In 2000-2001 I worked for the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a spectacular Haitian nonprofit organization committed to the democratic empowerment and self-determination of the Haitian people. I continue to admire Lambi’s professional staff and the work they do as the best model of grassroots development I know.
I’ll admit that in the wake of the earthquake I’ve hesitated to name Lambi when people have asked "what can we do?" On their own website, Lambi declares, "we are not first responders. We are second responders." They invite donations–as I have as well–to Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross, and Partners in Health.
(I’ve also recommended not just donations but pledges to Episcopal Relief and Development, the designated relief agency for the Episcopal Church in Haiti which currently serves more than twenty-three thousand people in refugee camps, according to a letter to ER&D from Msgr. Jean Raché Duracin, Episcopal Bishop of Haiti.)
But Lambi’s work continues to be vitally important. It’s not just that they "will be there after the relief service providers have departed." It’s that Lambi’s Haiti staff are already busy organizing that "second response," as they report on their Facebook page.
It’s important to know that Lambi (the name is the Kreyol word for the conch shell used centuries ago to signal slaves and marrons to the struggle for liberty) is a Haitian organization, coordinated from a small office in Port-au-Prince (which still stands, mesi Bondye!). Their professional staff–who share multiple degrees and decades of experience in development–spend their time in peasant communities in the countryside, organizing democratically collectives that identify their own needs, administer received development funds, and are accountable to their communities as well as to Lambi. Most Lambi projects are directly funded "infrastructure"–peanut and grain milling machines, motorized tillers, avocado seedlings in deforested areas–that enable hard-hit agricultural communities to regain control, quite literally, of the fruits of their labor.
I remember being overwhelmed by the statistics I typed up for a 2001 annual report: some five hundred thousand Haitians had benefited directly from Lambi projects over less than a decade. Almost all the communities involved in Lambi projects had achieved economic self-sufficiency (the breathtakingly ambitious measure of success for a Lambi project in impoverished Haiti) within eighteen months. (Click here for a GoogleEarth map of Lambi’s projects across Haiti.)
Compare that to the dismal record of any U.S.-organized "development" fund, or the predatory record of different "mission" groups, or the economic strangulation policies of the World Bank (to which Haiti still owes $38 million in unforgiven debt) or International Monetary Fund (now preparing to lend $100 million to Haiti).
Most important is the news Lambi has posted on their Facebook page: Lambi staff are already communicating with local organizations in rural communities to determine how best to support thousands of displaced Haitians who flee Port-au-Prince daily for the countryside.
Lambi’s "second responders" are now the first responders some communities will ever see. Explore their website and consider a pledge!
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