Looking forward after 5 years

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Five years ago today, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti. An estimated 220,000 were killed, over 300,000 injured, and 1.5 million found themselves without a home. On January 13, a few voices spoke up, and asked, “Why don’t we do something?” We didn’t just want to do anything, we wanted to have a lasting, locally-driven impact on issues that mattered to people in Haiti.

By late January and early February, a group of students, researchers, and a professor starting meeting to discuss what we could do to help. We had a wide range of backgrounds, a few of us were from Haiti. We were eager to help where we could, but especially where the community said we were most needed.  On February 17th, 2010, we wrote

We are determined to help and be as efficient as possible. We hope to have a lasting impact on the people we serve in Haiti by the work we do while we are there and by the training we provide to our friends on the ground in Haiti.We are still in the planning stages and are working hard to find out exactly where needs are the greatest and where we can contribute most. We are determined to not simply be development tourists. We are working hard to find culturally sensitive ways to have a lasting positive impact on the lives of the victims of the January 12 Earthquake.

Since then, we’ve researched, brainstormed, interviewed, measured, listened, and worked. Our projects have included business plan competitions, water purification, developing a large well with a water distribution system and several water stations, health and first aid education, business classes, agroforestry, vegetable gardens, and English classes. We have had more than 4,000 people benefit from our programs, with many beneficiaries participating in multiple programs at once. We sincerely appreciate every hour, every dime, every donation that has helped Sustain Haiti continue to realize its mission to measurably improve Haitian lives.

We’re ready to do more. Experience has been our invaluable teacher these past five years. We’ve learned a lot about what we’re doing right and where we need to improve. In order to work towards our vision, we’re re-evaluating and making changes.

Over the past five years, we have been fortunate enough to have dozens of volunteers from the US, Canada and beyond volunteer to help implement our programs in Haiti. Each one has done so at considerable personal expense and have invested significant time. Most have been willing to do whatever was necessary to provide their skills to do what we believed would be the best for the local community.

To strengthen our ties with local communities and to deepen the local ownership of our activities, beginning this year, all our project implementation will be handled by local staff and volunteers. This will save the organization considerable amounts of money previously spent on airfare, housing, and food for foreign volunteers. Additionally, our project implementation and design will be better informed by staff with a better understanding of the local context.

We believe that this change will allow us to better do development differently and will lead to the long-term sustainability we have always sought. We thank all our donors and volunteers for their support over the past five years. We hope to earn your support as we make this transition. While we will not be sending international volunteers to Haiti any more, we know that our former volunteers remain a deep source of support and insight. In the coming weeks, we will provide more information about how we seek to draw on the experience and insights of those who have previously worked with us.

We remain committed to serving Leogane and the surrounding communities that were forever changed five years ago. We have been humbled to work in these communities over the past five years, and we look forward to what the next five years will bring.