8/01/2011

Haiti a place of complexities, travesty and great work.

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I just finished reading "Travesty in Haiti: a true account of Christian missions, orphanages, food aid, fraud and drug trafficking" by Timothy T. Schwartz.

It is a difficult read, but for those of us in Episcopal and Anglican-land it is vitally that we read, mark and inwardly digest this one. It addresses a question very few are willing to ask, namely, why is Haiti, the recipient of massive funding and program attention from governments, non governmental organizations, churches and non-profits, a continuing economic and social disaster?  


Part of the reason, apparently, is that the the professional and business sectors of Haiti, the elements of a possible middle class, have become entrepreneurs, sucking out the marrow from the whole range of projects meant to bring some aid to the poorest of the poor. Part of the reason is the reality that agents of the various aid agencies, church programs and institutions, schools, hospitals and the like make their living from reported success, as understood and as expected by their donors. After a while it becomes difficult to distinguish the report to the donor from the reality on the ground. And, truth be told, part of the reason is that corruption and fraud is part of the "real" economy of Haiti in a way that is hard to comprehend from the outside the environment of great poverty and dashed hopes.

"Travesty in Haiti" doesn't tell all of the story by any means, but it tells enough. Those of us who have been often to Haiti know that hidden away behind high walls there are pockets of great wealth, behind the pulpit there is often the private stash of the clergy entrepreneur, hidden away behind the facade of small successful business are larger business dealings, less open for view. 

More, behind the "poor Haiti" is the Haiti that has received millions only to have most of it diverted to ruling class folk, well paid management, both Haitian and foreign,to NGO's and aid agencies, and so on down to the local agent in the small village who also takes a cut. Aid to Haiti has helped keep an economy afloat, but not as much by actual empowerment of the poor as by turning Haiti into a particular sort of consumer economy - consumers of aid.

Timothy Schwartz had considerable experience with independent pastors, some good, some not so good, some just plain terrible. He had less to say about clergy who are part of a larger church body - where some accountability is built in. 

There is considerable work being done by the Roman Catholic Church, by The Episcopal Church, by work through Protestant leadership in Haiti working together, that is more adequately supervised, critiqued, and judged. Of course some of the opportunities for corruption and fraud arise in any organized effort in Haiti, but there are some checks and balances. And yet, even in those groups, one hears stories.


So where does that leave the work of The Episcopal Church in Haiti?  


Readers of Episcopal News Service will note that the Diocese of Haiti, funded in part by Episcopal Relief and Development has hired a new chief operating officer whose work in part will be to see that there is accountability in the work done by churches in the diocese and by the agencies working through the church to serve the poor. 

We can hope that much of the "travesty" described in Travesty in Haiti will not find its counterpart in The Episcopal Church in Haiti or in the work of Episcopal Church agencies.  It is less clear just how the COO will regulate, supervise or guide the many small "mission" operations supported by Episcopalians and other Anglicans of good well, but not necessarily of good understanding. 

Hopefully there will be ways to encourage best practices through Episcopal attention and supervision that will both support the best motivations of the donors, the highest level of service by those who engage in a mission project, and closest integration with the local church community. 

It would be wonderful if the Bishop of Haiti were to award a kind of "advanced" status to projects that conformed to standards of excellence.  I'm thinking of something like the Jubilee Centers and Projects that are lifted up as examples for all those involved in work with the poor, the homeless, the mislaid and forgotten. 

At least then there would be support from the top for excellence in the administration of programs and agencies meant to serve the poor.

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