By Elise Young
The ActionAid/Je Nan Je platform finished their DC tour strong today. (Click here for more photos of the week, courtesy of Shelley Moskowitz and UUSC.) It started with giving interviews to local radio in the morning. Next, they attended Rep. Maxine Water’s briefing on democracy and governance. Waters opened the briefing by saying that “Today is an opportunity for us to hear about what the government is and what it is not…what the needs are and where do we go from here. Only when Haiti can govern itself, will it do what is needed in order to help its people.”
ActionAid partner and Je Nan Je member, Marie Ange Noel, Coordinator of the women’s organization, Fanm Deside, shared important information with the Congresswoman on the lack of female representation in the Haitian parliament and how this affects democratic processes. Previous Haitian Justice Minister Rene Magloire shared key information on a new Martelly appointed commission on justice reform which “will have a task that is both delicate and extremely important” of which Magloire will serve as Vice President.
Grassroots leader Marguerite Salomon of GCFV spoke on the condition and democratic status of women post earthquake. “After the earthquake, many of the women’s groups in Haiti lost their power. They were no longer able to participate in the organizations in the same way, because they had to deal with immediate needs and emergencies on the ground….and they did not have enough of a voice in the reconstruction.”
By Elise Young
We have another packed room in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House building, and just heard from Rep.’s Barbara Lee and Frederica Wilson (featured in photo with Je Nan Je member, Pierre DouDou) present to the group.
Rep. Lee spoke of the need for greater aid accountability, as outlined in the bill that she sponsored and which was passed in the House, called the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act. Rep. Wilson spoke of the need to address atrocities in camp communities, such as gender based violence, and her desire to learn more from the panelists and gain their recommendations on how to guarantee the right to housing for vulnerable populations.
Pierre Festille DouDou also just gave a powerful presentation on how the land rights of Haitians in the north have been violated through lack of land reform and land grabbing for construction of the northern industrial park.
“In order for people to produce, they must first have access to the land. In Haiti, more than 90% of peasants don’t even have access to land…This is an extreme violation of peoples’ human rights.”
He also spoke of the need for a national strategy to guarantee the right to housing for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who are currently displaced. This is not a question of lack of available land or resources, it is a question of political will.
Today marks the two year commemoration of the tragic Haiti earthquake that took over 300,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands injured, orphaned, homeless and/or without income.
Yesterday, over 10,000 Haitians who are members of the ‘Je nan Je’ platform marched to the Haitian parliament and presented a charter of demands concerning their land and housing rights. They argued that it is inhumane and unconstitutional that over a half million Haitians are still living in deplorable camp conditions and that Haitian grassroots networks must be a partner in the solution-making process. (To learn more about the march, click here.)
The U.S. government approved a considerable $2.8 billion supplemental appropriations package for Haiti back in summer of 2010, including $1.67 billion to reimburse immediate relief and recovery efforts and an additional $1.1 billion for new development initiatives, $60 million of which was for housing. Although U.S. intentions towards Haiti have been well-meaning, we cannot fully progress towards a complete and holistic reconstruction in Haiti until we as a nation embrace the Haitian people for what they truly are: equal partners.
Partnership is a tricky word. It means humbling ourselves as a nation in order to learn and operate Haitian redevelopment planning sessions in Creole, the national Haitian language, and making full aid reports available to ordinary Haitians. It means performing full consultations with grassroots groups and camp members in the design and implementation of the U.S. Housing/Shelter plan, so we can ensure that we repair all promised 14,000 yellow houses and build or finance new homes for an additional 15,000 families. It means listening deeply to the needs of poor and marginalized Haitians…women facing the threat of gender-based violence, peasant movements fighting for food security, grassroots networks asking for a place at the development table, and collaborating with the Haitian government to match our development priorities to those needs. It means helping to build the capacity of the Haitian government to fulfill its own reconstruction design.
As a step towards embracing the word partnership and lifting up a new model for U.S. support in the Haiti reconstruction process, ActionAid is working with the Haiti Advocacy Working Group, the ‘Je nan Je’ land and housing rights platform and five members of Congress to organize a Haiti Advocacy Week Jan. 23-25. We are advocating for policies that will help improve the dire situations in Haiti, and the events are open to the public including:
- Monday, January 23 from 4 pm – 6 pm: a panel on gender-based violence in Haiti, hosted by Representatives Frederica Wilson and Barbara Lee followed by a reception from 6-8pm.
- Tuesday, January 24 from 9 am – 10:30 am: Rep. Yvette Clarke and Partners in Health will host a panel on the state of health and cholera in Haiti.
- Tuesday, January 24 from 12 noon – 2pm: Haiti Advocacy Working Group member, TransAfrica Forum will show their recent documentary, “Where did the money go?” which will be followed by a briefing on accountability and transparency of aid money.
- Tuesday, January 24 from 2 pm – 4 pm: A Land and Housing panel will take place bringing together grassroots partners, NGOs, and government officials.
- Wednesday, January 25 at 9:30 am: Media are invited to a press conference on Capitol Hill with members of Congress from 9:30 am – 10:15 am and a panel on Democracy and Governance from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm.
All events are open to the public and offer an opportunity to voice your opinions on a just rebuilding process in Haiti. We seek your partnership to ensure that all Haitians have a voice in their own reconstruction process.
To read our ActionAid Policy Brief on land and housing rights in Haiti, click here.
Grassroots uprisings like ‘Occupy Wall Street’ are springing up across the world. An important country to add to the list is Haiti, where grassroots change is sorely needed. Long after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, more than 600,000 Haitians still lack access to safe, affordable housing. Seventy-seven percent live on less than $2 per day.
The poor and most vulnerable are rising up in social movements to claim their constitutional rights. One example is the ‘Je Nan Je’ Platform, composed of a dozen grassroots movements representing more than 800,000 Haitians advocating for land and housing rights.
The timing for this movement could not be better as Haiti moves beyond an emergency relief phase and into a focus on longer-term development. President Martelly, Prime Minister Conille, and new Ministers have their hands full in implementing plans for camp relocation, housing and agricultural development, among a long laundry list of needs. In order for change to be effective, grassroots movements need to be involved.
This is one of the reasons that the ‘Je Nan Je’ platform held a ground-breaking symposium on land and housing rights last week that included over 300 participants. Their goal was to bring together peasant movements, women’s groups and camp leaders with high-profile decision makers, including the Haitian government,the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the Inter-American Development Bank,the UN and the US government to find collective solutions to current land and housing challenges.
A significant number of US officials and congressional staffers attended, including USAID Haiti Mission Director, Dr. Carleene Dei, representatives of the US Embassy in Haiti and six congressional staffers representing the offices of Senator Ben Cardin and Representatives John Conyers, Yvette Clarke, Barbara Lee, Frederica Wilson and Donald Payne. As a result, open and honest dialogue took place on issues ranging from US investment interests in Haiti to the needs of women at risk of rape in IDP camps.
One thing became clear: these peasant farmers and displaced camp members, many of them women, are ready to boost themselves out of poverty, and they have some clear ideas on how to get there. They are calling for an end to shelter strategies that put vulnerable people at further risk and a renewed commitment to free up land and aid dollars for permanent housing. They are speaking out for the government to increase investment in agriculture from the current meager three percent and for international NGOs and governments to prioritize the needs of smallholder farmers, not just export interests.
‘Je Nan Je’ Platform members also used the symposium as an opportunity to speak out against development efforts that exclude grassroots’ participation. This includes the development of the Northern Industrial Park, a private-public endeavor approved by the Haitian Ministry of Finance and IHRC and financed by the IADB, USAID, OAS and Korean firm, SAE. The goal of this collaboration is to create 25,000 initial jobs and build capacity to serve up to 65,000 workers.
To farmers, who make up 70 percent of Haiti’s economy, this is a prime example of how even well-intentioned leaders trying to help revive the country’s economy can inflict even greater economic divides when they fail to consult communities. Farmers in the north did not have a say in negotiating where the park would be located and therefore lost a great deal of high yielding agricultural land. They will not have access to the new jobs being created at the park, a recipe for migration similar to the rural flight of the 80’s and 90’s that helped create many of the overcrowded slums in Port-au-Prince.
If Haiti wants to rebuild effectively, government officials, international donors and international relief agencies need to listen to the voices of the poor, who constitute the majority of the population. The grassroots movement represents a way to change the failed ideas of the past and strengthen Haiti’s redevelopment process in a way that gives ownership to the Haitian people.
The ‘Je Nan Je’ Platform and the Land and Housing Rights Symposium provided an opportunity to build back better. Now is the time for Americans who care about Haiti’s future to work with grassroots movements like ‘Je Nan Je,’ and insist that our government do its part.
- Elise Young, Senior Policy Analyst and Haiti International Campaign Coordinator, ActionAid USA
“Haiti cannot rebuild unless land and housing tenure is reformed. “ That became the unofficial theme of ActionAid’s Land and Housing Rights Workshop, held on September 22. The event featured three Haitian grassroots leaders: Marie Andree St Aubin from ActionAid Haiti, Gerald Mathurin, former Minister of Agriculture under Rene Preval and current executive director of KROSE, and Pierre DouDou, National Coordinator of RENHASSA. All three a members of the ‘Je Nan Je’ Haiti Land and Housing Rights Platform. This platform is made up of a dozen Haitian grassroots, women and peasant movements, who in turn represent over 800,000 Haitian country wide. The workshop was an opportunity for platform members to meet with other international NGOs, so that everyone could share their work and experience working with civil society in Haiti.
Stressing the importance of including civil society, particularly women, in the planning and implementation of development projects, St. Aubin delved into the lives of women and the deplorable conditions in the tent camps. She said women are being subjected to violence on a daily basis in the camps, not only physical and psychological, but economical as well. She described how men will sometimes refuse to pay for the children’s schooling as an indirect way to punish the women.
Mathurin discussed the problem of lack of land ownership by the peasants who work the land. Seventy percent of the population is made up of peasant farmers, yet they do not own the land and therefore have no control over it. Past protests on the issue have been squashed, some violently. DouDou explained that over the course of 200 years, Haiti has been unable to develop. Yet, during these 200 years, they “haven’t been left alone,” referring to the international community. DouDou pointed to the common bond that Haiti and the U.S. share in their people fighting for and therefore greatly valuing their freedom. It is this same sense of freedom that explains why so many Haitians are calling for the withdrawal of UN troops under MINUSTAH. DouDou believes that if Haiti can be allowed to develop and have ownership over its own reconstruction, it indeed grow into a strong country that can equally contribute to the international community.
Exploring the issue of the northern industrial zones, DouDou expressed concern of how new economic development initiatives are forcing peasants off prime agricultural land and leaving them few options for work beyond the factories. Believing agrarian reform is key to reconstruction, he stated that the government’s meager 3% allocation for agricultural development should in fact be closer to 30% to support the need. In the 1980s, Haiti produced 80% of it’s own food, now it only produces less than 40%. In addition to increased agricultural development, investments, though, the careful geographic planning free trade and economic zones is crucial. These zones can no longer be built on prime fertile land, when Haiti has so little of it left for its agricultural producers.
Listening to these three speakers finally made it click for me as to why land and housing reform is so vital to Haiti’s ability to development. Unless people have rights to their land and more importantly the roof over their head, Haitians will never be afforded the stability and safety that so many of us in the United States take for granted. Haiti’s redevelopment still has a long way to go. Yet, every journey begins with a choice. The international community must be part of this choice to support the Haitian population’s ownership over their own reconstruction and access to land and housing. Spending the day with our Haitian partners from the ‘Je Nan Je’ Land and Housing Platform left me more optimistic than ever.
By Elise Young
Currently located in Port-au-Prince on a short work trip, I and my ActionAid colleagues are preparing for Tropical Storm Emily, which is due to hit Haiti within the next few hours. For us, this storm means buying more food and water, taking extra precautions and tightly closing up the guesthouse where we’re staying. For the 700,000 Haitians still living under
tents, though, it means praying for the storm to take another path. Even if the storm goes further west, though, it most assuredly means that heavy rains will fall, and the people will continue to suffer flooding and increased cholera.
As the storm approaches, I cannot stop thinking about Marie Charles. Marie Charles Juste Luce Saintilmé, a member of the grassroots network, COZPAM, (Association of Community Organizations in the Metropolitan Area of Port-au-Prince), is a member of an IDP Camp in Mariani, just outside of Haiti. An experienced, registered nurse who lost her home during the earthquake, Marie Charles is fighting to protect women’s health, security and power to make a difference in Haiti IDP camps.
Just yesterday, Marie Charles contacted me with this perspective on the effects of the previous month’s rains. “On July 12, there was an enormous rainfall, which caused the death of a young girl whose tent was flooded near our community. In the community of Gressier, just 10 kilometers away, people are being forced to leave their camps in the middle of the night, even while it is raining…incoming storms just prove that we cannot continue to live in tents like these any longer.”
Marie Charles is right. The Haitian people cannot continue to live in this matter…under flimsy tents that do not protect them from the hot sun, drenching rains or desperate gangs.
“We have the right to a decent life, which implies a safe place to live. We are the only ones in charge of our destiny. We have the responsibility to change our living conditions by advocating to the government to change policies and reduce the imbalances in the society.” – Marie Charles
August 3, 2011
by Elise Young
Marie Charles Juste Luce Saintilmé, a member of the grassroots network, COZPAM, (Association of Community Organizations in the Metropolitan Area of Port-au-Prince), is a member of an IDP Camp in Mariani, just outside of Haiti. An experienced, registered nurse who lost her home during the earthquake, Marie Charles is fighting to protect women’s health, security and power to make a difference in Haiti IDP camps.
“On July 12, there was an enormous rainfall, which caused the death of a young girl whose tent was flooded near our community. In the community of Gressier, just 10 kilometers away, people are being forced to leave their camps in the middle of the night, even while it is raining…incoming storms just prove that we cannot continue to live in tents like these any longer.” “We have the right to a decent life, which implies a safe place to live. We are the only ones in charge of our destiny. We have the responsibility to change our living conditions by advocating to the government to change policies and reduce the imbalances in the society.” – Marie Charles August 3, 2011 ActionAid Haiti