Flexibility, reflexivity, and their importance in community-based work
by Michele Girard, 2019 Acara Fellow
Working within the international development field is synonymous with ambiguity. Variables in Haiti have been rapidly shifting as political instability has shut down roads, markets, and entire communities intermittently for the past year. With the local political situation in flux, our Acara project in partnership with Tree of Hope Haiti (TOHH) was placed on hold. Both the organization and student team’s goal was to put community safety first in the wake of increased rioting and violence in Grand-Goave, the small southweastern commune in which TOHH is based. Therefore, the anticipated trip for me and Sarah Funkhouser has been postponed indefinitely.
As the instability waned and communities began to recover from the unrest of the last six months, Sarah and I regrouped and reevaluated what could be accomplished in the project without travel to Haiti. As discouraging and disruptive as these changes might have been, it allowed Sarah and I to remain committed to our sustainability values. In the wake of heightened instability world-wide, whether from the recent COVID-19 pandemic, or political instability as in Haiti’s case, I would encourage students working on international projects to question and reflect on the purposes of their travel.
Sustainability for our project meant reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by omitting travel. If traveling is necessary for your project or research goals, be measured in the amount of people, resources, and time it requires of the community in which you are working. It is imperative that we all recognize that communities also sacrifice their time, energy, health, and safety to work with researchers.
The overall goal I articulated at the Acara Challenge last year remains unchanged: transitioning the water system to a self-funded, community-governed project. However, Sarah and I will take on a consultory role for Tree of Hope Haiti as we have chosen to continue to work on the project as a Master’s Capstone at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. This extended research project will allow us to examine case studies of other water systems and develop a potential transition plan for Tree of Hope Haiti’s water system that may involve the establishment of a community water board. Overall, we plan to submit our work to Tree of Hope Haiti by May 15th, 2020, and discuss potential next steps.