Following our amazing day of relaxation on the Indigo beach, work in Haiti continued as normal. Things seemed to start to go back to normal for a while. We were not working the 20 hour days anymore and the change was quite sudden. It seemed after Indigo, we had developed a rhythm that allowed us to perform in a manner that gave us actual normal working hours. Normal in a response setting is 10-12 hour days, which meant more time for sleep.
Sleep, in a response setting is a commodity. Something valuable I re-learned on this deployment. When I was deployed to the Gulf in 90/91, sleep was also a commodity, but for much different reasons, there was a war to be fought. I never did move off of my balcony in the office though, I was quite content in my little space and no one really seemed to mind. Many others had moved into guest houses over the course of the deployment, mainly those who were staying longer term.
Our NFI distributions continued in earnest over the following weeks. One I remember quite well was a distribution we did in Léogâne, a port town located about 30 km West of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. By this point, I had hired a local security officer to assist with distributions so that I did not have to participate in all of them. However, for this particular distribution I had one of those feelings. It was a new area for us and since I enjoyed assessing the physical locations, I decided that this would be one I should participate in fully.
Again, with security support from a military unit, we were distributing basic non-food items (NFI’s) to approximately 5000 households. So, this was a larger distribution and was to be done over a two-day period. Fortunately, we did not need the UN as a support unit, such as with the food distributions. Unfortunately, we drew the Canadian military as our security support unit. Why would I say that this is unfortunate, that is a great question.
The Canadian Military
If you know Canadians and how they can be, you would know why. Canadians are possibly the kindest, most helpful people on the planet. They feel sorry for everything and everyone…well, most of them. The military is no exception…I am pretty sure in combat they apologize to anyone they shoot!
At any rate, my task with the Canadians turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined. Their job, and only job, was to provide security support and, as I like, not seen. If I need them, I called them, the Americans and Jordanians understood this, they were quite happy with their tea and coffee. But the Canadians…nope, they had to try and get involved.
I mentioned that during distributions, all items are provided to the female head of household, males wait at a certain point for the woman to exit the area then they can help. This is how it has always been done and will always be done. But, it appeared that the good natured Canadian soldiers did not like how we, the professional distribution artists liked doing things. So, naturally as the distribution progressed, the Canadians came out of their concealed locations and began helping. They would help carry the items to the point where the men were waiting.
CIV MIL AFFAIRS
So, picture soldiers with weapons slung taking items off the women and carrying them back. When I saw this happening, I was not sure whether to laugh, cry or be angry…all the emotions came at once and immediately I started to think of our image. This was also a time when critics were saying that Canada and the US have militarized the relief effort.
Immediately, I sought out the commander of my security detail and had a discussion with him on the actions of his soldiers and the impression it has on our INGO. He informed me that they did not like seeing the older women or the handicapped women having to carry such large items. Although we had our own staff who were assisting those who required it, he did not believe that was sufficient. Again, I had to ask him to have his detail return to being our security detail and off of my distribution site. I had explained to him again the importance of maintaining a balance towards our Civilian-Military approach and that I understood his views, they had to remain neutral and allow us to do our jobs.
Eventually I think the commander received the message and reluctantly pulled his soldiers back to the sidelines as security monitors. Grateful to the commander, we were able to continue the distributions over the next couple of days without his unit interfering.
A few weeks after the major food distribution, a coalition of security folk decided it was time to create a formal “cluster”. To this day, there is no Security Cluster outlined in the Sphere Standards, but there definitely should be one. A small group from the larger NGO’s in Haiti held a meeting in a hotel in Petionville and we discussed ongoing security concerns and invited someone from the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS).
These meetings, although adhoc, started to be held each week and were really great for networking and putting all of our minds together. It was here I met a chap named Brendan, the response security advisor for World Vision. I had no idea that this encounter would frame my future.
As the time approached for my departure, after three months deployed, I was eager to get home to my family. This deployment was much easier as we were in the same time zone and communication home was much better. Although I had now been away from home for 15 of the previous 18 months, I was confident that a posting would come that would be both beneficial for myself and my family life.
At the end of March, I said goodbye to the island nation of Haiti, not thinking I would ever return, but taking fond memories with me. I had learned so much in this three months on distribution security, site security and new negotiation strategies.
Next – A New Skill Learned – Training