International engagement

Problem-solving steps for ONE world from learning in Haiti.

To develop our own Foundation-goals and -objectives we had to analyse the problems in Haiti. Adding possible problem-solving-path ideas was part of the process. This also resulted in two successful political initiatives in Germany's development politics – aiming at ONE world – but born in the reality of Haiti. Here are only some essential examples. (Please see more Haiti-problems and our suggestions for problem-solutions in the Peter-Hesse-Foundation homepage www.solidarity.org).

The most obvious central problems in Haiti are poverty and exploitation of Haitians (mainly by Haitians) due to political instability, selfish mentality of the small "elite"  and a miserable educational situation. There is no simple solution and certainly no remedy from "outside" alone. But it would help, if all foreign aid – private and public –  would be more transparent and better harmonized. This would be a precondition for peaceful and gentle, more effective helping interventions and would limit corruption and misuse of aid-money in Haiti.

Lack of energy is one serious problem on a national level, but also in micro-structures: The last wood- and charcoal-reserves in Haiti are being used for boiling dirty water and for cooking. Simple energy saving stoves could by now be better known since NGOs try to introduce them – but "3 stones" are still the normal traditional energy-wasting "stoves". Why? – Adults do not easily change their attitudes and habits. They have never learned to learn when they were young. 

This illustrates the key problem in Haiti (as we see it): The educational system, which is not only totally insufficient in quantity, but mainly of miserable quality. There is no learning how to think, but only memorizing. - Many Haitians have tremendous creative potential and great manual skills. With early training of the mind (not to be confused with the assembling of rather useless knowledge) and productive use of this creativity, Haiti could slowly grow out of its misery. This is my Montessori project partners, Carols ans my basic conviction, being re-enforced the more we learn in our work in Haiti. But since habits do not change easily, it makes little sense to simply implant some imported "modern" problem-solutions from "above" or from outside. To be accepted from inside and truly integrated, change must be seen to work "from below". Small scale bottom-up initiatives prove to be much more effective than most grand investments, which mostly produce corruption and misuse.

Seeing how effective small, gentle "help to help"-investments can be in Haiti and how destructive too much money can be, I was wondering, why public money (at least funds coming from my country Germany) could not, at least partly, be spent in tiny amounts for "basic" help, but only in relatively larger - often destructive - sums and projects. I was also wondering why we, Germany, did not finance projects in basic education (Pre- and Primary-school) in developing countries; but only advanced educational initiatives. The reasons became quickly clear:

  1. No micro-financing (with official development funds) because their central administration was simply too expensive.
  2. No basic education - because this was considered the respective countries' own duty - and because heads of states mostly request help for "fancy" higher education (for their children?!?). 

Both weaknesses in the German development-policy were "healed" on the basis of what we had learned in Haiti. Concerning problem No.1:
Micro-financing through micro-grants (not "micro-credit" in this case): Enabling public German micro-financing in ONE world development efforts (as it is current "good practice" in NGO-work) took 6 years to be fully and "officially" accepted by the responsible German development ministry (BMZ). Even the now famous and well recognized Micro-Credit System introduced mainly by Prof. Yunus in Bangladesh through his "Grameen-Bank", which had already started to function at that time, did not help to speed up the procedure.

I had seen in Haiti how some motivated German development-workers managed to provide valuable effective basic "trickle-up"-help through small private funds collected in their German home-communities. I also learned that "even" the not necessarily development-trained German embassy-personnel were relatively successful with small limited funds provided by their foreign-ministry in earlier years and not yet by the development-ministry in the. beginning. But "official" public development-money for projects below DM 20.000 (ca.$ 12.000) was too expensive to administer. Most grassroot-problems, however, needed far less to avoid killing the initiatives. Therefore, I decided to try at home in Germany to find an acceptable practical solution for this administrative problem. Channeling limited small public funds directly to grassroot-projects through motivated qualified hands – with no or less bureaucracy – was the obvious solution of this problem. However, this was simply "not done".

Trusting our own German field workers was simply not acceptable to the development bureaucracy. There always had to be some state-official involved far away in Germany. After four years of informal and formal rounds of discussion, the development ministry finally agreed in 1988 to finance a 2-year model-project in four countries (three in Africa, one in the Caribbean). I visited all four countries myself. The system worked very well. The system was fully accepted and used successfully in more and more (over 40) countries until two legislative Government-periods ago the development minister decided to unite various development agencies into one new big "GIZ" ("Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit"). The full concept – as it was politically accepted and worked very well for many years – can be found here.

Concerning the development-problem No. 2:

Financing basic (Early Childhood and Primary) education: To make this problem-solution become possible took only one year, although such new government-priority for ONE-world development needed a higher-level decision. Getting the federal German Parliament to vote for a new development priority, the financing of basic education, was – strangely enough – less complicated than the above procedural acceptance of financing micro-grants. - Together with a like-minded journalist and an educational specialist, we gathered 18 well-sounding names from the educational field. Most of the group of 21 met only once to formulate an appeal to the government. All twenty-one signed it. We got a Parliament-commission-hearing.

And finally, after only one year, an almost unanimous positive vote in Germany's Parliament (on Oct.30,1990) gave Germany a new additional priority for its official development-policy:

Pre- and primary-education ("Grundbildung") which is reconfirmed ever since.

This proves: Procedures, policies, political rules etc. can be changed positively but also destroyed again by ignorance and neglect (in the first case). Good sense may, however, be restored if concerned individuals and groups insist firmly. New woken-up initiatives are needed now in the spirit compassion and in accepting this slogan:

It is possible ANYWAY  - "Es ist DENNOCH möglich" .