Sunday, May 23, 2010


I am back in Kabul - happily unemployed. While I'm tinkering with my CV my immediate goal is to catch up on my studies, reconnect with friends, and enjoy some freedom. It is wonderful to be able to make my own security decisions and, where and when I judge safe, walk amongst the real people.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Photos of Port-au-Prince. Photos outside town still to come.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Camp Charlie

This is where I lived for all but the first few weeks of my time in Haïti.

I'll try to upload some more important pictures of Haïti soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Farewell to Haiti

I left Haiti last week and had a busy and fun week in Ottawa, mostly with my Dad.

Haiti was a mostly wonderful experience for me. None of my previous three jobs (which were in Afghanistan) gave me as much sense of fulfillment and reward. This job was much harder but much much more worthwhile.

I discovered a lovely country that, with the world's support, might be about to pick itself up. However, roughly a million and a half people remain under tents and tarpaulins as the rains get stronger and stronger and the threats of flooding and of diseases like diphtheria continue.

I gained excellent experience in the Information Management section of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA). (I was embedded there by CANADEM, a Canadian agency.) OCHA is central to the cluster approach, in which NGOs and other humanitarian actors cooperate in twelve 'clusters' (such as 'Shelter', 'Camp Coordination Camp Management', or 'Water, Sanitation and Hygiene') which have lead agencies. The cluster approach has the benefit of coordinating actors doing similar tasks but can also be viewed as introducing a 'silo' mentality.

Mainly I was making maps but I also worked on the Stable Site Identifier system that gave unique codes to the more than 1,300 spontaneous camps that sprung up in the days and weeks after the earthquake. I also worked on the OCHA 'Who Does What Where When' (4W) system that is meant to show which actors (who) do what (which cluster's activities) where (geographic communes) when (by month). Perhaps my passion was the clarification and propagation of the existing administrative boundary (Place Code or P-Code) identification system which helps actors integrate and compare their geographically based data.

This was my first humanitarian emergency (except the Tsunami, where I showed up two years after the fact) and it was an eye-opener. I have never seen so many different organizations. There were over 900 registered with OCHA I saw some fascinating names and titles, the vast majority of which are doing great work.

My only regret about my work in Haiti was that I did not see enough of the country and meet enough of the people. What I did discover reminded me of my wonderful experiences in Liberia.

It is natural for me to make comparisons with other experiences I've had. Despite some corruption (and irresponsible tardiness in the allocation of land for temporary shelter) I would rate our host government higher than that of Afghanistan (though the Afghan government has the world's greatest challenges) and much higher than the government of Sri Lanka.

I commend all the foreign militaries working in Haiti. Some of them working in Afghanistan follow an agenda which is at odds with humanitarian work because of a mixture of poor communication and divergent motives. The same countries' militaries are doing a wonderful job in Haiti. Of course Haiti has its own strategic importance but the militaries are cooperative and helpful. (The only problems I perceived were occasional duplications of efforts in the information gathering field.)

My biggest reward was meeting and or working with many people who I admire very much. I hope I can work with them again. I would also like to work more closely with many of the people whose work I saw and admired in various cluster meetings, even though we may not have spoken.

[To my well-meaning friends who have made remarks about 'heroism'. I'm never comfortable about this because it's totally inapplicable but I need to remark on it now because the Haiti earthquake response had genuine heroes in the search and rescue phase (before I arrived). Firefighters and other rescue specialists from all over the world were risking aftershocks and spontaneous collapses to pull survivors from the rubble. They were working with little or no sleep for days on end and will not be forgotten. In my case the work was exhausting but the rewards far far outweighed the sacrifices.]

I'm anxious to return to Kabul but, on the whole, Haiti was a wonderful experience which I think taught me a bit about how to give more back.