Issues & Analysis
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ON MEDIA: Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival

By Nick Rice for Clash, 17-07-17

Clash – DocFest 2017, Strong Island

Inspiration overload at one of the international film industry’s most important annual events…

The Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival, or Doc/Fest as it’s widely known, is a welcome highlight on the international calendar of any filmmaker or documentarian and for the vastly growing audience of compelling and crucial non-fiction films.

For six days in June, Sheffield city centre becomes a cosmopolitan heaving hub of activity that celebrates and elevates a palette of film work that is as rich as it is relevant. With swanky boutique, brand spanking multiplex and cosy old favourite cinemas across the city all involved, alongside other venues such as the Crucible Theatre, City Hall and Town Hall – plus free outdoor screens with deckchairs dotted around – the Doc/Fest requires some careful navigation. Thankfully, everything is within walking distance, so every talk, masterclass, screening, live performance, workshop, exhibition networking party or piss-up, is only a quick march away.

For one itinerary-busting week festival-goers are exposed to the latest works of internationally acclaimed veteran filmmakers and vital emerging voices that reflect the world we share. As the CEO and Festival Director Liz McIntyre succinctly puts it, “We’re reeling from seismic change as we witness events that we know will become the most pored over scenes in future documentaries. Doc/Fest 2017 is brimming with documentaries that are funny and quirky, powerful and influential, heart-stopping and heart-breaking”.

The Opening Night film of the 24th edition was the world premiere of Daisy Asquith’s Queerama, coinciding with 50 years since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, which marked the slow process of the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK. Given unlimited access to the British Film Institute’s archives, with some material dating back to 1919, Asquith has crafted an eye-opening and entertaining account of gay experiences in the last century.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of the Sun

With a soundtrack by John Grant, Alison Goldfrapp and Hercules & Love Affair the film transports us into the lives of gay men and women throughout the 20th Century. Black and white footage and testimonials from homosexuals in the 1940s and ‘50s offer a rarely seen glimpse into the intensely difficult challenges that society once imposed. The film and its playful editing (staggering given it was accomplished in months rather than years) shines a welcome light on how far society has progressed in the face of ugly prejudice. After the premiere John Grant performed several tracks used in the film and joined Asquith and the prominent creator of contemporary British queer cinema Campbell X for a lively Q&A.

The Talks & Sessions are one of the most popular elements of Doc/Fest and this year the stellar bill continued. Louis Theroux interviewed one of his heroes, Nick Broomfield – the acclaimed filmmaker who during his forty years in the industry has made films such as Biggie and Tupac, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, Kurt & Courtney and the hotly-anticipated Whitney: ‘Can I Be Me which premiered at the Doc/Fest. Broomfield and Theroux made for an infectious duo and after a riveting tour through the elder’s career one City Hall audience member shouted out the suggestion that they should collaborate, which quickly received noisy cheers of concurrence.

The redoubtable and always likeable Ian Hislop was also at City Hall in conversation with the BAFTA-winning actor and satirist Jolyon Rubinstein (The Revolution Will Be Televised, Revolting). The pair were intensely amusing bedfellows and unpicked the world of post-truth and satire, lambasting prime targets like the excruciatingly smug Piers Morgan and the sickeningly repellent Katie Hopkins in their stride whilst presenting the modern media landscape encountered by the long-time editor of Private Eye and the only panel member of Have I Got News For You who has never missed a single episode, even when requiring an urgent operation for appendicitis.

Clash – DocFest 2017, A RIVER BELOW

At the Crucible Theatre the legendary director and artist Peter Greenaway CBE, whose work stretches back to the 1960s and includes The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, gave an uncompromising speech in which he slammed the need for writers in filmmaking and called instead for a “painter’s approach” to the art. In a densely-filled hour Greenaway championed non-narrative styles of storytelling and urged for more pioneering forms of artistic approach to respond to the febrile social and political changes at hand.

One of the most enlightening talks came from the explorer, BAFTA-Award winning presenter and skilled documentarian Bruce Parry, who discussed his extraordinary career to date with journalist and presenter Katie Puckrik. The Showroom Cinema hosted a packed session and screened sneak previews of Parry’s latest project – the result of four years of work, pleasure and pain – the new feature length documentary Tawai – A Voice From The Forest (due for release in cinemas this Autumn), in which he returns to reconnect with the tribes from his amazing adventures when making the ‘Tribe’ BBC series. Returning to India, Malaysia and the Amazon and to the Penan tribe of Borneo, Parry discussed the film and how his fascinating documentary work and journeys have brought him to a fully rounded re-evaluation of his views on human nature and how humankind relates to the natural world.

The Marketplace segment of Doc/Fest offered a huge programme of initiatives and pitch opportunities for anyone either already making films or eager to do so. TV stations, Production company’s and content providers such as Channel 4 and The Guardian hosted live pitching sessions where audiences observed the entire process from a candidate’s pitch through to the final decision making and filmmaking prizes. This is another one of the numerous fantastic things about Doc/Fest – it’s such an inclusive and supportive environment. Whether you are simply a keen documentary fan, a fledgling filmmaker or a bonafide legend, there is always something to engage and inspire.

Not least the actual films. A total of 60,856 attendances were enjoyed by everyday cinema-goers and international and UK industry delegates, with a record 250 screenings at 14 screens across the city.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of Ghosts

In its first year at Doc/Fest, the Art Doc Award, which has been created to celebrate new forms of storytelling and recognises bold, innovative non-fiction films, was given to ‘City of the Sun’ by first-time filmmaker Rati Oneli (United States, Georgia, Netherlands, Qatar, 2017). The film moves seamlessly between fact and fiction and lays bare the honest realities and ups and downs of four different sets of lives in what remains of a small mining town in Georgia.

The Environmental Award was taken by A River Below (Dir: Mark Grieco, Brazil, 2017), which highlights the alliance between a renowned marine biologist and a reality TV star who are both campaigning to save Brazil’s pink river dolphin, whilst also posing questions about the ethics of activism in the modern media age.

The Tim Hetherington award, given to films and filmmakers that resonate with the late journalist Tim Hetherington’s legacy, was won by Strong Island (Dir: Yance Ford, USA). Through unflinching testimonials and stylish cinematography we bear witness to the grief endured by a family whose son was murdered on Long Island, New York, and the disinterest of the police in bringing to justice the killer of a young black male.

The Grand Jury Award went to City Of Ghosts (Dir: Matthew Heineman, USA). The film centres on the citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) and in a heart-pounding 90 minutes it exposes the unspeakable horrors of life under ISIS rule.

Festival Director Liz McIntyre mentioned that “we strive to increase the visibility and accessibility to documentary story-telling for inspiration” and Doc/Fest does that and much more in extraordinary fashion.
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An early bird price of £159 + VAT for a ‘Lightning Pass’ – giving access to all of next year’s films and events – is available HERE.

The 25th edition of Sheffield Doc/Fest will open on Thursday 7 June 2018 and close Tuesday 12 June 2018, with the Annual Awards’ Ceremony and Closing Night Film.

Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival report

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: Olympic Stadium In Montreal Turned Into Welcome Center For Refugees From U.S.

The Trump administration extended that status for just six months — and urged Haitian refugees to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.” The administration cited “Haiti’s success in recovering from the earthquake,” although Haiti continues to struggle with a number of crises, including an ongoing cholera epidemic, a nightmarish sewage problem and a catastrophic hurricane.

That helps explain why a sudden surge of refugees are leaving the U.S. As to why they’re entering Quebec, the CBC cites the large Haitian community in Montreal.

“Obviously, there is a stronger attraction to coming to Quebec for Haitians than in other provinces,” PRAIDA spokeswoman Francine Dupuis told the CBC. “They have the help of their community to get settled.”

But it’s not clear if the Haitian refugees arriving in Canada will be permitted to stay, the CBC reports. The challenge is fundamentally the same as in America: A government evaluation of just how bad life is in Haiti.

“Asylum seekers originally from Haiti who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border could be deported back to Haiti if their application is refused because Canadian authorities deem Haiti as a sufficiently safe country,” the CBC writes.

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ON HAITI: Millions Spent and Still Nowhere to Go

By: Rebecca Hersher July 30, 2017 for Pulitzer Center 

After the 2010 earthquake, NGOs dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage at the end of the Port-au-Prince city landfill, which borders the sea and is not lined with an impermeable material. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

After the 2010 earthquake, NGOs dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage at the end of the Port-au-Prince city landfill, which borders the sea and is not lined with an impermeable material. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

The rain began on Good Friday. It fell into the roofless ruins of Port-au-Prince’s Catholic cathedral. It swirled through stalls in the market downtown. In the hills above Haiti’s capital, the rain ran off the clay roof tiles of upscale homes.

No matter where the rain fell, it was all destined for the same place: the system of concrete canals that cut through the city and down to the sea.

At the edge of the city next to the shore, the rain pounded on the zinc roof of Jean Claude Derlia’s single-story cinder block home. His neighborhood, Project Drouillard, is dense with families packed into homes like his. Most people who grew up in Project Drouillard have stayed, as he has. The community is close-knit, poor and socially isolated from downtown Port-au-Prince.

It is also extremely vulnerable to flooding from the canal full of trash and raw sewage that bordered it on one side. After a rainstorm a few years ago, Derlia had been swept away by a wave of sludge and nearly died before neighbors fished him out. He was sick for weeks after it happened, but he survived.

Now, over the sound of the rain, Derlia heard people shouting, “The water is coming!” There was nothing he could do but wait and pray that the water, or the things the water carried with it, wouldn’t kill him this time.

A City Without a System

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is one of the largest cities in the world without a central sewage system. There are no sewers connecting sinks, showers and toilets to hulking wastewater treatment plants. Most of the more than 3 million people in the metro area use outhouses, and much of that waste ends up in canals, ditches and other unsanitary dumping grounds where it can contaminate drinking water and spread disease.

It’s a problem that has attracted international donors, some of whom have acted to do what the Haitian government cannot afford to: build a sewage treatment system. Since 2010, international groups have spent millions of dollars on a plan to build open-air sewage treatment plants across Haiti. In 2012, the first facility opened at a site called Morne a Cabrit, about an hour from downtown Port-au-Prince. At the time, a government official told NPR that funds were in place for facilities in seven other cities.

But five years later, that construction plan has stalled. Morne a Cabrit is still the only operational sewage treatment plant in the country, another $2.1 million facility is all but abandoned and the volume of sewage being disposed of safely in Port-au-Prince is actually decreasing.

At its core, the floundering sewage treatment strategy is about money and power. Haitian economist Kesner Pharel, who has advised both the Haitian government and international nongovernmental organizations on investment and development in the country, says the stalled plan reflects a fundamental flaw with how infrastructure projects are funded and implemented in Haiti.

Because the Haitian government is so dependent on outside money for infrastructure, “it is very easy for [international donors] to come in and say, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that,’ ” he explains. The result is that the country’s leaders become more responsive to funders than to Haitian voters. “Where is the accountability?” he says, “not to international donors, but to your people?”

In the past five years, the story of one failed sewage treatment plant project offers the clearest example of the good intentions, poor governance and bad luck that contributed to Haiti’s current sanitation crisis. It began with a young woman and a huge earthquake.

How Not to Build A Sewage Treatment Plant

Edwige Petit has been called Haiti’s “sanitation champion.” Trained as a civil engineer, Petit, the current director of sanitation at the Haitian water and sanitation agency DINEPA, has also been called less laudatory names because of her expertise. “Sewage wife, trash wife, lots of names,” she says, laughing.

Her first experience with sewage treatment came a few months after the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince. Aid groups provided clean water and toilets to hundreds of thousands of people in displaced-person camps. The groups needed somewhere to dump the more than 10,000 gallons of human waste the camps generated each day. Initially, the government directed them to an unlined pit at the edge of the landfill.

Edwige Petit, the director of sanitation for Haiti's water and sanitation agency DINEPA, is in charge of planning and building internationally funded sewage treatment plants. Image by Marie Arago/NPR.

Edwige Petit, the director of DINEPA. Image by Marie Arago/NPR.

Edwige Petit, the director of sanitation for Haiti’s water and sanitation agency DINEPA, is in charge of planning and building internationally funded sewage treatment plants. Image by Marie Arago/NPR.

 Petit was an expert on the landfill and immediately knew dumping there was not a good solution. The pit was unlined and right next to the sea, so the sewage could easily contaminate fishing areas and sources of drinking water. But for months after the quake, with the economy in shambles and the city in ruins, large-scale sanitation projects were never a political priority. “People don’t have enough money. What can you say when people cannot even eat? You’re talking about waste?” she says, channeling her detractors. “They cannot eat, they cannot s***! So that’s the deal. Too much poverty.”

Then that fall, U.N. soldiers from Nepal brought cholera to Haiti. “Only the cholera could make us have [the first sewage treatment facility],” Petit says. “Only cholera. Because we were afraid, totally afraid of cholera. For this reason, everyone agreed.”

In October 2010, the government of then-President Rene Preval announced it had found a location for the country’s first sewage treatment plant, on land formerly leased by the Haitian American Sugar Company and left empty for years. The site was named for the nearby area of Titanyen, where thousands of people had been buried in mass graves after the earthquake.

The initial budget inscribed on a now-faded sign at the entrance was $1.9 million — it would later grow to $2.1 million — to be paid by the Spanish government, which would also fund a public education campaign about cholera prevention. Construction began immediately, but just three months later, it stopped.

Powerful people had leveraged their connections to the president, alleging that they owned the land under the sewage plant and demanding compensation under eminent domain before construction could go forward.

“For each [piece of] land, we had not one, but two or three people who said they were owners!” Petit remembers, still fuming more than six years later. “They went directly to president.”

At the city landfill, men look for metal near the edge of a pit that used to be full of raw sewage. Construction delays at the Titanyen sewage treatment plant meant that raw sewage continued to be dumped at the landfill for months after the cholera epidemic began in 2010. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

At the city landfill, men look for metal near the edge of a pit that used to be full of raw sewage. Construction delays at the Titanyen sewage treatment plant meant that raw sewage continued to be dumped at the landfill for months after the cholera epidemic began in 2010. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

For nine months, nothing was built at the Titanyen sewage treatment plant. In that time, disease surveillance data suggests more than 2,500 people died of cholera in Haiti. Without a safe dumping site open, DINEPA data suggests more than 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage was dumped elsewhere in and around the city.

In the end, the Haitian government had little choice but to pay the alleged landowners, since the rest of the Spanish funds were unavailable as long as construction was stalled. In the meantime, funding the plant appeared to be a point of pride for the Spanish government. Queen Sofia of Spain even traveled to see it.

When the sewage treatment plant finally opened in May 2012, after the cholera epidemic had peaked, a press release from the Spanish aid agency AECID said nothing about the construction delay. It pointed to the project as an example of “strengthening of Haitian institutions” and said it would “contribute significantly to the health of the population and halt outbreaks of diseases such as cholera.”

The facility operated for just 18 months before a technical problem — huge bubbles in the lining of the second waste treatment pool — forced it to close. Since then, it has remained closed. DINEPA says the aid agency plans to spend an additional $617,000 to repair it beginning this fall.

Since 2013, the $2.1 million sewage treatment plant at Titanyen has been closed. The lining of one of the disinfecting basins developed massive bubbles due to an engineering defect. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

A spokesperson for AECID declined to comment on its sewage treatment plant projects in Haiti, citing turnover in its staff in the region.

Haiti’s sewage champion, Petit, still believes that sewage treatment plants are a good investment for Haiti. She is using the agency’s investment funds, 96 percent of which came from international sources last fiscal year, to build at least 30 waste treatment facilities across the country. Three, including the still-shuttered site at Titanyen, are under construction or repair.

“The government has a duty to build the plants we should need,” she says. “I can say I am doing my part.”

Meanwhile, the one sewage treatment plant that is already open is below capacity and struggling to cover its operating costs. International money covered its construction, but domestic funding and customer fees are insufficient to cover long-term maintenance and payroll. Inadvertently or otherwise, the availability of international money for infrastructure appears to have motivated the construction of sewage treatment plants in Haiti, whether or not there is local demand for the facilities.

The Easter Flood

Without a sewage system to divert waste out of clogged canals, the Good Friday rainstorm filled the streets and alleys of Project Drouillard with 3 feet of raw sewage. Seven people drowned in the canal. Jean Claude Derlia got an infection that still hasn’t gone away.

Project Drouillard resident Widline Charles, 21, fled her home during floods over Easter weekend this year. Months later, her street is still covered in a foot or more of mud, trash and sewage. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Project Drouillard resident Widline Charles, 21, fled her home during floods over Easter weekend this year. Months later, her street is still covered in a foot or more of mud, trash and sewage. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Residents blamed the flood on poorly excavated canals and on the waste dumped by rich people who live on higher ground. Both are undoubtedly true, but the waste clogging the canal also came from right there in Project Drouillard. Scattered throughout the neighborhood are sets of cinder block pit latrines, most of which are filled to the top with waste.

Two options for relieving oneself in Project Drouillard: a pit latrine and an open field bordering a canal filled with human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Two options for relieving oneself in Project Drouillard: a pit latrine and an open field bordering a canal filled with human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

“We can’t use these,” says 27-year-old Bernard Paulemon, gesturing to a set of six stalls near the headquarters of his neighborhood group, Foundation Alovie. “The people here, they can’t pay.”

He is referring to the cost of maintenance. When a latrine fills up, residents see two options: They can padlock it and leave it, at which point some people resort to relieving themselves in an open field near the canal, or they can pool money to hire someone to clean out the pit.

Magdala Simeone lives a few houses away from a block of six pit latrines, each with a padlock on the door. Four of the six stalls are too full to use. Kids come and go with the keys for the other two. A few weeks ago, Simeone and her neighbors raised money to hire someone to clean one of them out.

Project Drouillard resident Magdala Simeone and her neighbors recently pooled $75 to get a shared pit latrine emptied. She never met the person or people who did the work and doesn't know where the human waste was dumped. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Project Drouillard resident Magdala Simeone and her neighbors recently pooled $75 to get a shared pit latrine emptied. She never met the person or people who did the work and doesn’t know where the human waste was dumped. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

The total cost: $75. Her share: about $8. She never saw who cleaned out the latrine and doesn’t know where they dumped the contents. A trip across the waste-strewn field adjacent to the canal holds a hint — the canal is completely filled with muddy excrement.

She would prefer to have a company clean out the latrine. “The company will clean it better” than the informal latrine cleaners known as bayakou, she says, but “a private company will ask you for a lot of money.”

Sanitation companies in Port-au-Prince see the potential for big profits in neighborhoods like this one. “There are lots more people who could pay us, but they haven’t heard of the company. They don’t know what we do or why they should give us money,” says Marguerite Jean Louis, the CEO of the Port-au-Prince-based sanitation company Sanco.

Sanitation company Sanco sends pump trucks to empty septic tanks for high-end clients such as hotels and government offices. The trucks transport the waste to the sewage treatment plant at Morne a Cabrit. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Sanitation company Sanco sends pump trucks to empty septic tanks for high-end clients such as hotels and government offices. The trucks transport the waste to the sewage treatment plant at Morne a Cabrit. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

She is banking her new company’s future growth on educating middle- and low-income Haitians about the importance of paying for sewage pickup and disposal.

This is the “market first” model of sanitation reform in Port-au-Prince. Simply put, it’s the belief that the limited cash available for sanitation should be invested in increasing the demand for sewage removal rather than in large-scale infrastructure projects like sewage treatment plants.

Flaure Dubois, the financial director at Jedco, the largest sanitation company in the country, says the government’s focus on sewage treatment plants is frustrating because there is so much public education work to be done around sanitation. She sees her company as more aligned with aid groups doing sanitation campaigns than with DINEPA and its construction plans.

“We need to change the culture,” says Polyanna Domond, Jedco’s marketing director, showing off a Jedco sign that explains in Creole how to use a portable toilet (Sit on it, don’t hover above it!). “We are investing in public education, so people know that waste can make them sick. The government should ask us for help.”

The Worst Job in the World

Everyone in the neighborhood could smell it; a heavy, earthy stench, like rotten eggs and feces.

In the back corner of a neat courtyard surrounded by single-story houses, four men were getting ready to empty out a pit latrine. The leader, a 35-year-old who said his name was Gabriel Toto, was standing over a 15-foot pit filled with human excrement, his pants rolled up to his knees, shirtless with yellow rubber gloves and a cigarette dangling from his lips.

Gabriel Toto, 35, has been working as a bayakou, or latrine cleaner, for a decade. On nights without a journalist watching, he generally works naked. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Gabriel Toto, 35, has been working as a bayakou, or latrine cleaner, for a decade. On nights without a journalist watching, he generally works naked. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

He explained that Toto is a nickname he used when he discusses his job, to minimize the stigma and ostracization he and his family face because of his occupation.

For the same reason, he and his men work only at night.

“I am a working man,” he said, just trying to make a living without getting caught up in the organized crime that dominates the economy in his neighborhood near Project Drouillard. “I don’t want to do anything bad. So, whatever I need to do — whatever I have to do — I will do it. Anything.”

For the last decade, doing “anything” has meant working as a bayakou. The job is dangerous, disgusting and difficult. To watch Toto work is to see an expert perform his craft, moving confidently and carefully to remove about 400 gallons of human waste from an underground, candlelit hole in less than three hours, using only his gloved hands, a bucket and a rope.

Even for a pro, the work is risky. “I have had stitches on my legs, my feet,” Toto says. “I even lost one of my toenails one day when I was working.” Another bayakou, Derisma Merisier, says an infection is responsible for his red and puss-filled eyes. He has been living with it for years.

And the latrines are full of hidden dangers as well. People throw all sorts of things in the hole. Sticks, rocks, trash and razor blades are nightly hazards. On this night, an excrement-covered handgun shows up in one of the buckets.

Dangerous objects frequently make their way into pit latrines and can injure the men who clean the pits. This residential outhouse had sticks, razors and a handgun buried in about 15 feet of excrement. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Dangerous objects frequently make their way into pit latrines and can injure the men who clean the pits. This residential outhouse had sticks, razors and a handgun buried in about 15 feet of excrement. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

The owner of the outhouse paid Jedco about $170 for the cleaning service. As subcontractors, Toto and his men will each take home about $3.90 for the night’s work. They make eight to ten times more working for themselves, but as the companies have moved into the market, many bayakou feel forced to work as contractors.

Working for a company could theoretically offer perks. On this night, Jedco provides five pairs of coveralls (in plastic packaging), rubber gloves, boots, goggles and even blue Jedco baseball caps (new with the tags still on). The men laugh wryly when they see the protective gear.

“They usually don’t give us these things,” says Toto. The clear implication was that the protective gear is related to the presence of journalists. Usually, the men work in little or no clothing. By the end of the night, the goggles are fogged up and useless, gloves are ripped and most of the men have discarded some or all of the gear.

As it is, Toto says he doesn’t make enough to support himself and his three children. After a night’s work, he spends the day looking for hourly labor jobs, although a lot of people won’t work with him or even touch him.

Bayakou are frequently wounded on the job. Men describe deep cuts, missing toenails and persistent infections from exposure to human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Bayakou are frequently wounded on the job. Men describe deep cuts, missing toenails and persistent infections from exposure to human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

“You’ve seen what I have done,” he says, standing in the parking lot of the sewage treatment plant at 2:30 a.m., his hair still wet from a bucket bath. “Some people will never stand close to me, talking to me the way you are talking to me, as close as you are. They’ll stay away from me because they see what I’m doing with my own hands.”

The Haitian government and private sanitation companies talk about public education campaigns and sanitation market development and infrastructure. But as the person who does the work of bringing human waste from the city to the dumping site, Toto feels ignored and abused.

“The first people in the community who should give value to the work we’re doing are the companies,” he says. “When they sit behind a desk in the air conditioning, they don’t care. If they don’t give value to what we’re doing, who else will give value to that?”

Rebecca Hersher is a freelance journalist. Contact her @rhersher. This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Andre Paultre contributed reporting in Port-au-Prince.

Piles of human waste are left at the Morne a Cabrit sewage treatment plant. The latrine cleaners who dumped them work in the dark because of intense stigma associated with their profession. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Piles of human waste are left at the Morne a Cabrit sewage treatment plant. The latrine cleaners who dumped them work in the dark because of intense stigma associated with their profession. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

TRANSCRIPT

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Port-au-Prince, Haiti is a city of more than 3 million people with no sewer system. International donors have spent millions of dollars on infrastructure meant to help the situation. But a multi-year plan to build sewage treatment plants all over the country has stalled. And residents say things are getting worse. Rebecca Hersher reports.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Port-au-Prince’s low cinderblock housing projects are the frontline of the sewage problem in the city. Project Drouillard or Project D is hopping on a sunny Friday afternoon. Men are playing dominoes. Kids are shooting marbles in the narrow dirt alleyways.

(CROSSTALK)

HERSHER: The sound of dance practice spills out onto the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBIENT NOISE)

HERSHER: The zinc-roofed buildings here are tightly packed along a canal where people throw trash and plastic bags full of human waste. There’s an outhouse for every 10 to 20 homes. Around the corner is about a foot of hardened mud inside a row of abandoned houses.

GABRIEL MONTREUIL: (Through interpreter) See the dirt, mud, trash? It’s because we had two floods in April – one on Good Friday and one on Easter. No house was spared.

HERSHER: Gabriel Montreuil (ph) has lived here his whole life. He says every time it rains, raw sewage floods his home. It’s scary. Among other dangers, there’s a cholera epidemic in Haiti. And the floods are getting worse.

MONTREUIL: (Through interpreter) The first time, it was 1-foot high. When it came back, it was 2 feet. And this time, it was 3 feet. As the adult, I needed to save the lives of my children.

HERSHER: The family slept on the street for a night and then came back to clean up. Montrieul blames the floods on sewage and trash clogging canals that run through Project D. You can smell them. One of Gabriel’s neighbors, who goes by Calypso, takes me over to see the nearest canal.

CALYPSO: (Through interpreter) Right here, the flood killed seven people in April.

HERSHER: Is there human waste in here?

CALYPSO: Everything. Everything.

HERSHER: Everything goes in the canal. The raw sewage should be trucked out to a sewage treatment plant. But there’s no government-run sewage disposal operation. And most of the formal waste removal is done by private companies. Most people can’t afford it. And international aid money isn’t available to help with that. As a result, the government estimates less than 10 percent of Port-au-Prince’s waste ever makes it to the treatment facility, which is called Goat Mountain. It’s pretty simple – just three basins that slowly use the sun and wind to disinfect raw sewage over the course of months. But the manager, Ricky Constant, says it’s not designed to handle such small volumes of waste.

RICKY CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) So now the basins are not working properly the way they are supposed to be working.

HERSHER: When the level gets too low, the water just sits there instead of flowing from one basin to the next. And there are other design flaws like a mountain of trash that’s accumulated next to where companies dump raw sewage.

CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) One of our issues is we shouldn’t have that much trash here.

HERSHER: Trash and sewage often travel together in Haiti. Remember, most people aren’t using toilets. They’re using pit latrines and throwing other stuff in there, too. But the treatment plant is only designed to handle human waste.

CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) This is a misunderstanding, a bad approach of the sanitation issue in Haiti.

HERSHER: Why do you think that happened?

CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) Haitian engineers made the conception of this site. But it’s a copycat from foreign countries. This is the first experience of Haitians dealing with that.

HERSHER: This kind of international influence is a big reason for the stalled sanitation infrastructure plan in Haiti. Since the 2010 earthquake here, the expertise and money for sewage plants have come from outside the country. Donors with good intentions nonetheless fund projects that are not always a good fit for what Port-au-Prince needs. Up the road, a second identical sewage treatment plant is overgrown with weeds.

I wonder when the last time this gate was open. Oh, it’s getting stuck in the trees.

The Spanish government paid $2.1 million to build this plant, starting in 2010. It’s been closed since 2013 because of engineering problems.

The pools are full of really green water. And the birds love it.

Even though it’s not working, funding the plant appears to be a point of pride for the Spanish government. Queen Sofia even visited it when it was under construction. And even with the demand for sewage treatment facilities falling, Spain is planning to spend another $617,000 to fix this facility. Construction begins in the fall. Back in Project D, Gabriel Montreuil feels abandoned.

MONTREUIL: (Through interpreter) In other countries, they take care of the population. Here, we rely on God. We cannot rely on the government.

HERSHER: He doesn’t see the sewage treatment plants or the international money. He just sees a Haitian government that doesn’t seem to listen to people like him. For NPR News, I’m Rebecca Hersher in Port-au-Prince

GONYEA: Their story was supported by a grant from Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Aid Credibility at Stake as Donors Haggle Over Reporting Rules

By Ben Parker for IRIN from GENEVA, 21 July 2017

Photo by Ylenia Gostoli/IRIN

The world’s rich countries spend billions at home but report it as “aid”, exploiting a loophole that enables donors to mislead the public and cut vital development budgets. IRIN has dug into the data to reveal the worst offenders and the extent of a practice that topped $15 billion last year, seriously undermining the credibility of aid statistics. Given the wide differences in how they apply the ambiguous rules, donors have been trying to set new boundaries on in-donor refugee aid since February 2016.

However, progress has been slow, and the process again stalled at a meeting in Paris on 10 July. A working group on the issue will now need further rounds of negotiation if proposals are to be ready for adoption at a high-level meeting in late October.

Under current accounting rules, the costs of receiving refugees can count towards a donor country’s total overseas development assistance. In-country ODA has ballooned: In 2016, leading donor countries reported $15.4 billion of domestic spending on refugees as ODA, a huge rise from $3.9 billion in 2012 and several times more than they spend on refugees abroad. That’s also more than they spent on emergency aid in foreign countries, and more than three times the income of the UN refugee agency.

In Denmark, where a quarter of ODA was reportedly spent in-country, national auditors say the government misreported some figures. But Isabelle De Lichtervelde, policy manager for development finance at the ONE campaign, told IRIN that Denmark is among some “very concerning countries” and is showing “poor behaviour” in aggressively chasing the in-donor category of ODA.

Six countries met the UN target of 0.7 percent of gross national income spending on aid. However three – Germany, Denmark, and the UK – only reached the threshold by including in-country ODA. The Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland and Denmark all report over $20,000 per new refugee as ODA.

While Denmark and some others apparently lobby for a broad definition, a swathe of civil society groups is against reporting in-donor refugee costs as ODA at all, let alone widening the loophole. Julie Seghers, OECD policy and advocacy advisor of Oxfam, told IRIN “it is legitimising the spending of ODA money within donors’ own borders, and for an objective that doesn’t serve aid’s core purpose, which is to fight poverty in developing countries.”

The Danish audit

Denmark has released its own view of the accounting rules showing how it intends to extend its interpretation this year and add more to the category. According to preliminary OECD and national data, Denmark allotted $420 million in 2016 but granted asylum to only 7,444 new refugees. Its response to the OECD suggests it would aim even higher in 2017. For example, it plans to include more costs such as police time and asylum appeals processing as well as other administrative expenses that go far beyond core spending on food, accommodation, and language training.

Denmark’s national auditors however have warned Danish MPs that the accounting for some aspects of refugee ODA is “neither rigorous nor transparent”. In addition, some was double-counted or wrongly allocated, according to a June report. The fluctuations and changing methodologies on in-country ODA may lead to “less predictable” foreign aid spending, the auditors found. In response, Denmark has enacted a new regulation to smooth out the impact of fluctuations in refugee spending on overseas development planning.

An analysis by Oxfam of Denmark’s policies in December found its ODA refugee spending “staggering”. The report claims “it is not unlikely that Danish development aid is co-financing empty housing facilities in Denmark”, due to an excess of capacity funded by the government despite falling refugee numbers. The government chose not to respond.

A spokesperson for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that Denmark was “actively” involved in the talks on in-donor refugee costs but declined to go into details. The official said Denmark supports work to make the rules “more precise”, and to increase “transparency and comparability”.

Betwixt and between

Stuck in the middle are the staff of the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), a membership organisation of major economies, often called a rich countries’ club. The Paris-based OECD is the venue where the ODA rules are made. Its secretariat back in 2001 was already uncomfortable with what they call the in-donor element: “donors’ expenditures on refugees who arrive in their countries – while commendable from a humanitarian point of view – do not make a sufficiently direct contribution to the economic development and welfare of developing countries to qualify as official development assistance. Including such data undermines the credibility of the ODA concept.” OECD officials today rarely criticise their member states openly, but try to hold the line on the principle of development aid in private.

OECD official Brenda Killen, writing in a personal capacity from Uganda’s recent refugee fundraising conference, did remark pointedly that the OECD should aim for “fidelity” to the original purpose of ODA, which she phrased as “the economic development and welfare of developing countries”, and said: “we need more and better data on aid from donor countries, including what is being spent inside their own countries.”

Few details have emerged about the ongoing negotiations, and donors are tight-lipped. “No decisions regarding ODA guidelines were taken”, at the last meeting on 10 July,  according to an email response to IRIN from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Nevertheless, IRIN understands the biggest remaining sticking point is about the costs of handling asylum seekers whose claims are rejected. One observer told IRIN the “dangerous precedent” of in-donor ODA means it’s critical to get it right. The new rules are unlikely to apply until 2019. Donor countries want recognition for taking on refugees, but, the observer said, ODA was the wrong yardstick for measuring their fulfillment of their refugee convention obligations. In donor countries, a range of ministries now have their eye on the development budget and the rules must prevent donors “gaming the system”, the observer added.

Seghers told IRIN that NGO advocates, including Oxfam, argue that any changes should be careful not to encourage donors to pad out their figures. She said the new rules should clearly define what’s not allowed, and give more detail and transparency on how the figures are arrived at.

294 pages of rules

The OECD’s statistical directives, including tables and annexes, already come to 294 pages, many about reporting ODA.

Closed-door committee meetings at the OECD regularly update the definitions of what’s allowable as ODA and how it should be calculated. Last year, for example, the members agreed new guidelines allowing certain types of military and security assistance to count. The debates tend to roll on: discussions continue on what support to the private sector should be included and how to measure it, while peacekeeping and security spending are attracting another round of attention.

However, given the migration “crisis” in Europe, and pressures on development spending in general, the eligibility of refugee spending is now a top issue for the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. In February 2016, OECD DAC members agreed it was a priority to sort it out: “It is necessary to improve the consistency, comparability, and transparency of our reporting of ODA-eligible, in-donor refugee costs… We therefore agree to set up a clear, transparent, and inclusive process to this aim.”

Sixteen months later, the definitions remain ambiguous and donors continue to draw up figures based on their own interpretations — and consciences. The current rules, laid down in 1988, allow “official sector expenditures for the sustenance of refugees in donor countries during the first twelve months of their stay”. They exclude measures for “integration”, without saying what that means. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation, observers point out.

Do donors include the costs of processing asylum seekers whose claims are rejected? Should the clock therefore start after the determination of refugee status? Should they charge the costs of all healthcare and education? Can they factor in police time or the expense of hearing legal appeals?

The answers to a lengthy questionnaire compiled by OECD confirm an inconsistent range of reporting practices. Donors report between zero and $31,000 per refugee as ODA (in 2014 figures). Australia, Luxembourg, Poland, and South Korea decided to report no in-country refugee costs at all. But the Netherlands reported $31,933 per head, the UK $3,261, and Japan $337. Denmark reported $21,791, according to the survey.

Why does it all matter?

Development advocates say the labelling is misleading and provides cover to cut foreign aid. For example, in-country spending has allowed Germany to meet the target of aid spending being 0.7% of national income, but $6 billion never left its borders. A cut in Norway’s foreign aid spending has been camouflaged by its in-country spending.

“How credible is aid data when aid money is being used to fill in domestic budget gaps?”, said Oxfam’s Seghers. Massaging the figures means a loss of confidence in the data: “this puts the credibility of ODA as the yardstick of development aid at risk”, she added.

The debate over definitions may be “extremely technical”, but “they’re also very political”, said De Lichtervelde. Aid is a “crucial resource… you need to protect it.”

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ON AFGHANISTAN: National Solidarity Program Transformed Scores of Lives in Kandahar Province

The National Solidarity Program is the reason CSFilm director, Michael Sheridan, first went to Afghanistan to document Afghan initiatives from the Afghan Perspective. It remains a gold standard for integrated disarmament, economic and social development. A number of our Afghan trainees/filmmakers did storys on the NSP such as Knocking on Time’s Door, http://csfilm.org/films/fruit-of-our-labor/#knocking

Submitted by ABDUL QAYUM YOUSUFZAI 07/20/2017 to The World Bank

Not so long ago, 15 years to be exact, I remember when people in the districts of Kandahar used animals to transport their agricultural harvest to the provincial center. There were a few, if any, motorable roads, and we had a limited number of health centers and schools in the province. Most of the infrastructure laid in ruins. But worst of all, the economic condition of the average Afghan was quite bad with little or no access to income, opportunities, and facilities.

The National Solidarity Programme (NSP) improved lives of millions of Afghans across rural Afghanistan. NSP’s successor, the Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project aims to improve the delivery of core infrastructure and social services to participating communities through strengthened development councils. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/World Bank

Things have changed since 2003. While many development projects have been implemented in Kandahar Province, the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) has been one of the most popular and high impact. Running from 2003 to 2016, NSP was implemented in 16 of 17 districts and set up 1,952 Community Development Councils (CDCs), which implemented over 3,300 projects.

In Kandahar, communities are very conservative, and, overall, the province is highly traditional. When the program was launched, people in Kandahar were not interested in establishing CDCs through holding elections at the village level.

In 2005, as an engineer with UN-HABITAT working as a Facilitating Partner with NSP, I ended up travelling to many districts in Kandahar. One of these was Arghandab district. In my interactions with locals there, I realized they were not ready to accept women as equal decision-makers.

To address this, NSP conducted social awareness trainings and encouraged people to join the program for overall development and infrastructure management. These trainings encouraged some villages to establish CDCs and they realized that working with women eased the implementation of projects in their villages. This encouraged a behavior shift in neighboring villages as well.

Gradually, other villages and districts became eager to establish CDCs and join NSP too. Village by village and district by district, NSP became one of the most popular programs in the province. Most importantly, NSP accessed the very remote villages in Kandahar, where residents did not even have Tazkiras (national ID cards), and linked them with government departments.

Between 2003 and 2016, the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) provided block grants for over 3,000 development projects in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar Province. Over 1,952 Community Development Councils (CDCs) have been elected to decide on their respective community needs as well as to oversee and monitor project implementation. With support provided by the World Bank, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and other donors, NSP ensured citizen engagement and meaningful development with decisions being made at the grassroots level. It brought communities closer, one project at a time.

One of the biggest achievements of this program has been increasing women’s participation in the overall economy. CDCs brought women out of their homes and provided them with an opportunity to take part in the development of their villages.

I have been working as a Provincial Director with the MRRD for four years now. When NSP was active, I had more than 400 visitors per day in the office, including women. They were all CDC members from different parts of Kandahar and they were eager to implement more projects in their villages. Most of the CDCs had active female members and the men listened to them.

Now when I compare Arghandab district in 2003 to 2016, I can really see the improvements and development. In 2003, Arghandab had hardly any roads, culverts, schools, or bridges. Villages were not connected to markets and some villages were insecure. There were no women participating in the decision-making process. But now, we have women members in CDCs and there is not a single village in Arghandab left untouched by NSP development activities.

During my visit to Arghandab district recently, Saleh Mohammad, head of the Mirab Khoran village CDC told me, “We are happy that we accepted NSP. We built a bridge that connects both sides of the village and made transportation easier for all villagers.”

At the initiation of the Government of Afghanistan, the Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project (CCAP) replaced NSP. The objective of the CCAP, a social contract between the government and CDCs, is to improve the delivery of core infrastructure and social services to participating communities through strengthened development councils.

In terms of resources, we already have well-functioning CDCs with full representation of men and women and over 13 years of experience in implementing projects. For the first round, we will implement CCAP in the three districts of Spin-Boldak, Takhta-Pul, and Panjwayee. Under CCAP, we want to implement the projects equally in all the districts of Kandahar and work on improving coordination to make our work more effective.

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Community Supported Film announces participants from ten countries for the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions project!

First CSFilm Training, Afghanistan, 2010

Community Supported Film is pleased to announce that participants from ten countries have been selected for the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions documentary filmmaking project!

Local Voices Strengthen Global Perspectives

Ten men and women will begin their 15-week training in documentary filmmaking on July 29th. The participants bring a wide variety of immigrant and refugee experiences from their places of origin, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Afghanistan and Uganda, to communities in and around Boston.

Wilson Thelimo Louis from Haiti, 2017 NIRV participant

These women and men have a diversity of skills, interests and community engagement activities related to social and economic justice. We look forward to working with them to visualize the immigrant and refugee experience from their unique insider perspective and to sharing their films with the American public, media, educators and policymakers.

The training will run from July through November during which time we will be providing regular updates on the process and the stories being produced by the trainees.

Funding

Please help us raise the $14,200 still needed to complete the NIRV training, production and initial public engagement.

With your support CSFilm is able to model an alternative approach to documentary storytelling. Our approach puts locals in charge of defining the story. With local knowledge and lived-experience they examine the issues of concern to their communities from the inside out.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Tumblr for the latest news. View documentaries from our previous training projects in Afghanistan and Haiti on our website.

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: What Happens When Mom and Dad Face Deportation from the US

“I understand how hard it is to take care of little kids,” says 19-year-old Luis Duarte, second from right, who is now caring for his three younger siblings after his parents, originally from Mexico, were detained by US immigration agents in late May. Credit: Deepa Ferndandes

This story by Deepa Fernandes originally appeared on PRI.org on June 11, 2017. It is republished here as part of a partnership between PRI and Global Voices.

As 19-year-old Francisco Duarte watched his parents handcuffed and driven away by immigration officials in late May outside their San Diego, California, home, all he could do was console his hysterical 12-year-old twin sisters.

Then he took off to find help for his parents. They would need an immigration attorney, and Francisco would need to gather their paperwork.

His younger brother Luis, 17, stepped up to look after the younger sisters — he cooked them eggs and ham when they came home from school that day.

The brothers were busy figuring out all the household chores, making sure they had their little sisters taken care of.

And then it hit the brothers. Rent was due in less than a week. They were now going to have to pay all the family’s bills. Duarte said he and his brother gathered all the money his parents had. It came to $2,500.

They would need to supplement their father’s income somehow. He was the breadwinner, running the family ice-cream business. “My mom and my dad met selling ice cream from pushcarts 20 years ago when they came to this country,” Duarte said.

While Francisco and Luis push their own ice cream carts to help out, neither could bring in the money that their farther did, Duarte said.

Francisco Duarte Sr. and his wife, Rosenda Perez, were arrested by immigration agents on May 23. Duarte had left his National City, California, home to buy a newspaper across the street. His wife came out to see what was going on and she was arrested too. Officials say they have been charged with “immigration violations” in the US. There are no criminal charges against them, and neither has a criminal record.

The San Diego couple are among a growing number of non-citizens arrested on civil immigration charges during the first months of the Donald Trump administration. From January 22 to April 29, more than 41,000 people suspected of living in the US without proper authorization have been arrested by federal agents — nearly a 40 percent increase from the same period in 2016, according to US officials.

A quarter of those arrested are charged with being in the US without legal status, but have no prior criminal records. It’s a group that was not targeted as heavily by the Barack Obama administration. The latest numbers show Trump is making good on his campaign promise to change that, as detailed recently by reporter Maria Sacchetti at The Washington Post.

Before his arrest, Duarte was able to pass custody of his three younger children to Luis, his oldest son.

For the kids, it’s been a whirlwind. On a recent Tuesday, Francisco sought commmunity members to write letters of support for his parents.

He arrived back home hungry. “I’ve been out all morning,” said Luis. “We’ve just been hectic, doing as much as we can for our parents, so yeah, [I’m eating] breakfast at 2:37 p.m.”

Mark Lane, a legal assistant at an LA-based immigration law firm, sat with Francisco, and they discussed what else needed to be collected for his parent’s case. Lane was one of the people Francisco called for help the day his parents were arrested.

“Pre-Trump administration, maybe I got two to three calls a week, now I get 10 to 15 calls a day,” Lane said. “People are very scared, families are being split up.”

Lane, whose firm has taken the case of Francisco’s parents, talked to the kids about the expenses they would need to pay. All four children are in school, leaving little time to work and bring in income. So they decided to turn to a terrain they know well: social media.

They created a short video about their situation, posted it to YouTube, and linked it to a GoFundMe fundraising page. They set their fundraising goal at $70,000 and, just days later, they had surpassed it. More than $72,000 in donations have come in so far.

They’re stunned and grateful.

But it wasn’t just money rolling in — people were also reaching out to say we support you.

“It’s just very uplifting that every day I get messages from people and they’re just letting me know that they’re there for me and if there’s anything that I need they’re just a phone call, a text away,” Francisco said.

The older Francisco found it hard to comprehend the social media campaign his kids are pursuing on his behalf, his son said. During a recent phone call, the younger Francisco explained to his father how money and support was coming in.

His dad asked who was donating. “Many people,” his son told him. “Teachers, neighbors, friends, people from around the city,” he told his father during their telephone conversation.

As word spread on social media, friends began coming by the house to help. A group of Luis’s friends from school are helping out. Luz Maria Castañon said they don’t want Luis to suffer at school.

“He’s going to be valedictorian, honestly. [There’s] nothing compared to his GPA.”

In the kitchen, another friend, Maria de Jesus, cooks up some tacos. She said should would cook for the children until their parents come back home.

The twin sisters, Aracely and Yarely, watched their parents get handcuffed and be taken away by immigration officials. It was confusing, Aracely said, and they miss them a lot. Especially when they come home from school.

“Usually my mom would be here and she would sometimes have a little snack prepared,” Yarely said.

The girls are not identical twins, but they both have the same sweet, kind of sad smile. They busy themselves putting things away in their room.

“Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming but, um, …” Yarely trails off.

Luis checks in on his sisters, makes sure they are OK, and then has to leave. “I’m going to go and do laundry right now because our sheets are really nasty,” he said.

Is this his job normally?

“Nah, not really.”

After the laundry, he has to be home for his sisters. His brother will continue gathering letters of support for their parents.

“I understand how hard it is to take care of little kids now,” Luis said.

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: East Bay Airbnb Hosts Offer Free Lodging to Refugees

When Sandy Yen learned earlier this year that home-sharing site Airbnb was looking for people to host refugees for free, she jumped at the chance, offering her Oakland guest house.

“My parents were Taiwanese immigrants in the 1970s, and when they came to the U.S., they struggled,” Yen said. “They were unfamiliar with the culture and the language. I’d like to give a family the kind of help I wish my parents had received.”

Yen is waiting to be matched with a family. She learned about Open Homes from an email Airbnb sent her about the program.

The 37-year-old is among 160 Bay Area residents to welcome refugees and other displaced people through Airbnb’s Open Homes program, which launched in June.

Residents of the East Bay, as well as elsewhere, are opening their homes to refugees through Airbnb’s recently launched Open Homes program. Photo: Creative Commons

There are 41 such volunteers from the East Bay, 75 in San Francisco and 48 in the South Bay. Around 450 Californians are participating, according to Airbnb.

Hosts can volunteer their homes and spare bedrooms to refugees via the Airbnb website. The International Rescue Committee, the startup’s U.S. partner, then books the listings for their refugee clients.

“They (the committee) have around 30-40 areas where they are actively working to settle refugee families, so we have been communicating with hosts in those areas to see if they would be open to signing up,” said Kim Rubey, Airbnb’s head of social impact and philanthropy.

Open Homes uses an enhanced version of a tool that was developed a few years ago to help folks displaced by disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“One of our hosts was living in Brooklyn and contacted us to say she had a big place and she wanted to list it for free,” Rubey said.

“At the time, we only allowed people to create listings when you charged. We realized what a great opportunity it was to help people out and a team of architects and designers worked through the night to redesign our payment system. That was the beginning of our disaster relief tool,” Rubey said.

The company has activated the tool more than 60 times to house people affected by disasters, she said.

Rubey said Airbnb, a $30 billion startup operating in 50,000 cities in 191 countries, got so much positive feedback about the disaster relief tool, the company decided to expand it.

“Since we are a global platform, we started exploring other global issues as well” and realized there was an overwhelming need for housing for refugees, Rubey said. This led to the development of Open Homes.

With the enhanced tool, “a host anywhere around the globe at any time can alert us to let us know their ability to help on the refugee front,” she said. This can be accomplished by visiting Airbnb.com/welcome and following the prompts.

“What has been really overwhelming to us is how many people are signing up who are not currently hosts,” Rubey said.

While the Brooklyn host was the inspiration for the disaster relief tool, another, unlikely person helped with the development of Open Homes: President Donald Trump.

In January, Trump issued his infamous executive order banning citizens from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. Travelers from those countries were detained or otherwise found themselves in limbo in airports around the world, including San Francisco International Airport. Many had fled wars in Yemen or Syria or repression in Sudan or Iran.

Protesters swarmed SFO in support of the detainees, and San Francisco-based Airbnb also stepped up.

Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, tweeted Jan. 28, “Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. Stay tuned for more, contact me if urgent need for housing.”

At that point, “we were not quite ready to launch (Open Homes),” but Airbnb activated the disaster relief tool and helped many detainees. “It helped us learn a lot in a short time,” contributing to the development of Open Homes, Rubey said.

“Our whole mission is to create a world where people feel like they belong wherever they go. Travel bans fly in the face of that, so we want to help in any way we can,” she said.

Yen said, “Knowing that there are millions of people displaced, I hope we can offer our home and help a family or an individual, welcome them in every way possible and make their path a little smoother.”

 

Janis Mara covers East Bay real estate for Berkeleyside. She has worked at the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent Journal, the Contra Costa Times, Adweek and Inman News, an Emeryville-based national real estate trade publication, winning California Newspaper Publishers Association and Digital First Media awards for investigative work, business coverage and education writing. Reach her at janismara (at) gmail.com or follow her on Twitter, @jmara.

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ON HAITI: Haiti Still in Dire Straits, Number of Migrants Shows

Nadia Prophete, 12, collects food from a trash to sell to pig owners at the Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

Nadia Prophete, 12, collects food from a trash to sell to pig owners at the Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

By: Reuters for VOA NEWS , July 13, 2017 10:42 PM

U.S. authorities sent home about 100 Haitian immigrants discovered on a rickety boat this week, the most found at sea in more than a year and a sign of more people likely to flee the impoverished island, advocates said Thursday.

Haitians are struggling to survive a homeland devastated by natural disasters and disease, and the situation could worsen if U.S. officials return home more than 50,000 Haitians in the United States on temporary visas, they said.

Special immigration status

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has cast uncertainty over whether to extend a special immigration status that has been granted to Haitians since a 2010 earthquake.

The Haitians in the United States send money, or remittances, home to families that rely on them heavily, said Steven Forester, a spokesman for the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

“Haiti is in no condition to both deal with the overwhelming challenges of the disasters that have struck … much less to replace the remittances they send back to support hundreds of thousands of family members,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Street boys await vehicles to offer their cleaning jobs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

Street boys await vehicles to offer their cleaning jobs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

Haitians take to the sea

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was hit hard in October by Hurricane Matthew. The storm left about 1.4 million people in need of assistance and resurrected a deadly cholera outbreak. The country also has faced huge problems trying to rebuild.

A growing number of Haitians are likely to be willing to undertake the dangerous journey by sea or land to flee, advocates say.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 102 Haitian migrants crowded on a rickety sailboat about 20 miles (35 kms) south of Great Inagua, Bahamas and sent them home Wednesday.

The Coast Guard in a statement said it was the largest such interdiction in more than a year.

“The Caribbean and Florida Straits are dangerous and unforgiving for migrants on illegal and ill-advised voyages in overloaded vessels,” said Jason Ryan, chief of response for the Seventh Coast Guard District.

Always expect migration

U.S. immigration officials said in May that Haiti’s special status designation would be extended for six months rather than the usual 18 months.

While sending Haitians back could worsen conditions, residents of the island nation will try to leave as long as they have few economic opportunities at home, said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University School of Law.

“We should always expect migration pressure from Haiti,” Chishti told the Foundation.

More than 9,000 Haitians have been found trying to enter the United States along its southwest border with Mexico so far in the current fiscal year, compared with about 300 in 2015, according to U.S. government statistics.

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Index of Select Previous Events

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ON HAITI: To really help Haiti’s children, stop the international funding of orphanages

In this 2013 photo, a boy stands in his room in the U.S.-based Church of Bible Understanding orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti, a facility run by a Christian missionary group funded by an antique store in Manhattan.

In this 2013 photo, a boy stands in his room in the U.S.-based Church of Bible Understanding orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti, a facility run by a Christian missionary group funded by an antique store in Manhattan. Dieu Nalio Chery AP

OP-ED JULY 03, 2017 10:10 PM, BY JAMIE VERNAELDE, @jmvernaelde

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: Essay Contest – Writers’ Room of Boston Immigrant Voices

Have you immigrated recently to Boston from another country?

If so, we want to hear your story!
Enter The Writers’ Room of Boston Immigrant Voices Essay Contest
Theme: “A Boston Journey– The Immigrant Experience in This Historical Moment.”
All immigrants and refugees are invited to submit a 500-word essay about their experiences since arriving in greater Boston. Share your challenges, successes and hopes for the future.
Public_Domain_Archives_Boston_Skyline
We understand that some members of the immigrant community may feel uncomfortable identifying themselves and for this reason, essays may be submitted under a pseudonym.
All contact information (email addresses, addresses and phone numbers) will remain private for every submission.
ALL WINNERS AND FINALISTS WILL BE PUBLISHED ON OUR WEBSITE: WWW.WRITERSROOMOFBOSTON.ORG
First Prize: a new laptop computer
Second Prize: a $100 gift certificate to Porter Square Books
(located in Cambridge near the Porter Square T stop on the Red Line)
Send your essay in the body of an email to: info@writersroomofboston.org
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: MIDNIGHT, MAY 15, 2017

 

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