Minnesotans working in Haiti report red tape, resolveby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesotans involved in the ongoing reconstruction work in Haiti praise the people there for their personal strength and resolve. Even so, they report bureaucratic red tape and corruption are slowing recovery.
Haiti's rebuilding effort might be proceeding faster if every aid group had a Patty Nelson. The 72-year-old retired surgery nurse from Aitkin in east-central Minnesota has made dozens of trips to Haiti over the past two decades, and several in the past year since the earthquake.
Nelson is the coordinator for Project Haiti, a Minnesota-based nonprofit. The organization schedules teams of surgeons and nurses to make regular visits to a hospital it helped build in the Haitian city of Pignon, about 80 miles north of Port-au-Prince.
Nelson said that right after the earthquake, Project Haiti sent a large shipment of expensive donated surgery gear to the country that had to be cleared by Haiti's customs officials at the capital city. Nelson said the customs agent said it would cost over $5,000 to get the supplies in.
"I don't have that kind of money," Nelson said.
Nelson doesn't want the specifics of what happened public, for fear of angering Haitian officials and hampering the work of aid agencies. To sum it up, she struck a deal with the customs agent.
"I said, 'Come on let's go sit down underneath this tree and let's talk about it," she said.
The donated equipment made it to its destination.
That's not the case for a school and a residence for women that's been sponsored by Annunciation Church in south Minneapolis for nearly a decade.
Jimmy Dunn, the church's youth minister said the school survived the earthquake, but the home for women was heavily damaged. Dunn said soon after the quake a German group donated supplies to help rebuild the residence.
"Because of the government's interference, most of that aid or equipment is still sitting on the docks," Dunn said. "So the aid they've promised or help hasn't materialized even one year later."
On a more hopeful note, the school is open and has even taken on students from a nearby school that was destroyed.
"Since our facility is standing they've now been attending school at our location," he said. "Primarily we've switched to part of a, 'let's try continue education,' primarily being that's the key to breaking the circle of poverty."
The pace of recovery in Haiti was also slowed at first by chaos, including some turf wars among aid groups.
Sue Klappa, a physical therapist and a professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul said that's diminished, and there's much more cooperation. Klappa has made several trips to Haiti after the earthquake.
Klappa said the resilience of the Haitians is inspiring. She said a former patient who lost a leg in the earthquake has taken on a leadership role.
"He's such an infectious, contagious guy that he was hired to be a prosthetic technician and a rehab technician," Klappa said. "He's also a peer mentor to folks who've had amputations and he just has this contagious spirit that lets folks know, 'it's going to be OK.'"
Klappa said she thinks Americans want to see all this infrastructure changed and just become beautiful immediately because we have our standards of judging things. But she said what we fail to see is the "human spirit within the Haitian people has not given up."
Sue Klappa heads back to Haiti this spring.
Annunciation Church youth Minister Jimmy Dunn said the south Minneapolis parish has sent at least $100,000 this past year to the school and residence for women they sponsor, and their support continues.
Project Haiti coordinator and retired surgery nurse Patty Nelson said she and other medical personnel are headed back to Haiti in March.
They are among the hundreds of Minnesotans working with Haitians to help the hemisphere's poorest nation recover from the earthquake one year ago.
- All Things Considered, 01/12/2011, 5:16 p.m.