Back in Haiti--touring the Delmas 32 housing repair project with the OAS Secretary General and the PADF team.
Over four months ago, I drove away from Haiti thinking I was finished. I didn't make it very far. I know support PADF's Haiti operations from our Washington office. Although I spend a good bit of time in Haiti--next week will be third visit in two months--the view from Washington is quite different.
The biggest difference is distance--both geographic and personal. I am typing this in my Rockville, Maryland house far from the hassles and stress of Port-au-Prince. Although I spend a good part of my days working directly with our Haiti office through phone calls and emails, I don't live the experience any longer. This geographic distance makes things much more personal. I was talking with our Country Director when the storm went through last Friday. It was an immediate threat to him and to those around him. For me, it was a logistics question--how could we mobilize any support to help.
The advantage to this distance is that it makes it a bit easier to see the bigger picture. While working in Haiti, I remained very focused on day-to-day operations. Initially, the focus was on pumping food and supplies into Haiti, later on starting the clean-up. My job was to ride herd on the thousands of details that had to be managed just to keep moving forward. Now my role is broader. Although I still spend a good bit of time directly supporting our day-to-day work, I try to keep a more strategic focus--trying to figure out how to help shape donor's policies and programs and trying to help others to better understand the situation in Haiti.
The downside to this distance is that the discussions can be very abstract. I attended the Rand briefing on their new monograph on Haiti: Building a More Resilient Haitian State which nicely highlights this problem. The monograph (downloadable for free) nicely describes the broad problems in Haiti, but only provides a weak framework for the solutions. It is easier to propose solutions to problems if you are far enough away that the problems are a bit less real.
As I move forward in my new role, I hope to find a means to be grounded in the truth in Haiti while still keeping a bigger picture. I also hope to be able to focus more on the need to build leadership both within the NGO community and within Haiti.