The power of partnership in Haiti

In the rush to respond to a major disaster like the Haiti earthquake, the importance of partnerships between local Haitian organizations and humanitarian groups based in the United States like Church World Service may be overlooked.

Sophonie Luis
Sophonie Luis, 29, in the remnants of her Port-au-Prince apartment, which was demolished in the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. During the earthquake recovery, she is a monitor for an ACT Alliance-supported movement to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

By Chris Herlinger/CWS

Port-au-Prince – How important is partnership?

In the rush to respond to a major disaster like the Haiti earthquake, the importance of partnerships between local Haitian organizations and U.S.-based humanitarian groups like Church World Service may be overlooked.

But in fact, the importance, even primacy, of partnerships needs to be at the center of emergency response – and the case of Haiti proves it.

Recent criticism of some of the international community's response to the Haiti quake has centered on what humanitarian agency Refugees International, in a recent report, said was a lack of coordination between the UN and local Haitian groups.

"The first step to improving humanitarian programs in Haiti is for the UN and international agencies to link into Haiti’s civil society network. There is a strong, organized civil society comprised of grassroots community-based organizations under umbrella networks, as well as larger, established non-governmental development organizations (NGOs).

"Developing relationships with Haitian leadership will increase community acceptance of humanitarian, recovery and development programs and ensure that response and recovery strategies incorporate local knowledge and recommendations," the report said.

Yet, the need for Haitians and non-Haitians to work together has been at the heart of what CWS has done since the beginning of this complex and difficult response.

Take for example the joint program Church World Service and Haitian-based Service Chretien d'Haiti have developed in assisting as many as 1,500 Haitians with disabilities. 

The program -- implemented in coordination with the government of Haiti's Secretary of State for the Inclusion of Disabled People, as well as with staff of the Cuban Council of Churches, a long-time CWS partner -- is providing emotional support, monthly cash grants of $65, tools for economic recovery, and assistance in accessing needed medical, psychosocial and rehabilitation services. Participants are expressing special appreciation for the modest cash grants, explaining that it allows them some independence  to buy for themselves some of the things they need, reports CWS Latin America and Caribbean coordinator Martin Coria.

In a recent interview outside of the damaged home she shared with her family, Sophonie Louis, 29, of Port-au-Prince -- herself a person with disabilities who is working as one of the program's monitors -- said the CWS-supported program will provide much-needed assistance.

But, she added, the program has to be seen in the context of long-term work to improve the status of those with disabilities – a group whose numbers increased substantially since the earthquake. (The World Health Organization has estimated that the quake injured some 200,000 persons. It is believed that many of those injured will now have to live with permanent disabilities.)

"We've had to fight a lot in the past (for recognition) and now we'll have to fight a lot more," Louis said of the ongoing work of advocacy for those with disabilities.

In that respect, the work of CWS and its partners must be seen in the context of long-term work that will not end soon.

As such, cooperation is a must for the continued support for the Haitian people, said Ernst Abraham, who heads Service Chretien d'Haiti. "It will take time for Haitians to recover and return to normal life," he said.

CWS's Martin Coria, who has worked closely with Abraham in recent months, said the continued support of CWS donors and staff to the Haiti efforts is ultimately about "being a team player."

"Partnership is about not walking alone," he said. "It is about walking with others."

(In a March 11 "Statement for a Just and Compassionate Response" to the Haiti emergency, approved at a meeting in Durham, N.C., the Church World Service board of directors affirmed "the need for a Haitian-led broad-based development strategy and planning, in which the Haitian people and their community leaders are fully participant, and which includes rebuilding of infrastructure with attention to disaster risk reduction, creating growing economic opportunities, and addressing the need for greater food production capacity within Haiti.")

CWS staffer Chris Herlinger was recently in Haiti on assignment for CWS and the ACT Alliance.

ACT Alliance Church World Service is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of churches and agencies engaged in development and humanitarian assistance.

More stories, video and other resources on the CWS response in Haiti>>


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