This post was written by Jonathan Garro, an Information Analyst for the American Red Cross who traveled to Haiti in mid-March.
My first visit to Haiti came four years after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and forced more than 1.5 million people into camps. Of course I’d heard much about the disaster—which caused extensive damage to infrastructure and ruined the livelihoods of countless people in what was already the poorest country in the northern hemisphere—before coming to work for the Red Cross. But until now, I hadn’t the chance to see it with my own eyes. Recovering from a disaster of this magnitude in an environment that faces such daunting challenges takes time and commitment, and it was inspiring to visit various sites around Port-au-Prince to witness the dedication of so many Haitians working towards rebuilding their lives and strengthening their communities.
The problems in Haiti are complex, and the strategies being used by the American Red Cross and other organizations on the ground there seek to address these challenges in a holistic and direct way. This approach is referred to as “integrated programming” because of the way that the work touches several major programmatic sectors at once and seeks to address the many root causes of these challenges. In Creole, this integrated approach is referred to as “tèt kole,” which roughly translates as “heads together.” From meeting staff, volunteers, and community members, I certainly got a sense of this relationship and of the incredible collaboration being done between the American Red Cross, the Haitian Red Cross, community-based organizations, other non-profits, and residents themselves.
One area where this strategy is particularly visible is in Campeche, Port-au-Prince—a neighborhood where the Red Cross hosts a wide-reaching program known by the acronym “LAMIKA,” for “A Better Life in my Neighborhood” in Creole. One facet of the LAMIKA program that I was struck by involves training Community Intervention Teams made up of volunteers that assist in first aid, basic search-and-rescue, and more. Meeting with one of these teams was a highlight of my visit and I was truly impressed by the passion that each member exuded as they shared stories of how they have already put their training to good use during recent carnival festivities and other local events such as football tournaments. One volunteer told me that the team’s distinctive orange vests have provided them with a great degree of visibility in the community, and that his friends and neighbors have been eager to learn about their efforts. We visited the shipping container in which the team stores their equipment, and they shared stories of how the items— such as wheelbarrows, stretchers, and bullhorns—have been invaluable to their efforts.
Rebuilding infrastructure after the earthquake is one of the most visible parts of the work being done, but it is endeavors by groups like this that help make the integrated programming strategy so effective. These Community Intervention Teams are a testament to both the spirit of volunteerism that is thriving in Haiti, and to the effectiveness of cross-sector efforts that make the strategy sustainable in the long-term. Strengthening a community is about more than bricks and mortar; it’s about considering all of the angles of what makes communities safe, resilient and part of a wider network that provides healthy and secure living conditions. These Community Intervention Teams are an essential piece of that comprehensive approach, helping to make an impact now, as well as act as quick responders in the case of another large disaster.
Though my perspective of Haiti has been limited to that of someone who never got to experience the country prior to the earthquake, the progress is nonetheless readily apparent. Perhaps as importantly, the challenges yet to be overcome are equally clear, but none seem insurmountable, particularly when you consider the incredible efforts of so many people, and the results of those efforts thus far.