In Haiti: first, find the women who can find diapers

The women who can find diapers are the most important people in a disaster response.  That’s the way it always works.   Finding these women and empowering them in creative ways is critical right now in Haiti.  The biggest challenge is the same that accompanies every major disaster: connecting the resources that are pouring into the country with the people most in need.  As we are seeing increasingly there and as has always been true in disaster responses, this is enormously difficult to do. The reason is the lack of local capacity to channel the resources through.  Here’s where we pick up on the ladies and the diapers.

To the savvy manager of an aid agency, you look for the women who have figured out what the needs of the most people are and have used their wits to meet them.  That’s the person you want to work with to set your priorities and develop the best method of delivery of resources.   This is what happened in Bosnia and Croatia when I was running a trauma response program during and after the war there.   In town after town where the disaster spread, I’d see women looking everywhere for water, food, diapers.  The woman who was the most resourceful in finding these the quickest became the “go to” person.

Reports of mass confusion and increasing levels of threat are mounting as frustration turns to desperation from the inevitable inefficiencies of a disaster response.   The chief bottleneck happens at the final point of distribution.  The current model of crisis response is like a factory conveyor belt.  Deliver material and dump it at the end.  We are good at sending material down the conveyor belt.  We are not good at distributing the material at the end of the belt.  There is another way.

The women who use their wits to find the diapers, food and water need to be empowered to organize clusters of families into Action Teams. These Action Teams consult together about what the needs of the cluster are and what resources are needed to meet them.  They prioritize actions that they can take themselves without waiting for understaffed aid agencies.  These Action Teams can be organized into a Unity Council in a village to coordinate the delivery of services and to interact as a united and coordinated voice with aid deliverers.  By itself, this would greatly increase the sense of empowerment of the people most in need.  It would decrease social tension born from chaos and desperation.  It would undercut lawlessness and violence.  It affords the people the chance to become partners in their own recovery, builders of their own hope and role models of active and creative resilience instead of merely passive victims who receive aid.

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  1. Margo says:

    This is excellent; building local capacity is empowering as well as sustainable. Many aid programs send in their own people, do the work without the benefit of knowing the local “landscape” with results that are less than stellar, and when they leave, everything falls apart. I especially like the paradigm shift of developing the strengths these people possess and seeing them as role models of resilience instead of victims.

  2. Erdenechimeg says:

    Yes, indeed it is the most needed approach!

  3. Scott says:

    I love the metahpor! I love the voice of experience. One thing that prevents the intended solutions to reach the people in need is distribution methodology. If we continue to rely on our own people while ignoring local expertise we will fall short of the mark.

  4. Joan says:

    Diapers, water, basics. I’m sure those things are still needed, and local people with capacity are doing their best with limited resources. There’s the part of me that wants to run down there, and the more realistic part of me that knows any response has to be part of a larger, more coordinated effort. I wouldn’t know where to send the diapers.

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