Haiti needs local block laying contractors, not more volunteers
I read an urgent plea from an orphanage building organization today. It seems that they had plenty of volunteer experts to go down to Haiti and pour the concrete foundation, but the work is now at a halt because they don’t have any volunteer block masons on the list.
Here is the plea: “Our greatest need is for block layers–people with experience laying blocks. Until volunteers sign up to head to Haiti and lay blocks, the project will stay still”.
Here is an orphanage planned to support 54 children just laying still, with only a slab of concrete as it waits for volunteers. We can’t blame the NGO heading up this project for the problem – their business model is built upon volunteerism and good works. Without expert volunteers they must wait to finish their work.
Experts are recruited from the US, Canada, Britain or wherever to manage the work of local Haitian helpers. This same development model props-up countries like Haiti, Honduras and many others around the world. But does “expert volunteers” create economic sustainability? Or does a model that uses local Haitian contractors grow economic security for the region?
The sad truth is that there are many Haitian “helpers” who are missing a paycheck as everyone waits for foreign volunteer brick layers to be rounded-up and sent to Haiti.
The key to Haiti’s eventual sustainability actually rests on changing the paradigm that suggests that Haitians are just “helpers”, not expert contractors. In order for the poor to rise to the middle class, organizations must start contracting with Haitian experts and not just rely on volunteers to do the work of local tradesmen. There are many skilled mason in Haiti. There are several organizations providing enhanced masonry training. Why are we not contracting with the locals to lay the blocks?
Block laying contractors, cement masons, plastering contractors, site workers and others could be local business resources if the supply chain was working properly. Sadly, the current business model is based upon using foreign volunteers to do the trades work. This practice sucks economic strength and opportunity away from the people who need it most.
Working supply chains (where these “expert volunteers” make their regular income) provide contracting opportunities to local professionals, not volunteer trips to skilled workers from other countries. The current development model in Haiti short-circuits economic opportunity in the name of a humanitarian effort.
The opportunity for Haitians to build economic strength rests in the hands of those who are building things using donor-money. We suggest a change in the standard expert-volunteer model. Let’s put the resources toward teaching contract negotiations, trades-skill enhancements and business management skills for the locals. Let’s fund access to good tools and then back up our efforts with a “hire local” commitment. Let’s contract with local experts to perform the trades and not wait until a volunteer can be rounded up that can lay blocks.
We must teach people how to fish, support them with good fishing poles and then stay out of their fishing holes. If we do this they will begin to feed themselves and build their own communities. But we must change our thinking by a few degrees in order to make this change possible. What are your thoughts on expert volunteers?