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Panel Discusses Sustainability In Haiti

President Bill Clinton meets Dr. Megan Coffee in Haiti

Experts are in Durham today and tomorrow, attending a conference on Haiti. Their goal is to assess and improve aid efforts to the country following the devastating earthquake there three years ago.

It's a collaboration between Duke University and North Carolina Central University called, “Humanitarianism in Haiti: Visions and Practice."

Marie St. Cyr, a Haitian native and the director of the Lambi Fund, is one of the speakers at the conference. She told Host Frank Stasio on The State of Things that the urban areas of Haiti are struggling in particular because the majority of foreign aid is going to the cities.

“Not only is it concentrated in urban areas, but it’s concentrated within institutions and entities that do not translate the aid into the population directly," she said. "So I think part of what we saw this morning at our conference is how aid has not worked in the expectation that we had in Haiti post-earthquake, and how we are struggling as a nation in assuring that the resources go to the people for whom they are intended.”

Laurent Dubois, a professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University and co-director of the Haiti Lab, seconded St. Cyr, explaining that “There are a huge amount of problems of transparency in the way that NGO and aid money is spent.”

St. Cyr also spoke about the lack of agency the Haitian people feel in regards to the uses of foreign aid.

“They find themselves lacking in voice, they find themselves not being able to communicate and they find themselves being treated as secondary citizens," she said. "And I think that is a clear issue of policy and politics."

Megan Coffee is an infectious disease doctor who has been working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti since a few weeks after the earthquake hit. She explained that the American doctors working with the Haitians encountered many differences in their standard practices, and the two groups had to learn how to merge their two worlds. Coffee explained that in the U.S. doctors are taught to consider legal responsibilities, and in Haiti that isn’t necessarily the focus of their work.

"Instead, I have a limited amount of time, a limited number of resources and a limited amount of arms, as they say in Creole. So, I’ve got to do something that will really give me bang for the buck.”

The conference aims to put Haiti back in the spotlight, and to educate organizations and individuals about the reality of the situation in the still struggling country.

Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.