Two questions were discussed in the podcast that interest us greatly.
First, was donated money used effectively and efficiently to help people in Haiti?
Your opening statement for the podcast was: "One of the hardest things to do with your money is to give it away, at least to give it away effectively, in a way that actually helps people." We would like to point out a number of the benefits of our involvement in Haiti, some of which you mentioned in the podcast but which deserve repeating.
1. The community identified the need for the school; HSP did not originate the idea.
2. We met with the principal as well as teachers and parents in March 2012 to understand the community, school and current teaching practices before initiating the project to make sure we got buy-in from the community and did not build something they did not want.
3. The school was built using local labor and local materials. This has resulted in significant positive trickle-down effects throughout the community and local economy. It also gave the workers and suppliers a wage and income, not a handout.
4. We have sponsored a teacher-training program for all the teachers in the village, not just the teachers of this school. This training has received tremendous positive feedback.
5. We have supplied 425 course books to the school in reading, grammar, math, science, and Haitian Creole and also supplied 250 notebooks and pens, all of which were purchased locally. In an earlier podcast you pointed out that teachers had to copy entire lessons from books onto a chalk board and the students had to copy them down because there were no books.
6. HSP Built relationships with other non-profit, private, faith-based, and governmental organizations such as US Agency for International Development in order to facilitate our mission and leverage our efforts within the larger picture of Haitian development.
7. Regarding the efficient use of donated money, HSP is an all-volunteer organization. All volunteers traveling to Haiti paid all their own expenses.
8. An architectural firm and structural engineer their time on the project to develop blueprints and assess the foundation.
9. The individual members of the HSP board of directors have absorbed the administrative cost of running the nonprofit.
The podcast referenced how hard it is to do anything in Haiti, particularly anything good. Yes, doing good in Haiti is hard but we stayed the course, put in the effort required, overcame many hurdles and got it done. We built the school. Not many NGOs can say this. HSP now has an ongoing commitment to the school we built and the community it serves. We are coordinating with other aid groups to provide meals to the students. We will be providing additional teacher training programs and will continue our book program. In the future we will improve the infrastructure of the school and community through the building of a kitchen and sanitary latrine facilities.
The podcast asked another question that we have asked ourselves as a board: Was it worth it? There were many board meetings where we raised the same issues presented in the podcast. In the end we found ways to minimize or control those concerns and focused on the children. The answer for our group is that nothing in our individual lives has been more worthwhile than this project.
Before our involvement and as a direct result of that Planet Money story, money was donated directly to this school via the principal. This was a failure as you pointed out in the podcast. The Haitian government has not taken responsibility for the education of its people. Large NGOs working in Haiti have a reputation for inefficient, unwanted aid or building and leaving. We would ask, could the money donated to the Haiti School Project have been put to a better, more efficient use in helping the peopleof Haiti? We believe not.