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Haiti earthquake: aid money squandered?

As rebuilding moves slowly, Haitians worldwide ask what happened to the billions in aid.

As one side blames the other, the Haitian government also comes in for criticism.

Sitting in the barber’s chair at Fito’s salon, Widser Victor complained about a container of donated non-perishable foods, clothes and other materials he paid 3,000 euros to ship from Paris to a Haitian orphanage. The shipment arrived in August but is still held up at customs because the authorities have asked Victor to pay an additional $1,500 in fees to release it.

“It’s disgusting,” he said. Meanwhile, people are dying of hunger, said Fito, the barber.

People ask whether a country with little to no infrastructure can really handle the influx of the thousands of aid agencies without them creating an economic imbalance. Why was a presidential election held when so many of the millions displaced were not even in a position to vote? How long will the political stalemate last and who is running the country in the meantime?

“It’s not to disparage the Haitian culture but there is no trust,” said the younger La Roche. “The country is crooked. The government is crooked.”

With so much distrust of international donors, the diaspora and the Haitian government, people like Etienne, the missionary worker, are turning to small initiatives they can support directly. He plans to send money to a fellow missionary in Florida who will travel to Haiti for the anniversary.

After learning about the needs of an orphanage through her son’s school, Nadine Duplessy Kearns, who heads a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., sent donations to Orea, which provides for 15 orphaned and abandoned children and runs a school that feeds, clothes and provides basic health care to some 86 students.

In a letter urging friends and family to donate, she described how the organization needs $200 weekly to run the orphanage and $263 to run the school. At the close of the letter, she instructs potential donors to use her name as a keyword when contributing, telling them, “I want to track donations and send you an update/account of your support.”

Such diligence is a by-product of an erosion of trust that has made people suspicious of everyone from politicians to aid workers.

On its revamped website, Yele Haiti, the foundation founded by the musician Wyclef Jean, which accepted hundreds of thousands in emergency relief donations, provides detailed pie charts accounting for its expenditures.

Marie St. Fleur, a member of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s cabinet whose duties include coordinating the city’s efforts on Haiti, said it was understandable that people who donated “an unprecedented amount of money” before were now directing their support to grassroots organizations.

“Non-governmental organizations experienced significant donations in the name of the Haitian people,” she said. Where is that money in relation to direct services that go beyond keeping the lights on at the large organizations, she asked?

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Rose-Anne Clermont.

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