Haiti has a complex history. Through slavery, revolution, exploitation and natural disasters, it has become one of the poorest countries in the Americas. In this episode, Haitian-born MARC ROMIYR ANTOINE from the NGO Tearfund explains why local businesses and churches are both crucial to the country's future, and to the elimination of poverty.
Marc is proud to be Haitian. “Haiti's the first black republic, the only country to ever have a successful slave revolt, where we defeated the French and declared freedom in 1804.” Although he’d grown up in the USA, he moved back to Haiti in 2015. “I really believe that there is hope for Haiti and I want to participate in that transformation”, he said.
In Haiti, Marc identified damaging cycles of aid and poverty. “NGOs have been pumping millions and billions of dollars into Haiti. You would think that you would see a more systemic solution to problems.” Instead, he saw “poverty alleviation” measures that helped in the short term, but created a culture of dependency in the medium to long term. Marc’s priority is poverty elimination. “We don't want to make poverty palatable, we don't want to help people cope with it, we want to get people out of poverty.”
Empowering people to create their own change is the key to poverty elimination. Marc believes that “enterprise-led development” is the best way to do this. An important part of his work is encouraging and supporting people to start their own businesses or scale up existing businesses to the point where they can create employment. “With a focus on employment, with a focus on entrepreneurship, we can really begin to see holistic change in the lives of people.”
Marc gave us an example of a business in Haiti that’s creating green jobs and addressing several problems at once. It’s a business that recycles waste plastic – waste management is a major problem in Haiti – and makes backpacks and paving tiles out of the melted-down plastic. It’s confronting both environmental and economic problems, creating jobs and keeping money in Haiti. It’s “a really holistic response to poverty in Haiti”.
Tearfund focuses on local churches as another powerful source of change. “The organisation who's been here before NGOs and will be here after NGOs, and whose mandate it is to serve, is the Church,” said Marc. By partnering with local churches, Tearfund is able to reach the most vulnerable and marginalised communities, and empower communities in sustainable ways. Marc sees this kind of work as central to the mission of the Church – what he calls “integral mission”. “We recognise that we're not just spiritual beings… people have needs, real life practical needs.”
Awareness has grown that well-intentioned NGOs can hurt more than they help. But for many, Marc says, this awareness has not yet turned into acceptance, because it would require changing the way they work and measure their results. It means giving more autonomy to communities and families, in ways that will help them in the long term but may be hard to measure in the short term. “It does require a leap of faith… Even though it may mean changing our objectives and changing how we word our results, it's worth it.”
Listen to other episodes of How To Build Community here.