Where Two Roads Connect

Posted by Judith Ravin
December 8, 2011
Dominican Journalists Conduct Interviews in Haiti

Some 500 meters of slippery footholds and cliff rock separate the upper Cavalier neighborhood from its lower half in the northeast quadrant of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This rupture blocks services, such as water delivery and garbage pickup, from the community living along its fringes. Aram Khachadurian, Deputy Director of a CHF International program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), points out that restoring the missing stretch of road will enable residents of Port-au-Prince to improve their livelihoods. With U.S. funding, CHF International works side by side with Haitian communities on urban reconstruction projects, such as the one in Cavalier.

When the work is complete and the two pieces of truncated road are joined, everyone anticipates increased commerce, improved connections and, they hope, a better sense of community. Hence the name of the project: KATYE, Creole for “neighborhood.” I was fortunate to visit the project with four Dominican journalists on a tour of U.S. government-funded reconstruction projects in Haiti. Our visits vividly showed us how “neighborhoods” can often stretch much further than 500 meters. Sometimes they cover entire islands.

The United States has provided US$1.15 billion for reconstruction initiatives in agriculture, infrastructure, health and security in Haiti, but in the Dominican Republic (Haiti's neighbor on the island of Hispaniola) there is little awareness of these contributions. The three-day trip to Haiti -- with the busy cameras, pens, and tape recorders of Listín Diario, HOY, El Caribe and CDN/Channel 37 television -- revealed some unexpected crossroads where the Dominican Republic and Haiti, despite their differences, have reason to meet.

Edward R. Murrow laid out a tenet of public diplomacy more than 50 years ago that still holds true today: "The real crucial link in the international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another." During this media tour, the group's discussions and interviews with reconstruction project partners deepened their understanding of the multilateral nature of the partnerships, the leadership role Haiti commands within this framework, and the emphasis on coordination among the international donor community.

Real-life beneficiaries, through an interpreter and on occasion with fluent ability in Spanish, provided first-hand testimonies of how the effort to build back Haiti touched their lives. A student in uniform strolling through Place St. Pierre in Petion-Ville recounted how, only two weeks earlier, she had been among the 651 families housed in this public space, in tents scattered along its winding paths. Another story came from a field-worker now trained in modern rice cultivation techniques that require less water for irrigation and produce a higher yield. On a visit to a demolition and rubble removal project in Morne Lazard, single mother Rose Jean Batiste explained why after the quake she gave up her solid livelihood in the Dominican Republic to return to her roots in Haiti so her son could have an education reflective of his origins. Leading a neighborhood association in Morne Lazard, Rose is now inspiring youth to take on leadership roles in the development of their community.

On day two of the tour, the group had an interview with Petion-Ville Mayor Claire Lydie Parent. Due to the availability of land for public use, Petion-Ville's profile has risen following the earthquake. The strain on resources in this administrative division and suburb of Port-au-Prince is self-evident, and demands on the Mayor's time abundant. Yet Mayor Parent had her reasons for receiving the group of four journalists from the Dominican Republic's major media outlets. Her penultimate comment to the journalists was to thank the Dominican people for standing with Haiti in its time of need. Mayor Parent's final comment, adding an emotional touch, was to cite the Creole adage Vwazinay se fanmiy: “Neighbor is family.”

Sometimes it takes a long journey to find the last three feet, but I think, through this visit, we managed to close that gap.

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