Nurturing Resilience and Belonging in Haiti

While the world’s media is still portraying the immense and
immediate challenges faced by Haitians, I am heartened by the awareness that
supporting Haitians to rebuild their institutions and infrastructure is equally
important.  In my view it should be
the higher priority for our design, our planning and our resources.


There is enough money, supplies and personnel, perhaps too
much, available now.  The task is
more one of logistics, of distribution and allocation of what has already been
provided. Paul Farmer, a Harvard Medical School professor, who has spent much
of his life in Haiti indicated on CBC radio on February 14th that
food, water, medical supplies and most important doctors and nurses are still
not reaching the majority of people.


But what of this tougher challenge?  If previous post – disaster efforts are
any indication the world’s attention will eventually be distracted, aid money
will dry up and donors’ attention will be turned elsewhere. After the Balkan
war for example within 10 years of a massive infusion of money there were few
resources to continue the rebuilding. Vancouver Sun columnist Don Cayo recounts
failed and successful examples of post disaster relief.  His conclusion, the best examples owe
their success to local leadership.


Cayo quotes Akash Kapar a reporter living in SE India where
50,000 new homes were built and registered in the name of women 5 years after
the December 26th tsunami:

The result of titling these homes to women has
transcended the economic gains of home ownership. It has changed the very
social fabric of the coast. In village after village, I heard stories of women
whose status had been utterly transformed. Wives spoke of a new self-confidence
and greater control over household finances. Mothers talked about insisting
that their daughters went to school


Post disaster success, like all thoughtful interventions,
requires conscious, focused and strategic attention to reinforcing the ties of
belonging and creating the opportunities for people to solve their own
problems.  It requires: tapping
into everyone’s desire to be helpful to others; ignoring cultural mythologies
and stigma about inability, laziness, and desperation; focusing on everyone’s
capabilities; nurturing joy and celebration; being patient, understanding that
what took decades to build will not change overnight; and putting professionals
in their place (i.e. in the background); and understanding the well meaning but
negative consequence of relying on the intervention of outside professionals.

The social fabric of a culture is not lumber and nails but
belonging and resilience.


This is consistent with the thinking and practice of John
McKnight a friend and mentor who created the Asset Based Community Development
Institute.  John has taught the world to see the
gifts, assets and abilities of people who have been labeled, marginalized,
ignored and excluded.  Similarly,
Ashoka founder Bill Drayton (
has built a global social enterprise movement on the premise that every country
in the world has an abundance of ingenious, talented social entrepreneurs with
solutions for local, regional and global challenges.  They simply need the resources to make it happen.

While I am hesitant to provide any direct advice to those
involved in the re-construction of Haiti, I do think the experience of
individuals and groups who have been in similar situations is worth
digesting.  It can provide those of
us who are viewing from afar with guidelines on how best to support Haitians to
rebuild their country.


Here are some design criteria to guide the actions of
governments, foundations, policy makers, donors, workers, development agencies
and concerned individuals.


  • Assume
    the necessary leadership, capability, talent, determination, expertise and
    resilience exists among Haitians.


  • Strengthening
    the resilient, adaptive capacity of Haitians to solve their own problems
    must be the primary goal of all interventions, practices, aid, resources,
    donations, and volunteerism.


  • Local
    Haitian leaders must direct all outside intervention and resources.



  • DO NOT
    interventions, either intentionally or unintentionally, do not erode the
    sense of belonging that clearly exists in Haiti.  This is the equivalent of the Doctor’s Oath to above
    all, Do No Harm.


  • Seek
    out and support local creativity and innovation.  This is the basis of the Ashoka model.  For over 25 years they have
    discovered talented local leaders and given them the resources to incubate
    and scale up their ideas.




Clients to Citizens: Communities Changing the Course of Their Own Development

Alison Mathie & Gordon Cunningham, (Eds.), 2008.

Produced through a partnership between the ABCD Institute
and the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University. Coady
has been addressing global poverty and injustice for 50 years.  Paul Farmer founded this organization.
The vast majority of Partners in Health hospital and medical staff in Haiti are

This post was composed for the website Appartenance-Belonging.  Click here to visit this website and view reaction to this blog:

 Share with others

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>