Responding to Sovereign Grassroots Voices


Jenny Petrow, Inter-American Foundation
Haiti: Five Years After, Artists Institute, Jacmel, Haiti
Robert Maguire, Elliott School of International Affairs

Responding to Sovereign Grassroots Voices

Reporting from Clementine Andre and Julia Sinsky. Edited by Nicholas Johnson.

Sovereignty was a key theme brought up time and time again during the discussions at the Voices of Haiti’s Voiceless: Post-Earthquake Aspirations & Achievements symposium. In the Youn Vwa Pou Pep La report, national sovereignty, food sovereignty, and personal sovereignty were placed as center posts for Haiti’s further recovery. The film “Haiti: Five Years After,” created and produced by the Haitian Artists’ Institute (of Jacmel), demonstrated how local sovereignty was protected and strengthened by providing grassroots organizations with support, while maintaining independence, respect, and the ability to grow.

The film highlighted projects supported by the Inter-American Foundation, which works to fund grassroots programs. With each grant awarded to various local grassroots organizations, as Jenny Petrow discussed, the IAF hopes for sustained change, lasting beyond just the term of payment. Unlike much aid distribution, the IAF protects the sovereignty of independent organizations, avoiding ‘hand-holding’ or dependence on foreign assistance. As Dr. Maguire succinctly said, organizations like the IAF enter a community and ask, “What do you do?” not “What can I do for you?,” ensuring that assistance enables long-term growth and development, not free, temporary handouts.

While focusing on some of IAF’s grant recipients in Haiti, the film answered the “what do you do?” question and also proved that the question “What can I do for you?” should be replaced with “What can you do for yourselves?” After the earthquake, not only were new organizations created, but local grassroots organizations became the hope for many of the displaced, particularly the thousands that left Port-au-Prince for the countryside, facing great unknowns.

Examples from the film include the organizations MP3K from southern Haiti, and Rezo Fanm from the central region. The organization MP3K works to provide information and assistance to support local agricultural development. One female farmer said, “Minisett [and MP3K] changed our lives in the countryside. Everything I have here, I’ve earned myself. If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t have made it.” In central Haiti, Rezo Fanm is a women’s organization for women to assist each other with their needs, from school tuition for their children, to finding ways to create mobile medical clinics for those without access. “We formed this network before the earthquake. We were able to help others. If Rezo Famn didn’t exist, it would be much worse for women,” said one member. The network helps women empower each other, providing a community to lean on.

Much of the coverage of post-disaster Haiti details the lack of funds that have gone to Haitian organizations themselves. From the presentations, only ~1% of the billions pledged was to go directly to Haitian grassroots groups. But, the work of the IAF and organizations like it shows that aid can be successfully distributed to locals, ensuring that funding goes where it is most needed, instead of where it is perceived to be needed. By working to assist and empower already existing local organizations, this funding strategy is able to go further, reaching the “voiceless” and assist in the long-term rebuilding and strengthening of Haiti and its local core.