Last week The Times reported on a 2011 internal investigation conducted by Oxfam into the behavior of some of its team in Haiti.
The group lived in a guest house rented by Oxfam that they called the ‘pink apartments’ — they called it ‘the whorehouse’,” said a source who says he was shown phone footage by one of the residents of the guesthouse. They were throwing big parties with prostitutes. These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was a like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. At one party there were at least five girls and two of them had Oxfam white T-shirts on. These men used to talk about holding ‘young meat barbecues’.”
Roland van Hauwermeiren, who was Oxfam’s country director in Haiti in 2011 and admitted to hiring prostitutes in Haiti, had also been accused of hiring sex workers in Chad in 2006 – an allegation known to his superiors at Oxfam prior to him being sent to Haiti. Following the disclosures in 2011, Hauwermeiren was allowed to resign from his post in Haiti in exchange for cooperating with the investigation. Following the 2011 investigation Oxfam set up a whistleblower line and Safeguarding Team to try and rein in abuses. There was some reporting to officials in the U.K. about the investigation and the actions taken internally at the time. However, until The Times published its piece last week, there had been no full public disclosure about the abuses in Haiti.
Since the story first broke, more information has come to light about other staff at Oxfam engaging in sexual harassment, including demanding sex in exchange for aid. Helen Evans wrote to Oxfam’s director in 2014 that the information she was gathering as head of Oxfam’s Safeguarding initiative, “increasingly points to a culture of sexual abuse within some Oxfam offices.” She raised these concerns to the UK Charity Commission as well. Little was done. She left the organization in 2015.
As many have also been noting, there is nothing unique to Oxfam about sexual abuse. In Haiti, there have been a number of sexual abuse incidents involving UN Peacekeepers and other non-governmental organizations. Globally, aid workers and peacekeepers have come into the spotlight from time to time because of sexual abuse. According to an ABC report:
Andrew MacLeod, former chief of operations of the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre and Red Cross aid worker, said the Oxfam scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. “It’s a global problem across all charities, including the United Nations”….The UN said last year there were 145 cases of sexual exploitation involving 311 victims reported within peacekeeping in 2016 alone.
Obviously, the time for treating these incidents as isolated is long passed. Which is to say, we must look beyond Oxfam to the broader pattern of abuse. In doing so one might hope this becomes a pivotal moment where we begin to ask critical questions about the nature of aid work itself, and the differentials in power between agencies and their employees, and the people they are supposed to be serving.
Such an assessment must be far-reaching. Aid organizations control significant resources and can leverage them in ways that impact policy and dramatically impact lives in the countries where they work. We need to ask about the ways aid agencies disempower local stakeholders in general – through setting up infrastructure independent of local governance, bypassing official channels in the organization and delivery of services, bringing in people from outside the country to run projects rather than hire more locally and so on. These institutional choices can reproduce modes of privilege, creating the environment in which abuse takes place. In short, it is the responsibility of all of us who work in the delivery of international assistance to commit to being more responsive to the communities we serve. Oxfam will navigate the current situation however they choose. For the rest of us, we should be thinking less about how we are different than Oxfam, and more about the fundamental ways we may be the same.
And then change.
Last week, I visited Haiti for the first time. Since Haiti Reborn, the Quixote Center’s program is related largely to reforestation and agroecology, I knew I would hear about and visit trees and gardens. What I knew best was that there would be a thriving forest, where once there had been barren land – and I hiked up the mountain that houses that verdant space on the third day of my visit.
To my surprise, however, I also spent nearly the entire time talking about waste. No, not the kind where a program went over budget or funds were misused. I mean the kind of waste that we all produce or leave behind in a regular day. In Haiti, in contrast with the United States, municipal and private waste removal is practically nonexistent in most areas. What this means is that the people of Haiti are confronted with the reality of disposing of their waste with little institutional support.
My first meeting with a partner was with Marcel Garçon, a leader in the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne and a licensed agronomist who manages Grepen Center. While he talked a bit about his work in agronomy, his concern last week was with Styrofoam. I had just eaten a meal out of a Styrofoam container the evening before, so I had seen that it was readily available. He explained that the problem is these containers usually end up tossed into ditches and eventually wash into waterways, where they are carried to larger bodies of water, destined for the Caribbean coast. He had decided that the La Chandeleur parish festival last week would reduce this sort of waste by serving food on metal plates rather than Styrofoam – a culture shift he wanted to implement in his community for the common good.
When I visited the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center – commonly called Grepen Center – later that day, I met two technicians who were gathering brown and green plant waste as stock for the compost piles. They use both open composting and two different kinds of worm composting to manage plant waste, combined with either animal or kitchen waste.
At the satellite agricultural center in Boukan Richard, the staff showcased a mat made with the strong fiber of banana leaves.
Fr. Charles, administrator of the Grepen Center, explained that he wanted to purchase equipment to make jellies or juices from the mangos during harvest time, starting this May. This region, well known for its abundant mango production, often ends up seeing ripe mangos rot on the ground. He pointed out that this is not just lost opportunity, but also attracts mosquitoes, which spread disease.
Sister Pat Dillon, RJM, spoke with excitement of an experimental corn crop yield doubling when urine was added to the soil, due to the additional nitrogen in the waste. She is looking for a way to separate out liquid waste to increase yields on a larger scale.
In Port-au-Prince, Daniel Tillias, executive director of Pax Christi Haiti and founder of Sakala Center, spoke too of waste. Situated in Cité Soleil, a neighborhood known for the massive canals literally overflowing with the waste of the capital city, Sakala is a community center for youth, designed to showcase the real possibilities of creating a garden amidst the rubble of abandoned factories that once filled this landscape.
In reflecting on Haiti Reborn. I’ve wondered what rebirth really means. In a material sense, perhaps it really just means figuring out how to find and nourish new life from that which seems to have become obsolete. If that is the case, my encounters with the people I met in Haiti suggest that they have a compelling commitment to rebirth as an ongoing process.
This year marks the Quixote Center’s 19th year of partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center. We continue to learn from and be inspired by the creativity of our partners. We invite you to walk with us on this journey of rebirth.
— John Marchese
Part IX of a series on TPS
This will be the last post of the series
Historically, immigration reform has been a widely debated issue that typically falls on party lines. The debate regarding Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is no different, as we saw the government shutdown over the weekend when Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a solution to TPS or DACA. A bipartisan solution is needed soon to provide peace and certainty to the 437,000 TPS recipients living legally in the United States.
The Quixote Center strongly condemns the Trump Administration’s ruthless and heartless stance on immigration. Instead, we advocate for legislation that provides security, equality, and dignity to all persons. We believe this is done through providing those who were forced to flee their homes due to ongoing conflict, natural disasters or other extreme circumstances with a pathway to permanent residency. Below we provide an overview to the five proposed TPS reform Acts in the House and Senate.
Introduced in the Senate: 11/16/2017
Under the SECURE Act, proposed by Senate Democrats Ben Cardin (MD), Chris Van Hollen (MD), and Diane Feinstein (CA), TPS recipients would be allowed to apply for legal permanent residency (LPR). The SECURE Act would apply to all TPS recipients who qualified for the most recent TPS designation, and have been continuously physically present in the United States for the last three years. Applicants must pass a background check when applying for permanent residency.
Introduced in the House: 11/14/2017
Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary: 11/14/2017
Referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security: 12/13/2017
The ASPIRE Act, proposed by House Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY), in the House, would create a new “protected status” for TPS holders. The new “protected status” would last for six years, and recipients would be able to renew it for an additional six years. TPS recipients who are able to make a case of “extreme hardship” can apply for legal permanent residency. To qualify for the ASPIRE Act applicants must be a TPS holder on 1/1/2017 and be physically present in the US for five years prior to the enactment of the bill. If TPS holders as of 1/1/2017 don’t qualify for the new “protected status”, they can apply for legal permanent residency if they meet the guidelines.
Introduced to the House: 11/03/2017
Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary: 11/03/2017
Referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security: 11/21/2017
House Representative Nydia Velazque (D-NY) introduced the American Promise Act of 2017, which would allow all TPS holders to apply for lawful permanent residency within three years of the bill’s passing if they meet all LPR requirements. Similar to the other proposed bills, applicants must hold TPS before 10/1/2017, and have been physically present in the US for three years since the effective date of the bill. Extreme hardship waivers would be available for those whom do not meet the physical presence requirement.
Introduced in House: 10/31/2017
Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary: 10/31/2017
Referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security: 11/17/2017
Under the ESPERER Act, proposed by Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), TPS recipients from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Haiti would be granted legal permanent resident status if they arrived in the US and began receiving TPS before 1/13/2011.
Introduced in House: 05/23/2017
Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary: 05/23/2017
Referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security: 06/23/2017
The TPS Reform Act of 2017, introduced by House Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), shifts the authority to designate the United State’s participation in TPS from the Executive to Congress, and stipulates that strict and clear limitations for TPS designation would be set forth in order to ensure that it remains ‘temporary’, and is no longer used as a ‘de facto amnesty’ program.
The Quixote Center believes that the SECURE Act and the ASPIRE Act provide the best permanent solution to TPS and treat all TPS recipients equally and justly through providing them with a pathway to LPR. Please call your legislators to ask them to support these bills because they provide the most hope for a secure future for over 437,000 individuals.