkboard. These ingredients of safety, routines, and normalcy are reknitting the fabric of community life. And long after the emergency relief and infrastructure rehabilitation is completed, community-based organizations like SAKALA remain an embedded support in the full renewal of the community.
Community-based organizations are not only the first responders, and the most adaptive responders, but the lasting ones. Three years after the earthquake, Haiti is now making the necessary transition from relief to development. The country continues to makes steps forward, even with inevitable setbacks, and many large-scale rehabilitation projects have begun to move on. GFC grantee partner Li, Li, Li! has worked in an urban tent camp just out of sight of a main thoroughfare since just after the earthquake. It is clear that other organizations have also provided support to the community—the tents are emblazoned with the logos of international organizations, and a rudimentary but solid one-room schoolhouse is freshly painted and furnished. About 25 tents with approximately 100 residents still cover the hillside. Despite the impermanence of tarps and earth floors, there is a surprising sense of routine and structure here—exemplified by the community laundry area and the brigade that patrols the camp like a neighborhood watch. Li, Li, Li! continues to visit the camp each week, reading books to the children, leading songs, and providing early childhood activities—a time of joy, playfulness, and learning in an otherwise uphill existence. It appears that most of the international organizations have moved on to their next emergency, but Li, Li, Li! remains, a comforting community presence.
I have a great appreciation for the massive emergency response provided by relief organizations after a disaster. The size and scope of emergency relief is awe-inspiring. I can’t begin to fathom the formidable logistics of providing food, shelter, and clothing under chaotic conditions to tens, or hundreds, of thousands of people. I do not know how to rebuild a road that connects a capital city to its airport or check the structural safety of a school building. But I do know that disaster response must go beyond relief and rehabilitation; it must allow for communities to fully recover their social fabric and re-create normalcy and routines, so that life can go on and the community can re-emerge, not only with a sense of some relief, but a sense of renewal. And here is where community-based organizations have a comparative advantage in a comprehensive and sustainable disaster response.
Read more about GFC on FT.com