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Moving Beyond Handouts in Haiti

Why is it that the best stuff happens after the camera stops rolling? It happened on several occasions in Haiti, always right around the time Mariana and I shut the car doors on all of the neatly packed-away video equipment.

The answer is obvious: people are more comfortable and chatty when they’re not hooked up to a mic and there’s no camera in their face. But sometimes, on the other end of the camera, you really wish the opposite were true.

One such time happened when we spoke to the infamous sea cucumber entrepreneur of Haiti, Earnest Charles. Well, perhaps not infamous, but well known by PDT staff, many Haitians in Port-au-Prince and unknowingly by millions of Chinese, who sprinkle their soup with the slimy sea creature harvested and exported by Earnest’s company Sonac-Agricole.

“PDT is the most important NGO working in Haiti,” Earnest said as we were both putting away her cameras. Both of us turned toward him, stunned, with the same thought in our minds: Why hadn’t you said this in the interview we just finished?

Earnest went on: The reason why PDT is the most important NGO is because it helps Haitians help themselves. It’s not like the many NGOs operating in Haiti who give out free handouts.

Handouts – clothing, shoes, sunglasses – that Mariana and I saw bursting from every nook and cranny in Port-au-Prince.

For Sonac-Agricole, PDT’s support acts like a certificate of good standing. By listing Earnest’s company on PDT’s verified online supplier director, PDT communicates to buyers that Sonac-Agricole exists and is registered with the proper government entities. This seems so basic, but has real implications for businesses and helps streamline the process of doing business. Now when interested buyers from Shanghai or Hong Kong call Earnest to inquire about his sea cucumber supply, they don’t have to first wonder whether his business is legit. This is particularly important in Haiti, a place where most news out of the country is negative and people assume the worst.

To paraphrase Earnest’s words: maybe they think about a business in Haiti and think, ‘how do I know it is not some guy sitting under a palm tree on the beach?’ Instead of asking Earnest the basics, buyers take him seriously and delve right into questions of pricing and logistics.

PDT has also helped interested buyers contact Earnest, some of whom were looking for new seas to import from but didn’t think of Haiti as a possibility.

PDT is not only about connecting buyers and suppliers, but forging trustworthy partnerships that last. Creating something durable that survives after most NGOs – including PDT – leave Haiti is the only way to ensure stability for the country in the future.

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