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In the field of International Development, non-profit organizations are constantly competing to secure funds that would allow them to implement their projects or programs. At the same time, funding is usually tied to the non-profit’s ability to deliver results. The catch? Those “results” are sometimes not as clear as they might seem at first. When an organization reports a success on their project because “x” number of vaccines were administered, that result doesn’t always equate to positive change in the lives of the people on the receiving end of the project. Have the lives of the people on the receiving end of aid actually improved because of the work the non-profit did? It’s hard to tell.

Accountability in the non-profit sector has become synonymous with ensuring donors that every dollar has been spent providing measurable, tangible goods and services, while the non-profit organization’s accountability to their mission statement is usually forgotten.

Conducting evaluations and developing the mechanisms that would allow non-profit organizations to understand how effective they truly are in carrying out their mission is costly, and most organizations claim not to have the money to do such evaluations, so they settle with the tangible, easy-to-measure metrics of meals delivered and trainings carried out. However, in the U.S., the country with the largest non-profit sector in the world, charities amount to $1.5 trillion per year in revenues, according to Ken Berger, former CEO of Charity Navigator, the largest charity evaluator in the country. And more importantly, 85% of that money is concentrated in 1% of the charities (around 15,000 organizations). So it appears that money, for some organizations, is not the issue.

Who non-profit organizations are accountable to, how they report their successes and failures, and how they could contribute to a more fully functioning society are some of the questions that inspired this project. To answer these questions, we looked into the one place on earth that has the highest number of non-profit organizations per capita: Haiti.

We analyzed the available information (reports, evaluations, websites and press releases) of 10 randomly selected organizations working in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake to understand how they report their activities, whose voices are included the reports, and how does the available information, on the achievements these organizations have reported, compares to the testimonies of the people affected by the earthquake. The full project is available here.

Below you will find a subset of the stories collected while in Haiti. These stories were not triangulated and they are not part of a bigger theme. They are meant to stand by themselves to express the opinions and experiences of people who are often left unheard.

The 2010 Earthquake

At 4:53 p.m. (local time) on January 12th, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake took the residents of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas by surprise. In 30 seconds, the earthquake destroyed more than 100,000 houses and 60% of the government infrastructure (World Vision, 2011). Before the earthquake, Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere with 81% of the population lacking access to adequate sanitation and almost half of the population without access to clean water (World Vision 2011). World Vision (2011), one of the non-profit organizations working in Haiti before the earthquake hit, estimated that the earthquake affected 3 million people out of a population of 9.8 million. Finding someone on the streets of Port-au-Prince who suffered the effects of the earthquake is easy. Everyone did. Moreover, the institutions that normally respond to such disaster (government, hospitals, police, etc.) were themselves victims.

The institutions that had made up Haiti’s civil society before the earthquake –public, societal institutions, media, NGOs and social cause groups, the business community, governance and international organizations- had all been affected in one way or the other. However, because of their transnational nature, international non-profit organizations were able to gather financial and human resources to help facilitate aid faster than any other of the identified building blocks of civil society. And they did.

Soon after the earthquake, international organizations and governments’ foreign aid agencies started fundraising to rebuild Haiti. Aggregated reports estimate that more than $13 billion dollars have been earmarked to respond to the crisis while only less than half of that has actually been released. (Connor, Rappleye, & Angulo, 2015). These organizations tried to momentarily fill the gap left by the inability of the other organizational partners to fulfill their role in the development of civil society. To coordinate efforts and increase effectiveness of response, the United Nations formed eleven clusters of humanitarian organizations (World Vision, 2011). Clusters are groups of humanitarian organizations working in the main sectors of a humanitarian crisis (shelter, food, health, etc). They aim to ensure a coordinated approach and avoid gaps and overlaps in the work humanitarian organizations undertake (“Cluster Coordination | OCHA,” n.d.). In a disaster response the goal of the acting organizations is to protect lives first, property second and maintain the continuity of operations for the community (Waugh, 1990). Therefore, in the immediate aftermath, the non-profit organizations’ communication efforts were logically driven by how to get possible life-saving messages to the highest number of people, and not so much focused on developing relationships with the community and listening to the community’s needs. However, as the weeks and months progressed after the earthquake, it would be expected for the organizations to switch from the “emergency mode” to a more long-term development of civil society strategy.

The response of the international community to the earthquake was fast. Yet, as an OECD evaluation points out, it “was a classical response: self contained, working outside government systems and reliant on imported material and personnel” (OECD, 2011), risking a disconnection between the humanitarian response and the context, while at the same time undermining long term recovery efforts.

Gathering the voices of the counter publics

The earthquake’s epicenter was located in Leogane, a commune in the Ouest department, approximately 18mi from Port-Au-Prince. While 80-90% of the infrastructure of Leogane was damaged during the earthquake, this commune was still a very rural commune and, compared to Port-au-Prince, not densely populated. Therefore no other place suffered the impact the “goudougoudou” (earthquake in creole), like Port-Au-Prince.

While finding people affected by the earthquake is easy because everyone was affected in one way or another, finding those people who often lack access to mediums to discuss the issues that affect them was harder. Employing the help of a local social worker and the conventional wisdom of moto-taxi drivers, we managed to interview people in the most vulnerable locations in Port-Au-Prince, Leogane and Carrefour:

  • Cite Solei: with an estimated population of 400,000 people, Cite Solei is the biggest and most densely populated slum in Haiti. This area has been often associated with high levels of crime and insecurity, and often the police don’t even go inside.
  • Delmas 28: a neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince, close to the National Palace. This area was heavily affected by the earthquake, and ever since, most people with economic means have left this area and moved to higher grounds.
  • Delmas 30: another impoverished neighborhood in Port-au-Prince
  • Leogane: While reconstruction is noticeable in the center of Leogane, the outskirts of the commune are still a reminder of what happened in 2010.
  • Carrefour: Alongside the main road, people have set up improvised camps where they live and work.

The stories

The stories presented below were collected during the week of February 12th to February 18th. Each story was obtained through a single interview and there were no re-recordings. The aim was to capture the the experiences of the people who are often left behind in the most pure and natural manner possible.

While the stories presented are not part of a larger theme, they do represent the views of the individuals interviewed and are valuable on their own. The stories are fragments of the complex reality that is Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

The stories can be listened to in the order that they are presented, to get the full extent of the issues presented by these individuals, or they can be listened to individually.

On the morning of February 14th, Fabiola welcomed us into her house. We sat on a couch in her living room, and she began to tell us what happened on the day of the earthquake. Up until today, seven years after the earthquake, Fabiola’s parents have not wanted to talk about what happened that day. It’s too painful. She is the only one in her family who is able to recall the events of that tragic day.

Samuel was left in the street after the earthquake. His house was almost completely destroyed.

As a leader in his community he quickly began collaborating with the non-profit organizations in the area. While some people’s houses were rebuilt or repaired, his house was too damaged to do anything.

On February 14th, he received us in the front yard of his mother’s house. He now lives there.

On February 13th we met Esther in a neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince. Before the earthquake she had a business and was able to send her kids to school. She lost everything. She now lives in a shelter provided by a non-profit organization. On the day we met, she had just spent four weeks without electricity. That’s normal in her neighborhood after the earthquake.

We met David the first day in Haiti, February 13th. He is a young leader in one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. He walks around with a gun on his waist. The police doesn’t go in that neighborhood. His frustrations with the way things are date back to way before the earthquake.

On February 13th, the day that Patricia sat down to talk to us, she had one concern in her mind: Her kid. Because she needed help with her son after the earthquake, she went to live in a camp run by a non-profit organization. She thought that being there would be the best way to get the care her son needed. She was wrong.

Daniel, a young student living in downtown Port-au-Prince, talked with us on February 17th, the day before leaving Haiti. He remembers the job the non-profit organization did in his neighborhood with a smile on his face. He is thankful for the work the organization did. He doesn’t understand however, why they left before finishing the job.

Nadia went to live in one of the camps after the earthquake. In the camp, she received food, sanitary kits and water. She thought that she would be taken care of there. She found that what sometimes seems like a solution is just the beginning of a new problem. On February 13th, she shared with us her story.

Like Judith, many Haitians feel like they are trapped. When Judith lost her house and source of income in the earthquake, she also lost something to look forward to. When we sat down with her on February 13th, she told us how it is to live in a place of Haiti that most people have forgotten about.

Joseph works with young kids in the community. While the wounds of the earthquake are still fresh, he sees hope in the kids he works with and he wishes, in his own way, that how non-profit organizations interact with the community would change.

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