In Haiti, Education and First Impressions Pose Obstacles to Reconstruction

Haiti relief effort were the focus of a lively panel discussion Tuesday (Sept. 28) at the Business Civic Leadership Council’s 2010 Global Corporate Citizenship Conference in Washington.

Robert Goodwin of Executives Without Borders and Michael Webster of Dow Chemicals both explained that education is vital to recovery efforts in Haiti. The two weren’t speaking of education only in terms of building schools and implementing lesson plans.

“Those struggling in Haiti sometimes don’t really understand what clean water is. They see that it is clear and they drink it, but they don’t realize that what’s in there could kill them,” Goodwin said.

There was a need to teach people about contamination and bacteria, he added. Webster said that this example points to a larger issue.

“The amount of help and aid heading to Haiti is great, but people need to know what to do with the help and the aid,” Webster said.

Webster then told a story about how most plastic bottles in the country contain a symbol for disposal instead of the recycling symbol that is on bottles in the United States: “Once again, it’s just a matter of educating and teaching, if they don’t know what to do and how to do it, aid simply doesn’t go that far.”

Panelists had some advice for aid workers and business people traveling to Haiti, or considering traveling there.

“Getting past the first impression is the biggest obstacle. Investors should not be discouraged by what they see, when they get off the plane in Port-au-Prince,” Webster said, adding: “I think there’s an education angle there: We need to educate potential investors and aid providers so they get past the first impressions over there. If we can get people past that, we will have success.”

About the author