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Haitians who want to help are in limbo
Submitted by CHAN on June 19, 2012 - 16:22
Training for quake aid has yet to pay off
By Sue Montgomery, The Gazette (Montreal daily), June 16, 2012
A few months after the earthquake in Haiti, Luigi Labarrière quit his job at a Rosemont school and signed up for a heavy machinery training program, hoping to learn a skill that would be useful in rebuilding his native country.
For the next six months, he and 29 other Haitian Quebecers, decked out in brand new hard hats and work boots, arrived at the former Francon quarry in St. Michel at 7 a.m. They learned to drive bulldozers, loaders, back hoes and graders, practising to help clear the tons of rubble that covered Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the January, 2010 earthquake.
Yet more than a year since receiving their heavy equipment licences, they still haven’t left for the Caribbean country so desperate to get back on its feet. “At the beginning, they said we were going, then they said we’ll try to go, and then it was ‘we’re not going,’” Labarrière said in an interview during a conference about NGO waste in Haiti. “I was a bit stunned.”
Labarrière attended the conference Friday, hoping to make some contacts to put his new skills to use in Haiti. But what he heard was a damning analysis of the work of some non-governmental organizations in the country that lost about 250,000 people in the devastating earthquake that left another million people homeless. Despite billions of dollars in pledges from dozens of countries, hundreds of thousands of people still live in squalid camps set up immediately after the quake struck.
Part of the problem is due to the difficulty in establishing a government, and other countries have been reluctant to release funds until some stability is apparent. But speakers at Friday’s conference, many of them Haitian, also said that with so many NGOs in the country, Haiti has been nicknamed the Republic of NGOs. They are accused of not co-ordinating with others, wasting donor money, driving up local prices, and not working closely with Haitians in their projects.
“We aren’t here to put NGOs on trial,” said Nancy Roc, organizer of the conference. “But to initiate a new dialogue, a new direction.”
Labarrière’s experience is indicative of projects that started out with gusto, but then fizzled out. At a news conference held in December, 2010, three months into the training, Sylvain Tremblay, head of the Pierre-Neveu School Commission in Mont-Laurier in the Laurentians and sponsor of the project, sang its praises. “We hope that this project, this mission of hope, will help to raise the spirits of the Haitian people,” he said. “Our students are being sent to the rescue and are a symbol of strength in action.”
The mayor of Mont-Laurier, Michel Adrien, who is of Haitian origin, also supported the project. “What spoke to me the most from the beginning was that it’s a mission of hope, yet an equally attainable, concrete, and short-term plan that would give Quebecers of Haitian origin a chance to acquire the necessary skills to contribute to the reconstruction of their motherland,” he said. “It would also ensure a viable career for their lives right here at home.”
This winter – a year after completion of the course – Labarrière called Tremblay to find out if and when they’d be going to Haiti. “He said it didn’t develop the way it was supposed to,” Labarrière recalled. “He said ‘maybe we could get you a job at Plan Nord.’” But Labarrière said the whole idea of the project was to go to Haiti, where there was a great need, not help develop Quebec’s north. Neither Tremblay nor Adrien returned calls from The Gazette.
The City of Montreal and the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-ParcExtension were also involved, but it’s unclear who footed the bill for all the rented equipment and the salaries of five instructors. Labarrière said he paid $200 for the course, but received a receipt for close to $2,000. “Other people (in the course) gave up their jobs or worked nights so they could do this because they saw it as an opportunity to go back to Haiti with some credentials,” he said.
By press time, no one from the Quebec Department of Education was able to track down information about the project or why it failed.