Dignity, Equality & Investing in People


Thomas C. Adams, U.S. Department of State
Freud Jean, Lambi Fund & Haitian Human Rights Platform
Conor Bohan, Haitian Education & Leadership Program (HELP)
Anne Martine Augustin, HELP Scholar

Dignity, Equality & Investing in People

Reporting from Rachel Metz and Kelsey Hatchitt. Edited by Nicholas Johnson.

Each individual has their own idea about what dignity and equality means to them but there seems to be a consensus that equality comes from opportunity and opportunity comes from investing in the population. As the panelists on the “Dignity, Equality, & Investing in People” panel discussed the opportunities in Haiti available to the general population, it became evident that there are many changes left to increase investment in human development throughout the country.

In addition, significant systemic shifts in development policy and practice, as well as local practices, must occur to grant the Haitian people the dignity associated with being a citizen, a worker, and an individual. During the panel, Haitian history was discussed nearly as often as the period of time after the earthquake, because of the significant inequalities that have plagued the country’s development since 1804.

Many of the inequalities that existed within Haiti prior to the earthquake, were only further exacerbated after the “invasion of NGOs” as Freud Jean referred to it. While these NGOs treated the Haitians with dignity at a human-to-human level, the lack of accountability and failure to live up to their promises undermined their commitment to the people and their work, and makes us question whether this was simply a superficial display of dignity. Haiti was essentially treated as a business, according to Jean, with the doors open as international aid organizations flocked to Haiti to impose their own rules and their own regulations. This was not an investment in the people, but rather an investment in the goodwill and image of these organizations.

Bohan mentioned the history of Haiti in the context of education and how a divided Haiti following the revolution harmed longterm development. Formal educational institutions were suppressed under the Petion regime, leading to lasting impediments to the development of education infrastructure. Education is often seen as the most important investment in a population. When everyone has education the opportunity for equality increases, but without it the inequality gap only gets worse.

Anne Martine Augustin, a former HELP student, discussed in her presentation the role of investing in youth and youth empowerment through education. In her speech, Augustin described the way Haitians define and interpret dignity, concluding that the greatest sign of dignity is the respect of one’s work and actions. Her presentation also included a discussion of her role as a surveyor in the Youn Vwa Pou Pep La project following the earthquake.

The international aid response after the earthquake treated the Haitian population with dignity out of concern for human suffering, responding to a population in their time of need. But these responses were only superficial, doing little to shift the systemic inequality within Haiti as they failed to provide equal and effective investment in the population.