It is good to see some progress in a place like Haiti, even when they need so much more. As Nicholas Kristof says in this piece, real change will only happen when people have a way to change their future. A helping hand is vital when disaster happens but it is just the start. We all to often forget the real work that needs to follow.
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Kristoff is a New York Times columnist. He blogs at http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com.
By Nicholas D. Kristof
New York Times Published on Friday, Jan 07, 2011
NEW YORK: Nearly a year after the earthquake in Haiti, more than 1 million people are still living in tents and reconstruction has barely begun — and that's a useful reminder of the limitations of charity and foreign aid.
Private and public donations saved lives in Haiti, no question. But it's also true that well-meaning bleeding-hearts tend to exaggerate the impact aid typically has on a country. Those nations that have managed to lift themselves out of poverty have done so mostly with trade, not aid — with giving people jobs and a ladder, not handouts and an elevator.
On the other hand, stony-hearts mistakenly surrender hope. They see Haiti — or Africa — as a bottomless pit, a perennial hell impervious to progress. That doesn't match reality either.
So let me guide you to a village in the Haitian interior where I recently saw an aid program making a difference — by helping people help themselves. There are many variants of such programs around the world, but this one is run by Fonkoze, a peasant bank that is one of the most admired aid organizations in Haiti. It was founded by a local Catholic priest, the Rev. Joseph Philippe, who then recruited an American management consultant, Anne Hastings, to run it. Hastings went to Haiti for a temporary visit in 1995. She is still there.
On a hillside in central Haiti, I met Odecile Jean, a 35-year-old woman with five children, ages 5 to 15. When she entered the Fonkoze program, none of her children was in school, and she had no farm animals. The family lived day to day, surviving on odd jobs.
Yet after 13 months in the 18-month-long program, Jean beamed as she showed off her brand new cow, discussed her thriving lumber business and boasted that her children were all in school. Her husband, Lionel, hinted of ambitions for them to go to college.
What Haiti needs above all these days is these kinds of livelihoods for its people, not just shipments of food and clothing. It's hard to think of a charitable project that will be as beneficial as the Coca-Cola Co.'s decision to build up the mango juice industry in Haiti, supporting 25,000 farmers. The same is true of the move by South Korean garment companies to open factories in Haiti.
I strongly believe that we have a moral obligation to address extreme poverty around the world. But sometimes the best way to discharge that obligation isn't charity in the old-fashioned sense of handouts, but rather helping people like Jean find their own ways to support their families.