Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 6 - Alex S

On Thursday morning, as we passed platters of fresh fruit and eggs, it was hard to believe that this would be our last day in Haiti. In such a short time, we had seen and learned so much.

A Wednesday night discussion had set the tone for Thursday. As a group, we reflected on how valuable it had been to see the promising, hopeful side of Haiti. We saw this in small business owners, in rebuilt schools, in beautiful scenery and in the promise of new hospital facilities. We vowed to bring this message of hope back with us. However, as law students studying human rights, we felt it was also important to learn about and to see some of the extreme hardship in Haiti.

So on our last day, we spoke with attorneys and community members working with Haitians living in tent cities, or “camps” who were facing eviction. We also had the opportunity to tour one of these camps. This was a chance to see, up close, the unimaginable living conditions of so many Haitians.

Our speakers talked about President Martelly’s plan to evict the residents of several camps. They discussed legal strategies, the importance of educating Haitians about their rights, and community empowerment. It was inspiring to see the different types of activists and how they were rallying for these residents.

Actually entering a camp was an unforgettable experience. In the morning, I worked with a group of law students from Fordham. We surveyed camp residents about what camp life was like, what they knew about Martelly’s eviction plans, and where they would go if evicted. While many answers were hard to hear, and probably even harder for the residents to admit, the Haitians remained proud and dignified. In the afternoon, the entire delegation toured a different camp. We were guided by one of our speakers, Joseph, who was on that camp’s committee.

Unsurprisingly, the living conditions in these camps are deplorable. Many families are sheltered only by tarps. The ground is dirty and muddy. The job prospects are low. Nonetheless, the children are sweet, playful and friendly. There is laughter, friendship and family. The contrast in these camps paralleled the discussion we had as a group. While Haiti is broken, it is hopeful.

In retrospect, I am so fortunate to have had this experience. The range of exposure to both the good and bad fostered a lot of thoughtful discussion about how to really help, and what our purpose was as a delegation. I hope this exposure inspired some of us to pursue an even deeper understanding and to effectuate change in complicated, resilient, beautiful Haiti.

Day 5 - Larry

Though the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti (herein referred to as MINUSTAH) is internationally viewed as a great aid to Haiti in theory, it has been anything but that in practice. Today was a reminder of why most of us on this mission chose law as the vehicle to affect social change in this world. We worked with the Bureas de Avocats Internationaux (herein referred to as BAI). That is the law firm in Haiti established by the founders of the Institute of Justice & Democracy in Haiti in the United States (herein referred to as IJDH). Currently, the firm is working on the cholera litigation. According to webmd.com, the major symptom of cholera is massive watery diarrhea that occurs because of a toxin secreted by the bacteria that stimulates the cells of the small intestine to secrete fluid. In short, the disease dehydrates you and can be deadly if untreated.
The cholera outbreak in Haiti has claimed the lives of over seven thousand Haitians and sickened nearly a half million and counting. Recently, the IJDH brought a petition to the United Nations, seeking financial compensation for the victims of the disease. The suit alleges that the United Nations, through its deployment of its Nepalese troops, brought cholera to Haiti back in 2010. Though Nepalese troops had been in Haiti for at least six years prior to the outbreak, new troops entered in 2010. In Nepal during 2010, there were 300 cases of fatal cholera. It is possible to have cholera without exhibiting symptoms. As a result, the petition states that the United Nations was negligent in, among other things, not adequately testing the Nepalese troops for cholera prior to their stationing in Haiti.
As we went through the boxes of documents we realized that the more than five thousand named plaintiffs in the lawsuit each had individual faces, names, and stories. To have injured hundreds of thousands of Haitians, especially after the January 2010 earthquake, seems to support what most Haitian locals told us about the U.N., “they are not wanted and have harmed more than helped our country’s poor.” Among the remedies sought by the petition is damages for survivors of cholera, damages for the families of those who have deceased from the disease, funding for a new water irrigation system for the country to control the endemic, and most of all an apology from the U.N. However, there are some obstacles.
The petitioners are limited to a civil suit since the agreement signed for MINUSTAH has a criminal immunity clause. There is recourse through a committee that is supposed to hear complaints against MINUSTAH, but that committee was never set up. That means since 2004 there has been no accountability for MINUSTAH. Hopefully, at minimum the committee can be established and the U.N. can issue an apology for its role in bringing cholera to the already decrepit country of Haiti. With Harvard scientists, among others, linking the cholera strain in Haiti to the one in Nepal, there is little doubt as to the U.N.’s responsibility in the matter.

Larry R. Daniels III

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 4- Claudia

After finishing our trips to the micro-finance businesses, Regine wanted to give the delegation an opportunity to experience some of the beauty and culture of Haiti. We travelled up into the mountains surrounding Port Au Prince to visit a town called Furcy, which is at an elevation of about one mile above sea level. Along the way we stopped at a brick oven pizza restaurant owned by a French man and enjoyed margarita, pepperoni, and escargot pizzas. As we drove up the mountains and out of the city, the change in wealth and status was immediately apparent. Literally the higher you traveled into the mountains, the more wealthy the people became. In the hills outside of Port Au Prince were the homes of middle class Haitians. Many of these people are now part of the diaspora, and as a result their homes or either abandoned or rented to NGO’s. Additionally, there is a lot of new construction. Members of the diaspora are able to affordably build homes outside the city where they can retire.
Even higher in the mountains members of the bourgeoisie lived. All of these homes were still dispersed with poor rural shacks and people living off substance farming. The view from the mountains was beautiful with lots of wooden gingerbread houses very different from the cement homes you see in the city. The air was cool, probably about 75 degrees, with a nice breeze. Tropical plants were mixed with lots of green foliage and pine trees. We parked our SUV and walked to the home of an artist who lived in a wooden house set into the side of the mountain. We enjoyed his artwork, and the view from his home. Afterwards, a local man took us into the downtown area of Furcy. We saw merchants lining the streets and preparing food like goat and vegetables. We wound our way back through the village to a large church, with a beautiful painting and a crucifix carved by the artist who designed Neg Mawon, the symbol of the slave revolution in Haiti.
In the village we met a group of boys who followed us and enjoyed trying to communicate with them in a mix of broken English and Kreyol. We were shocked when we asked their ages, although they looked about ten or eleven many were sixteen or seventeen. The boys appeared healthy and well-fed, but a low caloric intake resulted in them being much smaller than American boys their age. Afterwards, we traveled back to the guesthouse for a delicious Haitian meal of chicken, rice and beans, and bread. Full and happy, we enjoyed some dialogue about our experiences over the course of the past several days before going to bed.

Haitian Entrepreneurship (Days 3 and 4) - Sean and Alex

On Monday and Tuesday, the group met with three Haitian entrepreneurs: a budding restaurateur, a baker, and a designer of painted silk fabric and garments. In getting to know each person, we were struck by the similarities between Haitian and American entrepreneurial professionalism. Each entrepreneur expressed the hopefulness and sense of purpose upon which Haitian microfinance and American venture funding, alike, are intended to capitalize. However, we noted an important difference between the mentalities of our hosts in Port au Prince and those of the entrepreneurs who come to Earle Mack’s Entrepreneurship Law Clinic looking for advice and assistance. The difference revolves around a distinction: Does the entrepreneur view “entrepreneurship” as an individual attempt at (1) sustainability or (2) scalability? Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs approached entrepreneurship as an attempt at scalability. They designed products that could be provided to ever increasing numbers of consumers at the cost of only marginally increasing amounts of effort. The tin artists we visited on Day Two, on the other hand, seek sustainability, the ongoing provision of a living wage in return for a consistent output of effort, because their surroundings and capabilities necessitate it. This begs a question: How can Haitian microfinance operations incentivize the conceptualization of entrepreneurship as an effort toward scalability?

Our trip to the bakery typified the sustainability approach. The baker manufactures, packages and sells assorted baked goods out of her home, employing a staff of five to ten people, depending on market conditions. Her business model gives her control of production but requires her to continually seek out new purchasers of her goods, purchasers who hold a disproportionate level of control over the terms of the relationship. For instance, grocery stores will only take her goods on credit, and will only pay her for the items they sell, forcing her to shield those stores from the risks associated with retailing her goods. Further, her profits per unit can be expected to increase only marginally with increased sales, due to Haiti’s lack of infrastructure and precariously unsteady supply chain. Though the baker has done something truly amazing in creating a consistently profitable business in Port au Prince, her business model incorporates unnecessary risks in return for an unpredictable reward.

The restaurateur, on the other hand, possesses the germ of a scalable product. He began with an idea, the low-cost provision of breakfast, lunch and dinner in a vibrant, if impoverished, neighborhood. The nature of his product, cooked pasta, points to one of the most interesting lessons we learned in Haiti. As Chef Anthony Bourdain has noted, considering the evolution of cassoulet in France and Hopping John in the American South, national delicacies have often arisen from the necessities of poverty. Because dry pasta is cheap, calorically dense and capable of long periods of safe storage, the distinctively un-Hatian combination of spaghetti, hot dogs and ketchup has become a staple of modern Haitian cuisine. The restaurateur intends to develop a customer base by providing this and other locally popular meals at a low price point. His business model gives him control of a brand and of a market, for low-cost dining, which he has a hand in promoting and which the Haitian market can support, in terms of both supply and demand. As his base of purchasers grows, his profits will depend chiefly upon his management and maintenance of the brand, rather than on the number of hours he and his staff are able to spend in the kitchen. Thus, his business model is scalable.

The clothing designer presents the starkest contrast between the scalability and sustainability entrepreneurial mindsets. She is an artist, a painter of distinctive silken fabric designs. In transferring her skills to profits, though, she’s rejected a scalable approach, perhaps without knowing she had an option in the matter. For instance, the designer was approached by a well-known, upscale women’s clothing brand interested in marketing her clothing and fabrics. Rather than consider licensing her designs to the larger company and allowing them to manufacture reproductions, the designer failed to follow up with their buyer, on the supposition that she would have otherwise born the impossible task of hand painting each of the garments sought to be sold. As in the baker’s example, the designer’s business model is not scalable. As with the restaurateur, however, the scalability of her product really only depends on the mindset of its producer. If her sales and profits are to grow, which seems eminently possible considering her talents, we believe she’ll require (and we know she'd like to receive) training and mentorship in business administration.

In meeting these entrepreneurs, we’ve learned that the difficulties inherent to their context - the poverty and seeming desperation of post-earthquake Port au Prince - might be mitigated through a combination of business training and continued, but far more focused, financing. The purpose of microfinance should be to provide incentives for entrepreneurs in developing countries to change their focus from sustainability to scalability. The Haitian market does not need more wood and tin artisans, it needs more entrepreneurs of all sorts who have the training and assistance necessary to create growth oriented businesses. At present, the mentalities of the baker and clothing designer make absolute sense, as each entrepreneur is forced to focus, above all else, on procuring life’s most basic necessities. If, however, the sources of Haitian microfinance hope to allow recipients to dream bigger, as the restaurateur has thus far succeeded in doing, success will only become attainable by providing them the tools necessary to achieving scalability. As has been noted in many contexts, there is a soft bigotry inherent to low expectations. The provision of further micro-financing, without more in the form of business training and mentoring, seems unlikely to provide the sort of long term results Haiti needs most.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 2- Dorcas Adekunle

After a delicious breakfast of French toast and fruit (watermelon, pineapples, and mango), we all entered the SUV and Regine drove us to our first stop, State Hospital. We were introduced to Dr. Jimmy Joseph who gave us a tour of the entire hospital. The first room we observed was the emergency room which was very small in comparison to any emergency room I have seen in the United States. The room was crowded with patients on small beds the size of hotel cots and while there were a few ceiling fans, there was no air conditioning. Patients were exposed because the curtains which provided a sense of privacy were removed. Initially, I did not understand why patients would want this exposure but Dr. Joseph explained that it actually helped in the rehabilitation process because patients felt a sense of community knowing that other patients and family members were so close.

Although it is a State hospital, the government does not provide enough supplies. Many patients are required to obtain a prescription for equipment from their doctor, purchase those items, and bring them to the hospital in order to get treatment. Dr. Joseph showed us the surgery room which was small and is only equipped to allow four surgeries at one time. Even though doctors are expected to work twenty four hours a day, they are only able to perform at most twenty surgeries in one day.

Unfortunately, because of earth quake damage several wards were closed down, however there are plans to build a new hospital. Dr. Joseph expressed that one of their main challenges with the current building is that the wards are scattered; time is wasted and patient conditions are compromised when people are transported outdoors from one side of the hospital to another. Instead of building out, the new hospital will be built up and be more efficient. Construction is expected to be completed in 36 months and the new building, a $60 million investment will go a long way to improve patient conditions and be more accessible to the people of Port au Prince.

I was impressed with Dr. Joseph because along with being a bright and compassionate doctor, he took at least two hours out of his busy day to give us a thorough tour. To me it seemed like the hospital had bare necessities to serve the patients but the practitioners were invested in their work. It was also interesting to see the hospital as a local hang out for people. They were generally socializing, washing their laundry in the common areas, fixing their hair and just relaxing.

We then took in some local culture and stopped to purchase souvenirs. Our first stop was merchants who sold beautiful wooden and fabric artwork. I bargained with a seller and got a good deal on two fabric paintings which will look great on my wall. We also stopped by artists who made and sold gorgeous metal art. It was fascinating to watch the artisans in the process of crafting and painting such stunning work. The art was sold out of houses and the price of the artwork was open to negotiation. Although it was obvious to the sellers that we are Americans, they generally hesitated to speak English to us. I first thought maybe the artists did not understand English, but Regine told me that most of them understood and even if they only spoke limited English, they had a good understanding of “dollars” and were ready to bargain.

Another highlight of the day was learning how to cook Haitian food with Susie of Famvin. As a sub-sector of the Vincentian Family organization, Famvin provides microfinance for established businesses in Haiti who meet expertise and sustainability criteria. It was great to hear about how much of a difference this funding makes in people’s lives because they now able to take their businesses to another level.

The food was delicious and while we were not able to do much cooking we were told the food preparation process. I was surprised to find out that Haitian chicken takes hours to clean and prepare because of the meticulous cleaning, and marinating that is involved. We were served chicken, rice with beans, plantains, coleslaw, macaroni salad and vegetable salad. Overall the second day was quite informative and fun. The Haitians are wonderful people with so much to offer.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 1- Jess

A lot. These are words I overused the first day in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We emerged from the airport and a lot of men wanted to help us find our bags or drive us places. On the drive to our guest house we saw a lot of animals eating trash on the roadsides--big black pigs, small brown dogs, goats with plastic and metal in their mouths. We drove past a lot of NGOs and a lot of low and brightly painted schools. We saw a lot of women carrying baskets with a lot of different items for sale. One basket was arranged as a flower with toothbrushes as a stamen and petals of gum, loose tissues, and tiny pouches of laundry detergent. We fell silent as we passed a tent camp filled with too many tents. All the while we leaned into each other's thighs and shoulders, smiling and apologizing, because the roads need a lot of work.

Our first night, we settled into our guest house that was guarded by a man with a large gun who unlocked the gates for us. The house is run by Outreach to Haiti, which employs Pharra as its Projects Coordinator. Pharra laughs a lot and loudly and she cooked us a delicious stew with carrots, peas, and spices I couldn't place then she sang us prayers from the head of our table. Her many opinions about Haiti fell out of her big smiles. We also spoke with our guide Regine who explained how much more than Port-au-Prince we would see, how culturally rich and complex Haiti is, and how we must not use victim portrayals when we talk about Haiti.

After dinner and dishwashing, Professor Tom Griffin, Dean Susan Brooks, and we students went to the balcony to talk about what we'd seen--the a lots. Tom explained what contributed to them and we all brainstormed what could be done about them. We discussed the dearth of jobs and infrastructure that contribute to no trash collection or road repair. We discussed the population and how those under 25 comprise 54 percent; this and the lack of funding for public schools cause people to build the many private schools. The NGOs don't cooperate or aim to help Haitians attain self-reliance, so more NGOs move in on top of others to "solve" problems. The poor are so poor they can only afford small quantities of anything, hence the individual tissues and tiny detergent packets. Our conversations swell with goals and priorities for Haiti and ebb as we criticize tactics or question starting-points. In that confusion, we all, or at least I do, fall back on the comfort that we don't need to solve what we saw today. It was important work to see it, to put it in context this week, and to bring all of it back with us on our tongues and in our hearts.