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  • Writer's pictureReginald Turnier

The Strategic Vision of Cultural Capital Haiti

The launch of this organization represents a milestone for us and our local partners. It is the culmination of many labors of love, and an earnest call to action which we pray will not go unanswered. On behalf of all of us, I’m proud to welcome you to this inauguration of the Cultural Capital Haiti international community!

Haiti has long held the dubious distinction of hosting the world’s largest number of NGOs per capita. The catastrophic earthquake of 2010 put that machine into overdrive. But without tangible results to show, the machine eventually ran out of gas. In response to the slow death-spiral of governance and civil society post-earthquake, the NGOs have largely abandoned the country. But the Haitian people remain, and continue to suffer. In an increasingly turbulent world, and with so little progress to show for such enormous intervention and giving, where do we find the resolve to begin yet another chapter, and why should you care? Why us and why now? Countercyclical giving. It is one thing to follow the momentum of a media crisis but it’s another and more impactful thing to engage when the crowd has gone and the underlying crisis endures. Haiti suffers not only from the withdrawal of thousands of foreign aid workers, who represented a de facto tourism industry at the very least, but also a critical acceleration of its long-standing brain drain. Its budding managerial class, having developed first-world contacts, finds itself with an effective escape hatch that looks increasingly more attractive than unsupported passion, growing civil unrest, gang violence, and poverty. Applying a tourniquet to this hemorrhage of talent and competence is of critical importance. CCH is committed to identifying local standout talent with a focus on university graduates who have shown initiative in self-organization, particularly in rural areas, where they can have the greatest impact, and where the real future of Haiti is destined to play out. That is phase one. This year we’ve identified three grassroots projects in our region of southeastern Haiti which we think are worthy of your support:

Each one is spearheaded by a local Haitian leader with a unique vision and a track record of success. We have worked with these local leaders to develop realistic budgets for scaling up their projects over the course of five years of operation, as well as plans for transitioning to financial self-sufficiency down the road. Once these projects are fully funded, we have several more on deck to bring forward for public fundraising campaigns. The need is great but so is the pool of talent, just in our one small region of Haiti. Phase two is nurturing and replicating on a larger scale. Another effect of the brain drain, and of Haiti’s endemic corruption, is the arrested transmission of institutional knowledge. Political and social institutions are run by ever tightening and ageing circles competing for shrinking resources while the country gets younger and younger. They simply have no use for non-corrupt youth except for exploitative photo ops to help justify further graft. And with a generation of good-faith actors and activist who had painstakingly mapped out bureaucratic strategies through years of trial-and-error almost wiped out, through emigration or worse, fledgling organizations are left to their own devices and exposed to innumerable and crushing depredations. CCH is ready to step into this breach. To provide institutional guidance and support. To take on the burden of financial oversight, legal affairs, and contract negotiation so our partners can just concentrate on providing services. Instead of the redundancy of each of our partners having to grow enough to hire accountants and retain lawyers, we run a lean central nervous system for a growing organism of doers. This frees them from the otherwise ever-present danger of some internal bad apple making bad-faith contracts or exploiting unaccountable access to funds. Further, it allows us to get new partners up and running quickly, and to share knowledge between them, maximizing synergies. Phase three is survival. CCH is aggressively non-denominational. At the level of community and ecological action, we recognize no difference between secular humanism, Christianity, or Vodou. Yet at the heart of this appeal is faith. Faith that an overwhelming majority of people in any circumstance will choose to do good for their community given a path that is well lit and clear. Faith that some people will choose it even when the path is dark and uncertain. And faith that ultimately the path and the light are primarily comprised of resourced people who are ideally as relatable as possible. That is to say that in an environment of shattered institutions and atomized citizens, native cellular organizations with integrity will have a galvanizing effect over time. This is the opposite of a top-down shock doctrine or crisis management. This is nation building from the bottom up. Easily digestible solutions to fundamental problems executed by the populations they are meant to serve, informed and enriched by specific cultural memory, so that the served can rightly see themselves as leaders, and mutual aid societies can flourish. Obviously this takes more time than a donor-funded initiative can hope to take responsibility for. While I invite you to watch this space for updates on our near-term victories, we can never lose sight of the fact that real healing is generational. That’s why CCH will commit a sizeable portion of donations to developing alternative sources of sustainable funding. We’re currently exploring the carbon credit markets and even a domestic lottery as models, and we are working to develop relationships with those who can aid us in these endeavors. Presently, I’m writing this from a city in chaos. Police have formed a citadel around the major warehouses and are defending them with bullets and teargas from justifiably angry mobs. The heartbreak and body count is rising. Jacmel, the urban center of southeastern Haiti, has historically been and still is the most peaceful major city in the country. Sometimes referred to as the Caribbean San Francisco, it has a proud legacy of tolerance. Part of the rise in instability is a perverse result of this: as other cities succumb to gang violence, our population swells with refugees –– who bring with them, thankfully, a powerful aversion to gang activity but also advanced techniques of civil unrest, and no clear read on the tipping point when the latter gives way to the former. How could they know? Haiti has one of the youngest populations in the world. At the time of the 2010 earthquake, a full 70 percent of its population was under 25. The street gangs of Port-au-Prince, Gonaïves, and Cap-Haïtien are recruited from the self-aware poster children of that disaster, the young people who grew up “under the rubble.” They are motivated not just by desperation and boredom but by an explicit cynicism and contempt for the international aid system, and their own local governments, which functioned largely in their name but failed to secure for them even one stable school-year ever since, much less anything resembling genuine hope for the future. All this darkness presents us with a paradoxical opportunity. It’s partially the opportunity missed in 2010. After the earthquake we saw the beginnings of an organic decentralization as people fled the cities, but this movement was quickly reversed by the pull of international aid distribution, which was concentrated around Haiti's limited supply of air conditioned accommodation and swanky night life (i.e. the cities where NGO workers congregated). Now, with people fleeing the cities once again, wherever gang violence makes life increasingly unlivable, we have an opportunity to meet the people where their true roots are at –– in their ancestral countryside communities. This is a once-in-a-generation opening to shore up the traditional forms of community-building which the Haitian people naturally gravitate toward in times of crisis, to act countercyclically against the broad forces of unsustainable urbanization. It's also partially the opportunity presented by amnesia and decay, by the felled trees of past institutions lying fallow but ready to act as nurse-logs to new institutional growth, by normative cultural cohesion yearning to reassert itself. This is an opportunity to give people time to reassemble their sense of normalcy on their own terms, free from the grip of recent and even distantly past dynamics of corruption. Radical change in Haiti is now inevitable. Tipping points are upon us. But whether these radical changes are for good or ill is yet to be determined. Bluntly put, the stakes couldn’t be higher. We are committed to this fight, and we are living through it on the ground, in the trenches. It is against this backdrop that we humbly present ourselves for your charitable consideration. ––Reginald Turnier Executive Director, Cultural Capital Haiti


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