Billions promised by donors to rebuild Haiti seem very slow in coming

Past pupils of Dublin’s Mount Sackville convent in major fund raising campaign

Four thousand schools have been lost in Haiti, but the young population is booming. Photograph: AP

Four thousand schools have been lost in Haiti, but the young population is booming. Photograph: AP

Tue, Dec 17, 2013, 00:01

In Ireland, they’re increasingly invisible and referenced only as founders of some of our voluntary schools and hospitals. Yet behind the scenes and further afield religious communities like the Dublin-based Cluny Sisters are confronting the ugly face of disaster and injustice head on, and modernising their network in the process.

It will be 150 years ago next year that the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny sent two new missionary delegations from headquarters in Paris to Ireland. Srs Calixte, Timothy and Marie were charged with opening a school in Dublin.

They joined the numerous religious orders that had sprung up following Catholic Emancipation in 1829 to educate Ireland’s Catholic majority.

Mount Sackville was established immediately in Dublin and later on Ferbane in Co Offaly and St Joseph of Cluny in Killiney.

The second contingent set out on a farther flung emancipatory mission, sailing from the French port of Dieppe to Haiti, where a revolution a few years previously had culminated in the elimination of slavery and the foundation of the Republic of Haiti.

Since then a special relationship has been built up between both missions. In the early years pupils from Mount Sackville joined the order and spent their careers running schools, medical centres and churches in Haiti.


Professional networks
Nowadays Irish vocations are few and far between but contacts between alumni through professional networks, etc, have been growing. Haiti’s 2010 earthquake once again ignited the flame of Sisterly solidarity.

On January 12th, 2010, a century and a half of public service-building in Haiti came crashing down during one of the most devastating earthquakes in recorded history. By then Cluny ran one of Haiti’s four teacher-training colleges and educated around 10,000 girls annually.

Their losses were great: 10 schools, medical centres, an orphanage and the teacher training college, to name but some.

Though far away the Irish sisters were fast to respond. Before most aid workers could land, Sr Meave Guinan and her colleagues in Mount Sackville had emailed their extended past pupils’ networks requesting aid, wangled their way onto Denis O’Brien’s private jet and delivered the survival essentials: tents, medicine and money.

At that point in 2010 there was hope that the international aid mechanism would facilitate a full recovery and deliver improvements on pre-disaster living standards. There were, after all, billions of euro promised in aid and hundreds of well-intended organisations there ready to use it.

Yet it soon became clear that the billions promised weren’t coming quickly and that what was available was destined for emergency aid and transitional shelter.

It became clear that it would be near impossible to secure enough aid for appropriate permanent reconstruction.

So, dismayed by the obstacles to accessing recovery support, what began as a short-term helping hand became a long-term mission. By May 2010 the Irish-Haitian connection was well and truly re-established – this time through non-vocational past pupils and their wider professional networks.


Rise to the challenge
I was one of the many Mount Sackville graduates to receive that January 2010 email asking for help in the wake of disaster. And, after failing to secure long-term development planning consultancy for the Sisters, I decided to put together a team that could rise to the challenge.

ThinkingDevelopment was formally registered in May 2010 to help the Sisters to redesign and reconstruct their biggest Port-au-Prince primary schools complex. We wanted to help them resist the pressure to settle for hand-outs that would lock their communities into poor infrastructure in the long term.

After years of toing-and-froing to Haiti and working with the Port-au-Prince community, the plan is ready but the funding isn’t.

Money for high-density infrastructure in Haiti is hard to come by. It’s expensive to build multistorey buildings in an unregulated, underskilled, seismic and hurricane-prone place.

Yet, it remains plainly obvious that in a country that lost 4,000 schools, with a booming young population and vast slums, higher density schools are the only way to meet the demand.

Publicity doesn’t sit easily with the Sisters, but they’re moving with the times, and letting us give crowdfunding a try. Our current online campaign is perhaps the biggest of its kind and is already well under way. It runs until 6.22pm Sunday next, December 22nd. You can watch it at http://iti.ms/JyGXcH


Linda O’Halloran is the founding director of ThinkingDevelopment and a past pupil of Mount Sackville secondary school in Dublin.

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