NGO’s crowd out government in Haiti

    As Haiti struggles to recover from last year’s earthquake, the government has less money and control than Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s).  Providing mental healthcare is a prime example.

    Under a large tent, in one of Haiti’s post-earthquake camp-cities, dozens of children sit in a circle of chairs, and draw pictures with pencils and crayons.

    Ten thousand people live in the Carredeux tent camp, on the campus of a now defunct university in Port-au-Prince. Most of the residents are children — but none of these kids go to school. Every Friday morning, Haitian psychologists and social workers conduct play therapy. The program is funded by the American-based NGO Partners in Health.

    One little girl draws a house that she calls a “neighborhood house.” It’s not the tent she now lives in.  Jean-Robert Derosiers is a young psychologist who works with these children. They are like any kids, eager to grab the right color crayon, sometimes arguing with each other. But Derosiers says those drawings often show hidden emotional scars left by last year’s earthquake.

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     “You find kids who draw the house falling, with the kids under the house dying,” Derosiers said through a translator.

     Derosiers says many of the children cry at night, and are afraid to go to sleep inside houses. He tells them if they should feel another earthquake, the tents are the safest place to be. If they run, they could get hurt.

     Earthquake relief donations have allowed Partners in Health to hire 17 new psychologists and 65 new social workers. The funds, some of which came from last year’s Hope for Haiti telethon, are also paying for psychiatric medication, which the group provides for free.

     Father Eddy Eustache is a Catholic priest, and the director of psycho-social services for Partners in Health in Haiti.  “The earthquake is not an isolated event,” said Eustache.  “I think trauma belongs to the daily life in Haiti because people have been exposed to so much, and so intense stress. The earthquake has made them more vulnerable. But now people are more aware of their vulnerability.”

     Partners in Health has been working in Haiti for 30 years and is helping the government create a national mental health services plan.  Medical director Joia Mukherjee says Haitian officials are more focused on mental health since the earthquake.

    “They’ve said, you know, we really have missed the boat on mental health all these years, we haven’t paid attention,” said Mukheriee.  “Now we’ve got this country that’s wildly traumatized. And it helped that the mental institution got kind of destroyed, because it should be. I mean that place should have been blown up.”

     Mukerjee says the Haitian government has recieved very little earthquake relief aid because funders worry about corruption. But she says it also reflects an ideology that values private funding over direct government aid.  Father Eddy Eustache says the practice perpetuates a beggar-state.

     “I see a very weak government without many resources, unable to deliver appropriate services to the population,” said Eustache.   “And on the other side I see very very strong NGO’s with a lot of money, sometimes sounding pretty arrogantly and trying to do whatever they want, whatever they want, without any control, because of the weakness of the state.”

     Gabriel Thimote, the Director General of the Haitian Health Ministry, says he tries to focus on engaging the groups who provide care.  “We are interested in the outcome, in the result,” said Thimote.  “But sometimes there is no result, there is investment but no result.”

    Government ministers like Thimote have to walk a fine line when it comes to controlling the thousands NGO’s operating in the country. That’s because, in many communities, NGO’s exercise more political clout than the government.

     Joia Mukherjee says with the money controlled by so many different non-governmental organizations, it’s difficult to see how Haiti will emerge as a functioning state.  “So I think Haiti has always been in this very unenviable position of not having control over their own money and therefore not having any control over their own destiny,” said Mukheriee.  “So in health, which should be directed by the public sector, the public sector is extremely weak.”

    Tomorrow, we’ll hear about a new settlement of earthquake victims, building homes in a rural area, far away from the destruction that continues to plague Port-au-Prince. 


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