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28 March 2013

A new version of Haiti: My week in Port au Prince with Team Tassy

Adam Freedgood (center with cinder block) with Team Tassy's founder, Ian Rosenberger, Team Tassy Executive Director, Vivien Luk, members of the Adme family, Team Tassy staff and volunteers
Up until last month I thought I knew something about the poverty in Haiti. I knew just enough to care just enough to donate just enough that I felt good about helping a place that needed helping. My few dollars ended up in the gridlocked pile of post-quake contributions to large charities who promised millions of donors and millions of Haitians that they would help Haiti rebuild. It turns out that I really didn't know Haiti very well at all. And I didn't help enough or through the right channels.

I knew just one version of Haiti -- a UN occupied, US AID supported, charity infested, Google Earth mapped, rubble filled, blue tarp roof version. The 2010 earthquake brought horrific images of Haiti to primetime. I certainly didn't know the depth and tenure of Haiti's poverty before the quake. And it turns out the world did not know how deeply persistent that poverty would be. As the months following the quake turned into years, this version of Haiti was simply reinforced and obscurity returned.

Around each anniversary of the earthquake I watched as fresh doubts about Haiti's future were churned up in the media by the wake of restless and vocal disaster donors demanding to see the impact of their donations. In Haiti, emergency tents had become permanent homes. Tropical storms claimed more lives as treeless hillsides funneled diseased water into already devastated villages. People who had worked in Haiti over the years wrote books and dissected the country's problems. People like me bought the books and caught up on the history. All of the money and food aid and interference by the U.S. in Haiti's politics over the years had not created a better Haiti after all.

Urban migration, deforestation, U.S. occupation, foreign investment, embargoes, economic collapse, cruel topography, brutal nature. The more I learned, the more I felt that there was a complexity to Haiti's poverty that was just too big to grasp. How do you help a place that has perennially suffered from too much of the wrong kind of aid?     

Last month, my perspective on Haiti changed dramatically and permanently.

Team Tassy invited me to join them on the ground in Haiti for a week. The agenda: meet with families, understand their needs, deal with immediate problems, tear down rubble, and find new resources for lasting change. I agree, piece of cake. A three hour flight from New York City transported me from the pixelated one meter resolution of a Google Map and a news broadcast to a completely