A Light in the Dark

By Adam Swartzbaugh, Founder and Executive Director of The GENESIS Network

To reach the recently built Baan Phai Du village school from the nearest town, you must travel two hours by road and then motocross your way on an all-terrain dirt-bike or snorkel-fed Land Rover for three hours and through endless miles of flooded trails and winding jungle paths.  If you arrive at night, you’ll be surrounded by thick darkness and a cacophony of chatter from the jungle’s wildlife.  Overhead, you’ll swear you can see far-flung galaxies in a sky that has turned a translucent gray by the sheer volume of stars now visible through a crystal-clear atmosphere.  The feeling of isolation is so great you are forced to reconsider your own significance in the universe.  Today, when you arrive, you will see and hear something more.  From within the schoolhouse comes the laughter of villagers of all ages.  They are huddled around the dim glow of solar-powered computers connected by satellite to the internet.

When I think of resource networking as the foundation of what makes GENESIS possible, I don’t picture bricks and mortar, computers and desks, or trucks and planes.  I think of us.  The greatest untapped resource cannot be found in the ground, the ocean or in outer space.  It is not a mineral or a substance, a particle or a compound.  It is people.  It is the human mind.

Several years ago the internet made local networking and file-sharing possible.  Now, it is the single largest depository of human knowledge.  A couple days ago, after due haggling with a satellite dish, deciphering network keys and a whole lot of cave man-style banging on modems and routers, this world of knowledge was made open and available to over a hundred students and hundreds more villagers.  Rarely can you multiply anything by near infinity – but, in this case, it is true when it comes to mental capacity and reach.

Within two hours of figuring out how to operate the keyboard and “ON” button of their new laptops, students are surfing the net at blistering speeds, Googling everything from instructions on how to fix a generator that has been broken for months, to videos by popular Thai singers.  A student is reading news about Thailand’s King Adulyadej and asking his older sister what “monarchy” means.  A parent just pinpointed her position on Google Earth.  One of the younger girls is watching a Rihanna video.

This school has become more than a mere building. It is no longer a place in the middle of a remote jungle, isolated from the world.  It is everywhere.  Time and space is less of a physical obstruction as people are enabled to travel around the globe with the stroke of a key.  The day after the internet became operable, a student who had never considered anything outside of agriculture and working the land was now immersed in web pages about religions of the world.  He now states he wants to become like Buddha.  Another student is claiming he will become a famous rapper – specifically, the next Eminem.  I cannot imagine a more perfect balance.

In the computer light that now shines from the school, children are going to places they’ve never been, learning about things they’ve never seen, and dreaming of becoming more than anything they have ever imagined.

Adam’s development career ranges from disability rights policy development with USAID and the UNDP in Vietnam to tsunami disaster relief and reconstruction in Thailand. He also is an active duty officer in the United States Army and received both his BA in International Relations and MA in Social and Economic Development from Brown University.

Three Years and Three Schools

By Adam Swartzbaugh, Founder and Executive Director of The GENESIS Network

As you may have heard, I am in Thailand this month visiting our newest schoolhouse construction project. Three years ago I was sitting on a mountainside in Chiang Mai, Thailand looking down from where we would later build our first school.  Seeing the children impoverished, without education, and at extremely high risk of human trafficking, prostitution and slave labor, I found myself asking the question: “Can we do anything about it?  Can we really change anything?”

Today, three years and three schools later, standing on the same hilltop, the answers are clear.  Yes, we can do something about it; Yes, what we do will change things – we can change everything.  Inside the school that now rests on this hilltop, the village’s youth have become students.  They are studying Burmese, Thai and English, reading and writing, science and mathematics. They are learning the basic vocational skills that will earn them jobs in the local economy.  They are gaining the knowledge that will allow them to pursue higher education in other parts of the country.


Volunteers from Beijing lay bricks for the newest schoolhouse

For these children, education is not just a means to an end, but a means to any end they can imagine.  It is opportunity and it is hope.  It is creating freedom and building the capacity to escape any condition.

The GENESIS Network that built this first school encompassed only a handful of people.  Now, the Network is made up of volunteers from America, Singapore, England, Brazil and several other countries.  It encompasses students in schools from Brown to Shanghai University.  It is supported by organizations like Amnesty International and the Australian Embassy Direct Aid Program.  It is made possible by companies like Menotomy of Boston, Massachusetts and Sumitomo of Tokyo, Japan.

Today, more than anything, the GENESIS Network is you.  You, who believed that we could make a difference.  You, who helped pour foundations and lay bricks.  You, who volunteered as an English teacher.  You, who threw a wild college party to raise money for books.  You, who contributed a portion of your sales to buy desks.  You, who offered your experience and advice which in turn made our projects more efficient and sustainable.

Today, I see it.  I know it.  In these places, everything has been changed…by you.

Adam’s development career ranges from disability rights policy development with USAID and the UNDP in Vietnam to tsunami disaster relief and reconstruction in Thailand. He also is an active duty officer in the United States Army and received both his BA in International Relations and MA in Social and Economic Development from Brown University.

GENESIS Network (Kid) Launches New School

The Australian Embassy in Bangkok donated $15,000 for the new Kid Launch school.

Buoyed by a recent donation of $15,000 by the Direct Aid Program of the Australian Embassy in Bangkok as well as other funding, the GENESIS Network’s Kid Launch program has begun construction of its second school in Baan Phai Du, Chiang Mai province, Thailand.

Construction officially broke ground on January 31 for the facility, which will provide education to an additional 100 children alongside the about 200 already covered in Baan Phai Du. The total number covered by Kid Launch in its entirety will be nearly 400.

Along with the Australian Embassy’s donation, funding of $4,200 from last May’s Menot-Ö-Fest event with Menotomy Beer and Wine in Arlington, MA as well as contributions from individuals made the construction of the new building possible.

Construction of the new facility broke ground on January 31.

The Kid Launch project was started in 2008 with the goal of bringing educational facilities and support to the Baan Phai Du village, which did not have a school prior to GENESIS intervention. Because of widespread poverty in the area, children are at special risk for falling into human trafficking including sexual slavery and other forms of forced labor.

According to the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, the number of forced labor victims in the Thai sex industry is estimated to be 200,000 to 300,000, with many being children. The Institute also noted the largest internal trafficking route within the country is also from the country’s northern region, where Baan Phai Du is located.

International volunteers are assisting with the construction of the building, including a student-organized group from Beijing, China. Support for the ongoing effort, including donations, is still needed and appreciated, and information on how you can give is located here.

Also, please email for more information about volunteering as well as general inquiries about the GENESIS Network.

As always, GENESIS thanks its donors and supporters, without whom success would not be possible.

Menot-Ö-Fest Raises Over Four Thousand

GENESIS Executive Director Adam Swartzbaugh thanks the crowd for coming.

Robert Moreau

Research Analyst/Outreach

As Tom Waits put it, “a little rain never hurt no one.”

Despite drizzly conditions, about 400 people crowded inside and outside Menotomy Beer and Wine in Arlington, MA for the store’s second annual Menot-Ö-Fest, an annual charity event to help the GENESIS Network.

The result was the raising of about $4200 for the construction of a new schoolhouse in Hok Pha Lae, Thailand.

“It’s just so nice to see people show up and donate to something that’s going to help people out,” said Menotomy employee Lucas Schleicher.

About twenty-eight area brewers, including Sam Adams, Long Trail, Mayflower, Shipyard, 50 Back, and others had tables set for the gathering, and a door payment of $3 bought customers a glass. Raffle prizes included a Jim Koch-signed Sam Adams Utopia bottle, and Meat House Arlington served BBQ plates of steak and chicken for $8.

Fest-goers line up to try some beer.

Though some Fest-goers knew about GENESIS, others were finding out about the organization for the first time. Through the chatter and companionship over a good brew that defied the rain, it was apparent that everyone was having a good time.

“This is awesome. No one even cares that it’s raining,’ said Dave Rostosil.

“I think it’s great,” said Katie Chiasson.

The accumulated money will be a substantial help to GENESIS as it continues its project, with funds needed for supplies such as books as well as building materials. The opportunity to support a good cause while bringing brewers together is something that Menotomy owner Neil Duggan said will keep the Menot-Ö-Fest alive for years to come.

“We’re going to be doing this (as) our main beer fest forever,” he said.

Robert Moreau is Research Analyst/Outreach for the GENESIS Network. A 2008 Master’s graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Regional Economic and Social Development, Moreau has been working for GENESIS since July 2009. His work has included freelance newspaper pieces and a newsletter published for a Lowell-area social services agency in 2008.

What lessons does the Mortenson controversy have for nonprofits?

Robert Moreau

Research Analyst/Outreach

Everyone has heard the story.

Greg Mortenson poses with children. Mortenson's Central Asia Institute has been rocked by a recent scandal over transparency.

When a failed 1993 attempt to climb K2 ended with a sojourn in the Pakistani village of Korphe, Greg Mortenson found his calling. When he noticed a group of schoolchildren forced to write out their work on the ground outside, he vowed to return one day and build a proper building for them. And so a life’s work began.

 Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute (CAI) has since claimed sponsorship of (as of 2010) over 170 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a total of 68,000 students in classes or graduated. He has received renown to the point where his book “Three Cups of Tea” is required reading for U.S. servicemen going to Afghanistan.

 But is it a fiction? An April 17 60 Minutes segment, featuring interviews with writer and former CAI supporter Jon Krakauer and others, made a case that Mortenson’s story and achievements are not true. Afterwards, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock announced an investigation of the nonprofit, which promised “full transparency” in its records.

 Without question, the controversy casts a pall on the perception of NGO development work as a whole. In its wake, we must ask where the lines between fabrication and miscommunication blur. And how can nonprofits such as the GENESIS Network create public confidence? 

The charges

Jon Krakauer, a former CAI supporter, has accused Mortenson of using funds to pay for self-promotion.

The “60 Minutes” report went along with an e-book entitled “Three Cups of Deceit” written by Krakauer and published by Byliner. Though the book is no longer free, a list of its main claims can be found here.   

 Main charges of the “60 Minutes” segment itself included:

  • Krakauer disupted the account of Mortenson’s visit to Korphe; a second version stated that he did not go there until about a year later.
  • An incident in “Three Cups of Tea” where Mortenson was kidnapped by Taliban was disupted, with one of the men saying the group was acting as Mortenson’s protectors and not Taliban.  
  • A lack of transparency within CAI, which raised about $23 million in donations in 2010. Concerns over CAI acting as a book tour fundraiser for Mortenson were shown by costs including $1.3 million for travel in 2009. Krakauer claimed four board members resigned in 2002 over spending concerns.
  • 60 Minutes visited or otherwise investigated almost 30 CAI schools and found “roughly half were empty, built by somebody else, or not receiving support at all.” Some had not received support in years.
  • Krakauer claimed that Mortenson built only three schools in one province of Afghanistan in 2009, not eleven as publicly claimed.
  • The school Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” sequel “Stones into Schools” discusses the construction of was found empty and unused.

 In an interview with Outside magazine, Mortenson claimed his Korphe experience was accurate and some license was taken by his “Three Cups” co-author David Oliver Relin in sometimes combining multiple trips into one. He also claimed that the accounts of his capture were correct though he wasn’t sure if his abductors were in fact Taliban and he was treated kindly.

 On discrepancies in “Three Cups,” Mortenson said “I should have taken off several months and really focused on the book. But I was trying to raise a family, be gone most of the year, and work 16- to 20- hour days without stopping.”

 On the schools CAI sponsored, there may be confusion regarding the extent of its involvement with each. Jeff McMillan, a personal assistant to Mortenson, told the New York Times in an April 17 article CAI’s work with various schools differed, with some built directly by the organization and others receiving assistance such as teacher salary funding.

 The most heartbreaking aspect of the controversy is whether Mortenson has indeed made false claims or not, his critics and advocates agree he has made positive change in the region. Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and friend of Mortenson, wrote in an April 21 column

 The critics have raised serious questions that deserve better answers: we need to hold school-builders accountable as well as fat cats…But let’s not forget that even if all the allegations turn out to be true, Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children’s lives than you or I ever will.”

The Mortenson scandal thus raises a deeper issue: How can NGOs hold themselves accountable and ensure public confidence in their work?

Alignment and transparency

The Sarhad-e Brogil school is an example of flourishing CAI project. From the New York Times piece "Two Schools in Afghanistan, One Complicated Situation."

 The field of development work is complex, and the success or failure of a project is reliant on its compatibility with the needs of its intended beneficiaries.

 An April 23 New York Times piece compared the unused “Stones into Schools” building with another successful CAI project  and found the contrast in outcomes lay with community buy-in. The building was an hour walk away, in often sub-zero temperatures, from the Kyrgyz village of Bozai Gumbaz, whose inhabitants wanted their children home to take care of sheep. And the Afghan government a year before construction completed had finalized plans to send teachers to the village during summers.

 Thus, this project failure was not due to any attempt to mislead supporters, but not recognizing the desires of the community it was supposed to serve.

 Along with making sure initiatives are workable, nonprofits must take the lead in holding their spending accountable. One example is CAI’s involvement with different schools. There should have been a way for the organization to note its specific involvement with each. Which ones are receiving what types of support? Which ones were no longer receiving donations from CAI? And why?

 Within its own model, the GENESIS Network is working to provide its users:

  • The ability to create an online profile and connect with projects as well as others who support similar interests.
  • Specific project pages, including objectives and plans, current status, finances, and the ability to interact with leaders and donors as well as volunteers and others in the community. Ratings are given in three categories: staff, donor, and third-party, with transparency being a critical factor in evaluation score.
  • Beneficiary pages to directly connect with the people who are being helped. Who are they and how do they feel about how things are going?

As NGOs face an increasingly-skeptical public, what steps do you think they should make to create public confidence in their work?  What special problems do you think development agencies have in making this possible? And how can GENESIS improve its own model? Any and all comments on these questions as well as other points are more than appreciated.

Robert Moreau is Research Analyst/Outreach for the GENESIS Network. A 2008 Master’s graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Regional Economic and Social Development, Moreau has been working for GENESIS since July 2009. His work has included freelance newspaper pieces and a newsletter published for a Lowell-area social services agency in 2008.

Can human trafficking be stopped? CNN’s Hero of the Year may have the answer.

Robert Moreau

Research Analyst/Outreach

Maiti Nepal founder Anuradha Koirala, winner of the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year award.

The serious issue of human trafficking stepped onto the front of world attention with Maiti Nepal founder Anuradha Koirala’s achievement of the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year award in November.

 Established in 1993, Maiti Nepal has grown from an association of 210 awareness activists from different fields into an organization that has helped around 12,000 women and children.

 With the global spotlight on Anurdha Koirala and Maiti Nepal, we should learn from their success. How is Maiti Nepal truly innovative? And as GENESIS is working in Thailand near the Burmese border with its Kid Launch project, how can that region benefit from Maiti Nepal’s example?

Total Care

Maiti Nepal works in a country recovering from a ten-year civil war which ended in 2006; in addition to the trafficking victims it shelters, Maiti Nepal is also caring for 621 child victims of the conflict.

 Nepal’s poverty rate is debated; the country’s National Planning Commission listed it at 25.4 percent in July, while Oxford University listed it as 65 percent, taking a comprehensive view “on the basis of nutrition, electricity, food, energy, drinking water and sanitation, maternal mortality, student enrollment, livelihood and availability of property,” as noted by in a July 16 article.

 Regardless, the CIA World Factbook calls Nepal “among the poorest and least developed countries in the world…(where) agriculture…(provides) a livelihood for three-fourths of the population.” The median age of its population is only 21 years old.

 The desire of young people to leave in search of a better life is a main reason the country is a center of trafficking, as a 2008 Women News Network piece called “Lost Daughters” notes

 “So, why are most brothel owners (In India) interested much more in owning girls from Nepal versus girls from India…villages like Ichowk, Mahankal and Talmarang in the Sindhupalchowk district in northern central Nepal are full of girls who are more than anxious for a better life.”

A Nepalese mother holds a picture of her missing daughter, who was trafficked to India. From the 2008 Women News Network article "Lost Daughters."

According to the U.S. State Department in 2009, India is the destination for about 10-15,000 trafficking victims per year. Apart from India, over one million Nepalese work abroad mostly in Gulf states, where deception by employers including forced labor conditions is a significant issue. Lastly, about 20,000 to 25,000 girls enter forced labor and 7,500 children annually are trafficked for sex domestically.

 Even after escaping, survivors face a social stigma. “Often Nepal society blames the victims of sex-trafficking, not the traffickers, for choosing a “life of immorality,” notes “Lost Daughters.” Other societal issues regarding the position of women in society as well as attitudes towards sexual matters and HIV/AIDS also contribute towards marginalization of victims.

 Due to the issue’s complexity, the organization takes an all-encompassing view of it as related to education, opportunity, and society. Its goal, noted The Rising Nepal, is to “help these girls become economically independent by training them in some skills and reintegrate them into the society.”

 To that end, Maiti Nepal runs three prevention homes. It explains “Girls who are at risk of being trafficked are sheltered… they receive counseling, training in income generating skills.”

 Besides skills training, Maiti Nepal advocates for improved worker rights in restaurants and dance bars, which are prostitution centers. These establishments are placed into three categories: cabin restaurants, restaurants, and dance bars, with cabin restaurants are at the bottom rung of the system. In a 2005 Sanjaal Gantan piece called “Bar Girls of Kathmandu,” Sudeshna Sarkar wrote

 “The cabin restaurants are the most dangerous for women employees …[where] the worst form of sexual exploitation is on the cards…After an inexperienced girl has done a stint in a cabin restaurant…she moves on to the dance bars…in between dance numbers, [she] has to come and sit at the client’s table for a consideration. There could be proposals for more. While some bars let her do what she wants, some pressure her to oblige.” 

 Nepal Restaurant Entrepreneurs Association President Yogendra Chaulagain was quoted as saying that an estimated 75 percent of the around 30,000 Kathmandu employees are 18-25. Maiti Nepal’s Aprana Shresta argued that in fact over half are children. A lack of certified data compounds the problem.

 Various steps Maiti Nepal has advocated include identity cards and uniforms for employees, job guarantees and fixed working hours, and bans on child workers.

 Lastly, it provides legal services to victims; Maiti Nepal has helped convict 496 traffickers so far.

 Raising Awareness and Victim Involvement

Former trafficking victims work a patrol on the Indian border. Patrols are one critical way Maiti Nepal directly involves survivors in its organization.

Another critical component of Maiti Nepal’s success is its ability to raise awareness of human trafficking to the broader public using diverse groups. Healthlink Worldwide notes “mobilizing people through outreach work…is the key to changing attitudes, but it takes time for people for people to accept trafficking as “our problem” rather than something that happens to other people.”

 One critical group is young people, who are most at-risk for trafficking. Maiti Nepal states

“involvement of young people as educators through plays, talk shows, discussions, songs, and real life stories not only gives trafficking a human face, but it also helps to reduce stigma and discrimination by providing a forum for community members to discuss the issue and build shared accountability for preventive action.”

One example of this ongoing involvement is a school oratory competition that took place in October.

Trafficking survivors play a role in the organization, creating a visible presence. “Another cool, even badass, component of Maiti Nepal? An active border patrol made up of trafficking survivors who can spot the crime a mile away and stop it in its tracks,” noted Angela Longerbeam on The average rate of girls saved per day by these patrols, which are coordinated with Nepali police, is four.

 Survivors in the organization have created a cultural troop that puts on performances related to the issue as well as taking up other positions such as vocational trainers.

How can this be applied to Thailand/Burma?

Burmese Rohingya refugees apprehended by the Thai navy. Thailand has faced criticism for its failure to create a consistent policy for Burmese refugees escaping persecution.

As mentioned, the Kid Launch program is one of GENESIS’ major initiatives. Active in a village in Sangklaburi District of Kanchanaburi province in Thailand, near the Burmese border, it works to provide “community education and outreach in support of children that may not otherwise have access to schooling,” including the construction of a new schoolhouse.

Kid Launch works in an area where mass migration is creating an environment ripe for trafficking. A report by the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University states “in 2002, it was estimated that 10,000 women and children from Myanmar enter into prostitution in Thailand every year alone.”

 The reasons so many Burmese are fleeing to Thailand are to flee persecution and junta rule. A 2009 Congressional report states “over 3,200 ethnic villages in Burma have been destroyed since 1996 affecting over one million people. Probably more than 300,000 have fled to Thailand as refugees (the majority being Shan and not recognized by the Thai government).”

 Thailand has historically lacked protections for victims; the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation states “trafficked Burmese women and girls are considered illegal immigrants in Thailand. They are arrested, detained and deported back to Burma.”As of 2004, the deportation figure of Burmese workers from Thailand was over 10,000 per month.

 The Thai government created a law recognizing a protected status for trafficking victims in 1997, but it was criticized for not taking into account male trafficking victims as well as labor workers. It allowed police to detain those it suspects to be victims of trafficking, but not traffickers. 

 The BBC, in a June 2008 article, noted of the confusion in status “A case in point is that of the survivors of an incident two months ago in which 57 Burmese migrants suffocated in a container smuggling them into Thailand. The police argued that they were illegal immigrants, jailed and deported them.”

 After an earlier incident in 2007 where several deaths occurred after Rohingya fleeing persecution were forced back to Burma on motorless boats, two NGOs demanded the Thai government give consistent human rights protection to Burmese refugees.

International criticism led to the creation of a newer law in 2008 to establish penalties for traffickers. 

In Thailand, NGOS have historically been the main party in repatriating victims. With the 1997 law, the government has taken on an increased role mandating “victims of trafficking to be placed under custody of the….Ministry of Social Development and Human Security” and given health checks, counseling as well as vocational development training if needed.

It is good that the Thai government has recently been taking steps to further address the issue, but a consistent policy must be applied with regard to Burmese refugees. More avenues of cooperation with the NGO sector should be emphasized, for example pursuing the idea of border patrols similar to the ones Maiti Nepal conducts alongside the Nepalese government. 

Beyond this, a general lesson from Maiti Nepal’s success is that NGOs should embed themselves into the society. Of course, a network such as Maiti Nepal’s is the product of years of time and effort. But prevention initiatives and awareness within communities are achievable.  

In its Kid Launch project, the GENESIS Network is operating on this principle through emphasizing education as a preventative tool, with the goal of ensuring its school and support initiatives in Sangklaburi can be sustained by the community itself. Though it is a relatively smaller initiative, it provides an example of the kind of efforts that should be made. 

Questions for discussion: What intrigues you the most about Maiti Nepal’s success? How do you think GENESIS and other NGOs working in Burma/Thailand as well as other areas can learn from it? What specific challenges on the Thai/Burmese border area may make it difficult to use an organization in Nepal as a model? Answers to these, as well as any other questions and comments are more than appreciated.

Robert Moreau is Research Analyst/Outreach for the GENESIS Network. A 2008 Master’s graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Regional Economic and Social Development, Moreau has been working for GENESIS since July 2009. His work has included freelance newspaper pieces and a newsletter published for a Lowell-area social services agency in 2008.

Nine months later: How is Haiti recovering?

Robert Moreau

Research Analyst/Outreach

Rubble in Port-au-Prince on January 17, five days after the earthquake. Months later, Haiti is entering a critical period of long-term reconstruction.

Nine months after the devastating January 12, earthquake, Haiti still has a long road to recovery. According to a September 8 United Nations News Service report, “the Haitian government estimates that 1.3 million people are still uprooted…It is estimated that hundreds of thousands will still be in camps or impoverished shelters over the coming year.”

The quake, according to a July study by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, “directly or indirectly affected almost one third of the Haitian population” and was “the most significant disaster requiring a large-scale multi-sectoral international response since the Pakistan earthquake in 2005.”

Though the public eye has since moved on to other stories, the aftereffects of the quake still have a profound impact on Haiti.

So where is the country now in terms of relief and reconstruction? Are things improving? And how are NGOs such as GENESIS continuing to play a role in Haiti?

A recovery delayed

Debris removal in Haiti. Only 300 trucks are handling this enormous task, indicative of the slow pace of recovery.

The Washington Post, in a July 17 editorial, noted aid effort’s effect on Haiti’s stability and stated “Haiti has made it this far without the starvation, epidemics or civil unrest that many feared.”

However, the Post noted that, by that time, “only 28,000 of the [1.5 million] displaced have found permanent shelter” and the job of rubble removal was being handled by only 300 trucks, doing a job “[taking] at least three years with 1,000 trucks to complete, according to some estimates.”

Writing in an October 11 column for, Loyola University professor and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti member Bill Quigley noted

“only 2 percent of the rubble has been removed and only 13,000 temporary shelters have been constructed…not a single cent of the US aid pledged for rebuilding has arrived in Haiti…[and] only 15 percent of the aid pledged by countries and organizations around the world has reached the country so far.”

On October 7, it was reported by the Associated Press that “this week the U.S. funds [1.15 billion] were prepared for release…but in part because a lack of detail it will take at least weeks and perhaps more for the funds to start being delivered on contracts such as rubble removal.”

The U.S. contribution is part of a $5.3 billion total in international donations promised to the recovering nation for 2010-2011; as of October 7, only $732 million was released.

Former President Bill Clinton, co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, was also reported as expressing frustration at the slow flow of aid money. The commission Clinton co-chairs has not been immune to the slow pace of things either; its executive director, Gabriel Verret, was finally hired in August. By that time, the New York Times noted, “about 30 crucial staff positions” still went unfilled.

Chartered on April 19, the Commission, which has an 18-month mandate, only had two board meetings as of August. All in all, this has to be considered a less than stellar start to the organization’s work.

Election-time turmoil?

Raymond Joseph, former Haitian ambassador to the United States. Joseph has accused the country's Provisional Electoral Council of corruption after his presidential bid was rejected.

Alongside the beginnings of long-term recovery and development efforts, Haiti is set to hold new elections on November 28 to have a new government in place next February; current President René Préval, who is constitutionally barred from running again, won parliamentary approval to have his term extended into May 2011 if his replacement is not chosen by February 7. Nineteen candidates are running to replace him, and according to a July 16 Newsweek piece “the country’s government has all but dissolved” in the period before the election.

The impact of the January earthquake extends to Haiti’s ability to prepare for this event; National Public Radio noted on October 7 that it “destroyed 40 percent of the polling stations in the country, killed tens of thousands of voters and displaced hundreds of thousands of others. And numerous people lost all their documents and no longer have voting cards.”

A worrisome factor regarding the elections is allegations of corruption by the administration; Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council rejected 15 potential candidates, with the two most controversial being former Ambassador to the U.S. Raymond Joseph and a candidate from former President Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party.

Writing in a September 9 Christian Science Monitor opinion piece, Joseph questioned the stated reason for his disqualification and remarked that the Haitian government had “failed the first fundamental test in holding credible elections-certifying candidates, and affording each due process under the law, equally and without discrimination.”

To build and maintain confidence in the reconstruction effort, a transparent and efficiently-run election is a necessity.

GENESIS’ work and other promising NGO initiatives

GENESIS Founder and Executive Director Adam Swartzbaugh with families in Haiti.

The GENESIS Network has been active in the Haitian relief effort, providing direct support in areas most devastated by the quake. Now, we are looking for new ways to help as the focus turns towards reconstruction.

Projects GENESIS has undertaken in Haiti are.

  • A joint effort with AquaSafe of Australia to provide water filtration where infrastructure has been damaged. 
  • Providing tents to Haitians left homeless in and around in the epicenter of the earthquake, in collaboration with Sumitomo’s Olyset Net of Japan and with the support of International Action and the Lafana Institute of Hope.
  • Donating medical, food and clothing supplies to children orphaned by the disaster with US-based companies and organizations including Red Skies Publishing, Notre Dame d’Haiti Churches and the Haitian communities of Miami.

 As well as this, we are seeking new prospects for a project similar to Kid Launch in Thailand that will focus on sustainable development through education and vocational training, creating long-term solutions in an environment where short-sidedness continues to plague relief efforts.

Other NGOs are stepping up to the plate in providing new ideas and rebuilding Haiti for the future. Examples include:

  • The Cooperative Farm Initiative for Haiti was founded by Haitian-Americans Patrick Belizaire and Jean Velarus, alongside others. Working in the country’s Artibonite Region, it introduces modern farming equipment and better methods to Haitian farmers. Because of the massive decline in Haiti’s rural economy over the past two decades, leading to an 80 percent unemployment rate, the restoration of a sustainable and productive agricultural sector is critical.
  • Zafen is an interest-free microloan program established in 2010 “with the objective of having a positive impact on Haiti’s economic, social, and physical environment by providing micro, small, and medium sized enterprises with enhanced access to capital.” It was created with “the collective expertise of the worldwide Vincentian Family.” Partners in Zafen include Fonkonze, DePaul University, and the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group.  A list of projects Zafen is currently working on is available here.

Building on its own initiatives and working in concert with other NGOs helping Haitians on the ground level, GENESIS hopes to find new ways to make an impact as the picture moves towards long-term rebuilding of Haiti.

Questions for discussion: Where do you see Haiti headed in the future? And moving forward, how can GENESIS play a role in continuing to stay engaged with Haiti during its ongoing recovery? Answers to these, as well as other comments and questions are greatly appreciated.

Robert Moreau is Research Analyst/Outreach for the GENESIS Network. A 2008 Master’s graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Regional Economic and Social Development, Moreau has been working for GENESIS since July 2009. His work has included freelance newspaper pieces and a newsletter published for a Lowell-area social services agency in 2008.

Brown University Club of Miami Hosts GENESIS

The doors to collaboration were swung open as the Brown Alumni Group of Miami hosted the GENESIS Network this past Saturday, July 17th in Miami Beach.

A diverse group of uniquely passionate individuals gathered to listen as GENESIS founder, Adam Swartzbaugh, shared the experiences, observations and insights that have collectively shaped the structure and mission of this organization.

With audience responses running the gamut of human emotion, it was quite the presentation!  I’m familiar with the many ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories of children with broken souls and stolen innocence.  However, it is the overwhelming sense of humanity and hope that prevails as you listen to the one about a boy and a beaten down little dog becoming a catalyst to a behavioral shift within a community…How the power of perception – a simple introduction to a better way – can ultimately change the course by which a life is lived…or even saved.

That little dog, a daily target of random kickings and errant rocks, reinforced a passionate belief that it does only take one to make a difference.  A few minutes of guidance from Adam resulted in a group of children looking at this creature with new eyes – suddenly it was no longer ‘ugly and useless’ but ‘soft, fuzzy and lovable’.

The following day, one of these kids witnessed further injustice against the little puppy by yet another group of children.  The boy fights through the crowd, swoops the dog up into his arms and fervently enlightens his peers of this little dog’s value on earth – the benefits to loving him and even respecting him as another living creature.  Puppy’s days as a soccer ball are over and a community’s younger generation has experienced a shift in a collective view.

Of course, the beauty in all this goes beyond fighting for the liberation of subjugated canines in Thailand.  It lies in the power to change or inspire a course of action by sharing an idea, a vision, no matter how-off-the-wall it may seem.

As I spoke with guests, I heard everything from urgent needs to participate in the decommissioning of international trafficking circles and educators hungry to work GENESIS programs into their own curriculums, to young students ready to board the next plane to wherever they could be of use or desiring to start their own local revolutions.  Really, some great stuff!

These are the ideas and visions that plant seeds that transform people,strengthen communities and brighten futures.  It’s the ‘putting them into action’ that makes them spread like wildfire.  This is one of the most wonderful elements of the Network.  Collectively, we have the tools to make unbelievably impressive changes in this world.  By way of social collaboration, everyone in that room had (and has) the potential to make tangible the visions they shared that evening.

The GENESIS Network has presented us with the tools many have long searched for, complete with the opportunity to witness the results of our efforts.  The peace of mind that should go along with the concept of working with and supporting such projects, is once again, with the people.  What we’re doing is making a difference and we are seeing it first hand.

I attended this event as a member of an organization – the work and concepts of which I’ve long believed in and supported.  Sharing an evening with these people –  some of whom I believe will be sharing their own stories in the future, about a school they hammered the final nail into, or of the  family enrolling their child into school thanks to a mango crop they helped to plant – seemed to bring it all full circle.  It is a level of humanness rarely felt as we run through our days, linked in and tuned out, swerving through traffic and schedules and crashing, exhausted, at the end of the day.

Witnessing hearts and minds opening and ideas unfolding makes all else fade, if only for moment.  We realize that the world can be changed in a lifetime and this great desire to be part of something ‘bigger’ keeps growing.  And why in the world would we not start now?

The opportunity is here and it is ours in whatever way we decide to make it our own.

View the GENESIS Events Page for upcoming events in your area.

Lauren Swartzbaugh is the Outreach and Networking Director for the GENESIS Network.   Having worked with non-profit organizations ranging from human rights advocacy to environmental awareness and protection , Lauren has been working for GENESIS since December 2008. Lauren brings the GENESIS cause to life using a unique combination of social networking and local empowerment

How is nonprofit accountability evaluated in Haiti?

Robert Moreau

Research Analyst/Outreach

Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation has been dogged by controversy

The eyes of the world media have largely moved on to other issues, but ongoing relief in Haiti continues. As noted by the Brookings Institution, “the publicly disseminated Action Plan for Reconstruction and National Development of Haiti…has assessed Haiti’s reconstruction needs over the next three years at $11.5 billion.” At a UN conference in late March-early April, international donors pledged $9.9 billion in reconstruction aid.

 As noted, Haiti has an abundance of nonprofit organizations in the country, and most education and healthcare has historically been provided by NGOs. Even in the pre-earthquake period, transparency was a concern-a trend continuing into the relief efforts.

 On February 24, CBS News published an article delving into the practices of Feed the Children, where it refuted a statement the charity ran a camp “providing medical relief for 12,000 people,” among other claims.

 Even before then, Wyclef Jean’s Yele nonprofit came under scrutiny. Investigations by the Associated Press and The Smoking Gun found that the charity was closely linked to Jean’s business interests and filed three years of tax returns on the same date, among other highlights.

 The question must be asked: how can the public know what is being done with its money and who is it really going to help? Transparency, therefore, is an issue that must be addressed.

 Nonprofits Emphasizing Transparency

The stories of Feed the Children and Yele are shocking and do much to discourage confidence in relief efforts, but other agencies have emphasized transparency in their work. Two of these are:

NGO transparency. It's of critical importance but what is the best solution to achieve it?

However, overall “charities aren’t accompanying their appeals with the information we’d need to have a sense of their “room for more funding,” noted in a February 4 posting where it gave a  list of four questions  it believes charities should be asked.

  • “1. How much are you trying to raise?
  • 2.  Roughly speaking, what activities are you seeking to fund?
  • 3.  How much have you raised so far?
  •  4. If you raise more than your target, what will you do with the remaining funds?”

 GiveWell scoured the web to see if 17 major charities involved in the effort answered these questions, and found that apart from MSF, all of them did not. Also, finding relevant information often required an exhausting search through many web pages.

 Some websites have worked to provide some monitoring, with the largest being, which makes background information on organizations and verified “activity reports” available. However, some observers worry about inaccurate whistle blowing reaching third-party sources, or that aid workers will not come forward unless they can be guaranteed anonymity.

 While third-party monitoring, whether it be from journalists or independent websites, can play a role in keeping NGOs honest, aid agencies themselves must take the lead in making information detailed, honest,  regularly updated, and easily accessible. However, given the potential for bias by reports from upper brass without dispute by voices “on the ground” is there an ideal mix of internal and third-party monitoring that would be ideal?

 Through its interactive model, the GENESIS Network continues to develop and implement comprehensive measures of transparency in Haiti and elsewhere.  A piece will follow with detail about GENESIS’ response to accountability.

Ideas for discussion: What ways (activity/financial reports, news, photos, etc.) do you think charities can effectively show transparency in their projects? Which methods of doing so might be overrated? What are the advantages and pitfalls of self-monitoring and third-party independent monitoring, and how could they ideally complement one another? Any and all questions and comments about these or other points are appreciated.

Robert Moreau is Research Analyst/Outreach for the GENESIS Network. A 2008 Master’s graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Regional Economic and Social Development, Moreau has been working for GENESIS since July 2009. His work has included freelance newspaper pieces and a newsletter published for a Lowell-area social services agency in 2008

How can microcredit lift families from poverty?

Robert Moreau

Research Analyst/Outreach

GENESIS's Mi Cometa project hopes to bring assistance to 157 families

Presently, GENESIS will be supporting a microcredit initiative to bring relief and opportunity to 157 families in South Guasmo, Guayaquil, Ecuador. The Mi Cometa project hopes to create small business and economic growth in an area where families averaging five members live on monthly incomes of only U.S. $250, using an approach that has achieved global prominence as a way to reduce poverty.

A short introduction to microcredit

As noted by Empower Global, microcredit “involves providing small sums of capital, often as little as $75, to micro entrepreneurs to enable them to establish or expand their business and become self-reliant.” These small businesses, the summary goes on to note, employ “two people (usually a husband & wife, and benefits an entire family which on average consists of five people (a husband, wife & three children).”

On microcredit’s potential, Empower Global summarizes: “each micro-loan funds 1,000 businesses, creating or supporting 2,000 jobs and helping to transform the lives of 5,000 impoverished people.” These loans have an “impressive track record” of 95-98 percent repayment rates.

Though “microcredit” may seem to be a fairly new concept, its history dates back to 1976 when Dr. Muhammad Yunus of the University of Chittagong, Bangladesh founded the Grameen Bank as a pilot project in the village of Jobra. By 1983, it was formally incorporated as an independent bank.

Microcredit’s greatest successes came in 2005, when the UN celebrated in International Year of Microcredit, and 2006, when Dr. Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work with Grameen.

Microcredit program example (diagram), Vietnamese Heritage Institute

Examples of microcredit organizations/projects

  • Grameen Bank (Bangladesh):  The organization that started microfinancing, Grameen currently has 2,564 branches in 81,351 villages, with a total staff of 23,133. Since its inception, it has paid out Tk 522.24 billion ($9.09 billion in loans), with 463.24 billion (US $8.05 billion) repaid.  95 percent of the bank’s total equity is owned by its borrowers.
  • Ruwentu Women’s Micro-credit program (Uganda): Started by the Umoja Operation Compassion Society of British Columbia, this project began in 2007 when the organization raised $1,000 to lend to ten women (about $60 each) in the village of Ruwentu to start various businesses. As of February 2009, the project scope expanded to 23 beneficiaries.
  • BancoSol (Bolivia): Originally founded in 1986 as the “Fundacion para Promocion el Desarollo de la Microempresa,” BancoSol became the first commercial bank specializing in microfinance in 1992. Today it is active in eight major cities in Bolivia, and has over 100 branches. As of 2008, it had 109,763 active borrowers. Its status as a commercial bank has led to some concern over mission drift.
  • World Job and Food Bank (various): A Canada-based organization with United Nations (ECOSOC) consultative status, the WJFB grew out of the Calgary Interfaith Food bank starting in 1982 and was formally registered as a charity in 1986. Their various initiatives have included two three-year (2001-2004) microcredit projects in Peru and Bolivia.

As should be noted, no single approach towards eradicating poverty is an instant cure-all, and microcredit itself has not been without controversy. However, microcredit has proven itself over its 34-year history to be an effective and novel tool to enable families to lift themselves into self-sufficiency.

Mi Cometa (GENESIS): Building on microcredit’s success

The Mi Cometa initiative looks to continue microcredit’s strong history of enabling opportunity for those in need. Focusing on an area where the average income is less than half of what is required for an adequate living in Ecuador, its goal is to work with families through education as well as loan-granting, with a 50-hour training program covering such diverse areas as microcredit, marketing, and leadership.

GENESIS is hoping to raise $17,500.00 for this initiative, and any donation is appreciated.

Reader Questions: What do you think of microcredit as a way to address global poverty? What benefits or drawbacks (mentioned or not in this post) do you see it as having? What do you think about GENESIS’s Mi Cometa project in terms of what it offers or could offer? Responses to these, as well as all other questions and comments, are strongly encouraged.