The juxtaposition of the huge expansive mansions in Belvil and the tent camp just outside the sheltered suburban section of Port-au-Prince shocked me as we weaved our way through the heavy city traffic. Two small girls, pristinely presented in their school uniform were walking through the camp as we passed by.
Clouds of white dust filled the air as we drove out of town along rough roads towards one of the IDP camps further out of Port-au-Prince. We arrived and our groups were separated for a tour of the camps. The two camps we visited appeared to be very well organised, tents had been replaced with temporary shelters; small huts forming neat lines across the camp. Washing lines were strung between the huts and goats shuffled through the rubbish at the edge of the compound. A football pitch had been set up in the middle of the camp and a group of boys raced round in the dust after the ball.
Despite the early morning hour, the sun was already beating down, and we met a group of women in the shade of some trees at the edge of the football pitch. The football game was soon abandoned as the sun was too hot, and we moved our chairs further into the shadows under the tree. As the focus group discussions began, more and more women appeared, eager to have their voices heard, and curious to find out what was going on.
As we asked the women about the daily problems they experienced in the camps a stream of complaints and frustrations was vented. We carefully explained that we were not there to deal directly with their complaints but to find out if they knew how to make a complaint to the relevant people. It soon became apparent that the root of the problem was that they felt there was not a way to make their voices heard, and when they had tried to complain, it was not taken seriously, or no response was ever given.
Being accountable to beneficiaries is essential if a project or programme is to provide the most suitable response to the needs of the community. We came away from the meeting with plenty of learning to put into practise, and determined to find the best way of providing a means for those voices to be heard.