community-update

Growing Concerns with International Relief Organization "Food For The Poor"

Big problems come when helping the poor becomes a big business. The Haitian Project (THP) has recognized this for years and has fought, both in Haiti and in the U.S., for the support of authentic missionary work that is rooted within the Church and guided by the values of subsidiarity, solidarity, and conversion.  It is no accident that THP’s mission is to increase access to education.   

Think about it…  

There is a limit to what we can do for others and how much we can "change" another person and that person's life. However, there is virtually no limit to what a person can do for themselves with an education and access to a good job.  

Education is received freely by the recipient. Since a child cannot pay for his or her own education, it is necessary that it be provided by others; either parents or the community. The result of receiving an education however, does not create dependency, but empowers a person to gain the other things necessary for life. It is both natural and appropriate to give education.

Education is the best multiplier. In Haiti, like in our own nation, education is the surest way out of poverty and to a higher income.  This is recognized by Haitian parents and Church and civic leaders alike. (Click here to read an interesting article detailing a conversation between Chicago Mayor and Brown University President on this.) 


Is it appropriate to make poverty merely survivable, when you can actually make it escapable? (Photo from www.foodforthepoor.org.)

Is it appropriate to make poverty merely survivable, when you can actually make it escapable? (Photo from www.foodforthepoor.org.)

For over a decade, Food For The Poor (FFP) has stood out for the questionable ways it seems to conduct its business. In fact, THP has frequently raised concerns about FFP as it appears to have a special knack for giving unneeded, unhelpful, and unsustainable gifts to the poor of Haiti.  In our own experience, we have received gifts that ranged in “usefulness” from a stack of Rachael Ray Cookbooks, to beans that contained so many rocks that our cooks refused to use them.

Now, a recent cease and desist order filed against FFP by the Attorney General of California has provided additional reason for concern.

An analysis of the situation by Slate Magazine does a great job explaining what THP has argued for years:

By overinflating its in-kind contributions…Food for the Poor can claim to be much more efficient than it really is. The charity claims prominently on its homepage that 95.6 percent of “expenditures” were on programs, while just 4.4 percent were on fundraising and administration. That…reassures donors that their money is being put to good use, feeding the poor. But Food for the Poor’s ratios are a function of using a highly inflated denominator…. The upshot is that 1 of every 3 cash dollars donated to Food for the Poor in 2015 was spent on either management or fundraising—and that’s using the charity’s own expansive definition of what counts as a “program service expense.” 

Click the button below to read the full Slate Magazine article, "Inflated Expectations."

 

The Boston Globe recently published a cover story about Food For The Poor's questionable practices as well. THP President Deacon Patrick Moynihan and his wife Christina, who have lived and worked in Haiti for the greater part of the last twenty years, are quoted in the article expressing their concerns with the organization. 

"They are gaming the industry, because those of us who are not gaming cannot beat those ratios.  Food for the Poor is very likely taking donations from compassionate, well-intentioned individuals of modest means in order to help corporations dispose of their trash."

 - THP President Dcn. Patrick Moynihan in The Boston Globe, 6-3-18

Click the button below to read the full Boston Globe article on Food For The Poor.


So, why do we care about what Food For The Poor is doing?

It corrupts the nonprofit sector.  FFP’s fundraising model creates a perverse incentive for all nonprofits to find ways to understate their administrative expenses and overstate their program numbers in order to compete with the “efficiency” marketed by FFP and organizations with similar models.  That FFP and similar organizations operate (and thrive) in this manner greatly risks undermining the public’s trust in the sector as a whole.  And that is bad news for all of us. 

This is not just our opinion, but is based on reports in the press or other public filings of investigations in CA, MN, MI, FL and MA. Or consider, for example, how Slate Magazine recently described some of the likely practices of an organization that claims to be a champion of the poor as “…morally dubious, at best…ironically [delivering] Money for the Rich.”  (You can find the link to the full article below.) 

We have Haiti’s back. We are in the fight alongside Haitians committed to building a stronger and highly functional country so that Haiti’s people may escape poverty, not merely become more comfortable within it.  Our decades of on-the-ground experience in Haiti have given us strong connection to Haitian private-sector leaders and others who have raised serious concerns about FFP’s activity and their propensity to undermine and impede Haiti’s institutional development.  This works at cross-purposes with what we and our partners in Haiti dream the country can become.   

We care about the Church’s mission. FFP, an ecumenical organization, raises a significant amount of money from Catholic parishes around the country.  That means that there is less money to support the Church at home and authentic Catholic missionary work abroad. 

Female Enrollment Strong and Steady

When THP President Deacon Patrick Moynihan arrived at Louverture Cleary School in 1996, changes were in order.  At the time, only 15% of the LCS student population was female.  Reasons for this disparity are many and include a domestic culture that views sons as more likely to earn an income and thus more deserving of what few educational opportunities exist. 

A strict affirmative action plan was immediately put into place, requiring at least 40% of each incoming class be female. Because potential students must pass an entrance exam for enrollment, this necessitated enrolling some females even if they tested lower than a number of males. 

Within only a few years, it became far less necessary to adjust the acceptance process.  Word got out about the success of LCS’s women graduates and biases in the community began to change.  Soon, LCS had a large number of female applicants to pull from.  

In 1996 only 15% of LCS’ students were female. Today, over 50% of LCS’ students are female.

"Right rules equal right results.”

Leveling the ratio is truly something to celebrate, but, as Deacon Moynihan points out, it is “very normal” that LCS won this particular battle:

If you put the right rules in place and defend those rules, you will get the right results. Beyond the pure justice of this issue, it is a great indicator that, in Haiti, if you introduce purposeful rules you will get very normal outcomes.

Today, there is no affirmative action plan—it is no longer necessary. Philo (US 12th grade +1) student Edwine Estinfil is just one of many who has benefited from the cultural shift that was ignited by the plan in 1996 and that now drives the large numbers of female applicants. She will graduate in a few short weeks from LCS, after which she plans to attend university and study medicine.  Edwine, fittingly, finds motivation in her mother:

My mom only went to elementary school.  I see how she has worked very hard to put me where I am.  I want to seize the opportunities that my mom did not have and make her life easier after I go to university.

Edwine Estinfil, pictured far right with a few of her Philo classmates, reflects: “We are also human beings and deserve to be educated because we have the same dignity.” 

Breaking the Poverty Vacuum in Haiti

Salomon Asmath, team manager at Energy Central, a solar panel sales, installation, and maintenance company in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince is a 1998 graduate of Louverture Cleary School with a perfect employment record.  He has been continuously employed since graduating from LCS.  

Salomon is one of many graduates breaking stereotypes about poverty in Haiti. A snapshot of his resume shows a man who has worked his way from stock keeper at a hardware store to his current position at Energy Central, which he helped start and now co-owns.

His employee badge reads he is from Cité Soleil, a fact that throws his customers off.  Cité Soleil is a deeply impoverished area near Port-au-Prince and home to many LCS students. Typically, Cité Soleil is tapped for factory labor at best, while management positions are awarded to people with wealth and strong family connections. Salomon sees this changing thanks to LCS:

Employers want LCS graduates – they know that they can trust them. I have not seen anyone who was poor and did not go to LCS in a management position. 

While THP has always known that education empowers individuals and their families, 20 years and hundreds of alumni later, it is now clear that LCS graduates are empowering their nation.  THP President Deacon Patrick Moynihan characterizes this change as something physical, like breaking the vacuum seal off a jar. If people living in poverty have literally been kept in cultural isolation, then education, specifically a Louverture Cleary education, is the force breaking that seal to allow for an equal and free flowing exchange throughout all levels of society.  

breaking-poverty-vacuum.jpg

Salomon Asmath, LCS '98, at work at Energy Central, a solar company he helped begin and now co-owns.

Post graduate support emerges

Salomon graduated from LCS when Deacon Moynihan, newly arrived in Haiti, was confronted with the reality that without connections or money to pay for university, graduates had no place to go after LCS. Thus, THP's Junior Staff program was born, offering new graduates part time employment at LCS to help pay for university.  Deacon Moynihan hit the pavement quickly, establishing connections with local business owners for internships. It did not take long for THP’s Office of External Affairs to emerge – first, managing internships then, formalizing university scholarship and networking programs for graduates.  Today, the OEA supports university scholarships for more than 100 graduates every year and has a steady network of companies that are hiring LCS grads, sometimes up to 10 at a time.

Of LCS' more than 600 graduates, 90% are either in university or employed in Haiti.  The vacuum seal that has prevented Haiti's poor in the Port-au-Prince area from being seen as individuals capable of supporting themselves and their families has been broken through the power of education at one school.  Imagine the possibilities.

“In a country like Haiti the one thing we need is better education at all levels of society.”                                                                                                  – Salomon Asmath