Haiti: Benefit of short-term American “mission trips” providing labor

While in Florida in February, I flew to Haiti for five days. I went with Partners Worldwide to consult with Haitian businesses to help them grow. With 80% unemployment, additional jobs are critical.

I hoped some of my experiences would be of help to these struggling entrepreneurs. Daniel, a Haitian with a BS and MBA from the US, was the national running the program. He also has some business experience. It was good to see someone of his caliber and experience, go back to his country to help. I provided advice to him and some local businesses. Also, he presented a need for a conference and a small loan to a business which we provided funds for.

One of my purposes for going to Haiti was also to check on the return on investment for Americans providing labor in Haiti. Local labor costs $3 to $10 per day, even for skilled labor. I met various American groups there to provide their labor. The cost for them to come and stay was usually $1500 for two weeks–yielding maybe 10 total days of work.

The $1500 spent provided on average only $30 to $100 of labor benefits in terms of the local labor rates. It also took away local employment where 80% are unemployed. Ver Beek cites one group that spent $30,000 in travel to build one $2,000 house.

In many developing countries, one could find the same general wage scale and high unemployment. To call this an effective mission trip, even with some encouragement and evangelism thrown in, is very questionable. Alternatively, one could provide the money for 6 to 12 months of employment for a local Christian, who could work and do evangelism far in excess of what an American can do in two weeks.

While in Haiti, Icame across reports that some local medical people had left the country because they could not compete with “free”. Now there was an immediate and maybe longer term need for medical help for some very poor people. However, the people who could afford some help were using the free help. Therefore, the Haitian medical personnel could not compete with free.

I met one woman with an organization that was helping local medical people better perform their work. The best help to provide is what will endure after you return home. When medical people come, take care of half the waiting patients, and then go home, you can imagine the pain. They did some good, but only while they were there.

In many cases, the level of medical help available in the US is not always the best solution. It may be better to teach locals basic medical care for a large number than specialized care for a few. Steve Saint in The Great Omission discusses a rudimentary manual drill to repair teeth in a jungle setting. The native only had a few hours training but did very well.

Free food from overseas can also cause great damage to local growers. they also cannot compete with “free”. I had read stories of this occurring in Haiti and many other countries. One organization collects grain from growers in the US, sells it in the US and uses the proceeds to guy grain in a local troubled country. Their website is foodresourcebank.org. This also saves the cost of shipping, which can be considerable.

Print Friendly

Comments

  1. Paul Lewis says:

    John. . . This is a side of the news from Haiti we don

  2. Daniel Jean- Louis says:

    Hi John,

    I was delighted to have you in Haiti. I had a great time getting to know you and your vision for local leadership ownership.

    We had the conference yesterday and God blessed us tremedoulsy. We had over 100 businesses and 50 NGOs coming together. They raised a lot of questions on local procurements, issues and challenges that need to be overcome.

    I would like to have you come back to Haiti and continue with us. Please say hi to your friend.

    DJL

  3. Gilles Gravelle says:

    Good example in plain view of the weak use of Western funds in the social and religious sectors. Western people often do short term work at higher cost for their own benefit (meaningful existance) than for helping local people. The benefit to local people is, of course, what ever material improvements are made in the process. How can we re-frame Western people’s involvement for a more impacting use of their funds and in a way that helps the givers still experience richness and that satisfying feeling through their involvement?

    Gilles