28 March 2010

So what do I do, actually? How do I contribute to the relief, the recovery, the rehabilitation and the rebuilding of Haiti? As you know, I work for Save the Children, which is one of the biggest NGOs in the world, and an important player in those post-emergency activities listed above. My official title is Emergency Team Leader, which means that I am in charge of the lap top tribe, and everything that is related to this tribe, currently some 70 international staff and over 700 national recruits. The tribe has been flown in to respond to the post-earthquake needs, as opposed to the regular development program that was underway pre-earthquake, and was managed by the Country Director and his relatively small team. This has resulted in a rather dysfunctional organisation, at present, with multiple heads – one of them being me -, but all of them pretty powerless, as the real decisions are being made in the Head Office in the US. What hasn’t helped either is that many of the tribe representatives initially were short term only, weeks rather than months. Luckily, now we get people for longer periods, which creates more stability and continuity, but in the beginning the staff turn-over was enormous. Obviously, in the long term we need to merge all the activities into one integrated program, but for the time being everything here is still totally focused on the fall-out of the earthquake – even though the attention in the rest of the world may have waned somewhat.

Right, so what do I do, then? I talk to people a lot, both inside the organisation and outside. Inside means not only the tribe in Haiti, but also Head Quarters, Regional Office, and representatives from many of the Save the Children organisations around the world, the so-called Members. All these members have their own agenda, there own slightly different focus, and thus want to see their own pet projects represented in the Haiti post-emergency program. Mmmmm. Luckily, I have a good buffer-department in HQ that filters many of the demands before they reach us in Haiti (I have to say this, because my buffer has discovered this blog, and I know she is reading it…. but really, it works very well).

I also spend a lot of time outside, in meetings within the UN cluster framework, and meetings of the Humanitarian Country Team, the heads of the seven biggest NGOs and the seven most important UN agencies. In doing so we all hope to be able to influence some of the inititives that are being taken, for instance with respect to relocation of people from the camps, or the strategy for food distribution I talked about earlier. Many of these meetings take place in what is called Logbase, the logistics hub of the UN near the Port-au-Prince airport. Quite a place! Some buildings already existed, set up by the MINUSTHA forces before the earthquake, but it has grown dramatically since, and is now stacked with porto-cabins, large meeting tents, hangers and warehouses, and make-shift offices for probably well over 2000 people. And apparently there is also a small liquor store, which I – I know it sounds incredulous – have not yet discovered.

And then there is the representation, of course – the description of which I will take off-line, for the time being.

In between all these internal, external and representational meetings I read my e-mails, and I spend time on the telephone. Given the quality of the local network, I have two telephones, hoping that at least one of them is working at any one time, and since a few weeks I have an American telephone number Blackberry – the most reliable connection, I must say. If my right leg vibrates, I have a local call, if my left leg vibrates I have received another email. To complete my communications set, I also walk around with a VHF handheld radio hanging from my belt. This is really only for internal use, calling cars and the like when we need to be picked up, and for security, but some of our staff have taken to this with gusto, and run around as full-time crisis managers, talking in their radios all the time. Toys for the boys, and for some of the girls, to be sure.

What else do I do? I keep other people from fighting (although, to be honest, I also initiate the occasional fight), I try to make our operations more efficient, more cost-effective, by trying to retain the oversight of what is a really complex set of activities, I try to make sure we have the right people in the right places, without too many gaps. And I try to make a start with this integration process that I talked about before. The earlier we prepare this organisation for the long haul that the rebuilding of Haiti is undoubtedly going to be, the better. Once that integration process is well under way, it will be time for me to leave again, I think, then I have done my job. And hopefully contributed somewhat.

next: the ghost town

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