Haiti: Ongoing and Future Needs, "Crisis As Catalyst" Event at Penn

On January 12, 2010, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale devastated the island nation of Haiti, generating a global outpouring of support. One year later, as a part of the Center for Public Health Initiatives’ (CPHI) Seminar Series, a group of speakers sat down to talk about what remains to be done after the initial crisis management phase has passed. The theme of the seminar is “Crisis as Catalyst,” focusing on the ways in which crises can become a platform from which to promote change. The speakers included:

  • Carol McLaughlin, MD, MPH, and Research Director for the Center for High Impact Philanthropy
  • Amy Ross, Program Manager of Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods
  • Emily Hall, FNP, MPH, a former clinical nurse mentor for Partners In Health
  • Yve-Car Momperousse, the founder of Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia

All of the speakers at the event stressed one thing—the need for a comprehensive, long-term view of the situation. Recovery efforts should be directed towards organizations that work with the Haitian government and, most importantly, include Haitians in the process, and have demonstrated success and a commitment to their work.

Health, Livelihoods, and Education

Carol McLaughlin of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy discussed the need to look beyond the statistics, to understand the impact of the earthquake on individuals. This not only requires careful attention to the actual needs of Haitians, but also to look at models that have proven success even before the earthquake hit. Such approaches can be scaled up to meet actual demands. One such model, Community-Based Primary Care Systems, is profiled in the Health section of Haiti: How Can I Help? The model supports the Haitian public health infrastructure instead of working parallel to and consistently undermining it. It is a comprehensive model that has achieved impressive results by organizations such as Hôpital Albert Schweitzer and Partners In Health, while remaining cost-effective. Over 99% of the staff are Haitian, which allows the organization to work towards the amelioration of another critical issue—unemployment. Another model is the Graduation Model, also profiled in the Livelihoods section of Haiti: How Can I Help? Fonkoze, a leading microfinance organization, implements this model in Haiti which helps the poorest of the poor prepare to receive microloans by providing them with the training and assets they need to eventually get out of poverty. The organization has proven success in reducing poverty scores, and has made a firm commitment to helping old and new clients reestablish their livelihoods after the earthquake. Dr. McLaughlin cited two critical needs that have emerged over the past year:

  1. Education: While most of the children who were attending school before the earthquake have returned, half of the school-aged population is still absent from the classroom. The earthquake has served to highlight these poor conditions, and create an imperative to change them.
  2. Water and Sanitation: The cholera epidemic that began in October 2010 highlighted the need for improved access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation, community education, and oral rehydration therapy for those who become infected with cholera.

Dr. McLaughlin concluded that the best and more successful models for development and recovery in Haiti are those that take a long-term view of the problem, including Haitians as leaders in the development process. The eventual goal, as stated by a member of Dr. McLaughlin’s host family in Haiti, is to “end an era when decisions are made about us, far from us, without us.”


Next to speak was Amy Ross, program manager of Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), an organization that develops ecological sanitation projects in northern Haiti. After the earthquake, SOIL began to partner with Oxfam and the Haitian government to pioneer an ecological sanitation project in an emergency setting. As Ross explained, SOIL works towards two goals simultaneously—improving sanitation in rural Haiti while mitigating the problem of soil degradation that reduces agricultural outputs. SOIL does this with composting latrines, which collect human waste that can be used to enrich the soil. The latrines are a simple technology, which have the potential to be scaled up throughout Haiti. Moreover, Ross discussed the organization’s strong commitment to including Haitians in the development process by keeping its foreign employees to a minimum and hiring mostly Haitians. Finally, Ross underscored the importance of proper sanitation in light of the recent and ongoing cholera outbreak. Many toilets, she said, are not built to contain waste and prevent it from contaminating the water supply, which only exacerbates the problem.

Emergency Clinics

Emily Hall further discussed the response by Partners In Health (PIH) to the Haiti earthquake. Like SOIL, PIH had mainly been working in rural Haiti prior to the earthquake, but then moved to work in Port-au-Prince to set up emergency clinics. PIH was asked by the UN to take an interim leadership role of the general hospital in Port-au-Prince. During the period after the earthquake, PIH provided the organization and infrastructure necessary in order to allow the hospital to continue its operations. Hall described a general situation of chaos and disorder. For example, the ER and the ICU ran operations in overcrowded, overheated tents. Since the hospital had lost a good portion of its staff in the earthquake, much of PIH’s work involved providing temporary staff support until the hospital could replenish its Haitian staff. After a few months, the hospital began to see a rise in non-earthquake related injuries, marking the end of the acute earthquake care phase. In June, PIH transitioned to a Haitian team and left the hospital completely. Having moved away from clinical care, the organization’s main focus now lies in funding the hospital’s continued operations.

Future Investment and Growth

The final speaker, Yve-Car Momperousse, spoke of moving beyond the earthquake to a discussion of how to attract investment and business for future growth. As the founder of Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia (HPP), her goal is to elevate the Philadelphia Haitian community in order to empower their families in Haiti. In the wake of the earthquake, HPP raised over $20,000 online and more than $80,000 in additional fundraising through drop-off sites at the offices of local politicians. Momperousse discussed the importance of changing Haiti’s image as a calamity-ridden country. She pointed out that investors do not want to invest in a country that is consistently in a crisis. Therefore, she proposed a change in the dialogue around Haiti, putting forth the image of Haiti as a multi-faceted country. The Haitian community, she continued, needs a lobby. Over 450 NGOs currently work in Haiti, and yet only 150 give annual reports on their progress. Haitian people, she argued, need to have a voice to be able to give their input to communicate to donors about which NGOs are actually doing effective work.

Additional Presentations

Following the featured speakers, various Penn groups were invited to present on their work for Haiti. These groups included:

  • Fritz Charles, Wharton MBA student, announced that Wharton has developed a course, Disaster Response: Haiti & Beyond, and organized the From Haiti to Pakistan: A Year of Disasters conference.
  • Jeannie Cimiotti, DNS, RN, announced the Walk for Water, sponsored by Penn School of Nursing, scheduled for Sunday, March 20 at 9AM. It’s a 5k walk to simulate what people go through on a daily basis to bring water to their families. All proceeds go towards nursing schools and water filtration systems in Haiti.
  • Sharon Ravitch, PhD, of the Graduate School of Education (GSE) is partnering with the Haitian Ministry of Education in Port-au-Prince for its Educational Reconstruction Plan to create an institute for research and practice. The partnership is slated for a 5-10 year engagement in Haiti and her team will work as the advisory board.