Mediators as early responders – follow up and a discussion of a recent trip to Haiti


Some may recall that we wrote a post in February in an effort to open a discussion of the need to have mediators and facilitators on early responder teams who resppond to disasters. A  robust and informative online exchange was  had with many helpful points ov view being exchanged. This was followed by a discussion of several interested mediators in Washington DC in March of this year. All of the comments to the earlier posts and a bibliography of collected references was provided to all participants. Anyone  interested in that compilation can email me directly for a copy.

A couple of hours of pointed discussion in Washington DC in March led to these questions/tasks/points:

  1. There is often a need for conflict management skills after the early responders have left and there is a lull in activity. NGO’s become conflicted internally and conflicts between NGOs and beween NGOs and local officials.
  2. Do we add value/credibility by being trained as relief workers?
  3. How can we build relationships with NGO relief providers ( potential partners)  in advance of a natural disaster?
  4. Should we consider developing a program to train early responders in mediation?
  5. We should perform a survey of all of the natural disaster providers as a starting point.
  6. We should develop an inventory of  the skill sets that would be necessary  for any team sent in.
  7. To avoid the notion that we are early responders we are early responders, we should call ourselves “Mediators In Times of Crisis”  ( MITC)

We have not,  as a group, begun to explore these issues since then.

However, I made a recent assessment  trip to Haiti with Alan Gross ( a NY & PA mediator, trainer and facilitator who has worked all over the world).  We went with the thought in mind that we would assess the presence of conflicts falling within the first listed point above.

My  friend, Erik Kulstad, an ER doctor in Chicago,  had just volunteered for two weeks in Haiti and suggested that things weere pretty chaotic there.  Based upon that there appeared to be a need to take the next step, and the timiong appeared to be appropriate. The early responders had done there work. There was a substantial NGO/volunteer presence that was still working in Haiti, and some apparent conflicts present.

Erik introduced  me to Paul Sebring who operates MMRC-US a brand new  NGO that focuses on logistics in Port-au-Prince Paul and I had several conversations that led me to conclude that teh time was right to go. I solicited Alan’s help, and he kindly agreed. We first made sure that we were not goiong to be a drain on local resources or get in the way. Paul said that he would introduce us to some folks, and asked us to assist with some conflicts he was exposed to involving other NGOs and local organizations. We brought our own food to insure we would not be a drain. Paul let us stay at the MMRC-US operations center where there was room. We knew we would need water locally, but other than that, we were not going to deprive locals. Paul had a truck to take us where we needed to go. Paul said that he had thinhs to keep us busy when we were not pon appointments.

I  had some travel complications that kept me inMiami overnight, so Alan was a day ahead of me. On arival I was greated at the airport by Alan and the MMRC vehicle. No waiting!  We were on the way to drop a volunteer off at the Kola orphanage.

The 20 children were cared for by a mom and her two daughters. It was essentially 2 12 foot square tents that operated as classrooms by day and sleepiong quarters at night. MMRC-US built the tents and provides food, medicine and has health care workers check in on the kids. We were dropping Craig off who is doing a study on the numerous orphanages that have sprung up in Haiti post earthquale. The kids were all smiles and immediately jumped on us, and stuck to yus like glue. Christina and Little Paul from MMRC were with us, as was Carol. The kids were clearly attached to them. Have a look at this clip:

That clip shows the innocence of the youngest and the hope of those that look after the children.  A tragically different picture is painted by the look of despair in the eyes of those waiting for medical assistance at the clinic:

or searching in the rubble:

The fact is that the rubble is still there. Some have been allowed back into their homes but many are still in tents, fearful of the start of  hurricane season:

So, as conflict practitioners, we met with NGO workers as we helped distribute food and medicine; built tents; and delivered supplies. The relief work was done in conjunction with a  great group — Carol, Maya and  Ericka, and “the guys”  from Haiti. The NGO workers did not perceive any conflicts amongst their teams or between teams.

We, then, began talking to local folks who raised an important issue —

Are the volunteers, NGOs and other organizations who are there to help, in fact taking away the opportunity for Haitians to help themselves, learn a trade or sell a product?


— are volunteer doctors who see anyone for free unknowingly affecting the income of local physicians whose offices are empty?

— do the donated pharmaceuticals keep people out of the pharmacy?

— does donated housing materials keep people from buying locally?

and, the list goes on and on and on.

Life in Haiti is primarily a life of hustling on the street:

Given the overwhelming poverty present in the country, these questions are hard to answer.

It appears that, with regard to Haiti in particular, the roles of NGOs need to be re-assessed in light of the countries pre-disaster condition. Attention needs to be paid to not only the immediate impact of the volunteer efforts as well as the long-term impact. I am reminded of the following, Chinese proverb ( by attribution) :

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

Shouldn’t there be, in Haiti,  some attention paid and some  common ground reached where the billions of dollars raised around the world for the reconstruction of Haiti find its way into the Haitian economy.

There is a tremendous need to train and employ Haitians. The NGOs should set aside , in each endeavor, some money and time to train Haitians so that they can become employable and self-sustaining.

Every medical NGO can train  health care workers.

Every construction company can train carpenters, laborers, electricians and other trades.

Every food provider can employ locals to deliver the aid.

And the list goes on and on.

And the opportunities to contribute to a sustainable Haiti grow and grow.

It seems that we mediators can take the lead in this regard. We can teach Haitians skills to mediate existing disputes and how to peacefully and effectively advocate for a wise and thoughtful use of the existing aid and volunteer efforts that contribute to:

  • the long-term health of its population;
  • the education of its children;
  • the training of its workers;
  • the viability of its economy;
  • the effectiveness of its government; and,
  • the effective participation of its citizens in all of the above.

So with this in mind, we see an opportunity with mediators, conflict managers and trainers to set an example and start a framework for these processes to be put in place.  So we intend to train Haitians in mediation, facilitation, advocacy, dialogue and in training itself.  We are taking steps to start a program to train Haitian lawyers in mediation to work on the  existing 7 – 10 year backlog of cases in the Haitian judicial system. This can eventually include the development of community mediation centers to handle disputes at a local level by people from the community.

We hope to work with existing NGOs to start peer mediation training in the schools, which in many respects need a fresh look at how to get kids into school; how to keep kids in school and how to treat kids while there.

We hope to empower Haitians to be able to advocate for themselves so that from the rubble and chaos, there arises a new Haiti that provides the Haitians with a home; an education; a job; and a country in which they have pride.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your article and I truly appreciate the fact that you are using your skills to give back to people in need, especially at a time when it’s not in the spotlight of the media, and most people have all but forgotten about this disaster. I had just began my final semester of law school in January when the earthquake occurred, and it really bothered me that there was nothing I could do directly to help these people. Although, I had never taken any previous interest in humanitarian work, nor was I looking for a cause to support, I recognized that intermediaries were need to help facilitate communications between a society in chaos, as failing government, and a influx of support from around the world. It was evident that the earthquake was just one of the many factors which resulted in such a surreal tragedy. My wife (who went on a mission trip to Haiti several years ago) and I have had many discussions about possible ways to contribute. Aside from finishing my last semester of law school (and now studying for the Kentucky Bar Exam), we have been discouraged from any attempts to help due to the lack of resources available to support those who are there already, as you mentioned taking your own resources would be necessary. My wife and I are still dedicated to doing anything we can to help these people, please let me know if I can help you with this in any way! After I take the KY bar exam July 27, I am taking my general and family mediation certification classes, and I hope to have my observation hours completed before my bar exam results are returned. I am very thankful for the opportunities I have been given , and once I’m in a position to do so, I hope to follow by the example you are setting, and give back to those who haven’t had such opportunities.

    You can contact me at or view my blogs at and

    1. Randy: Thanks for your comment. Good luck with the Kentucky bar exam. I think you will find mediation work very rewarding. It is particularly rewarding when you can combine it with humanitarian efforts. We are still developing a project for Haiti, so let’s keep in touch.


  2. I was searching about this issue everywhere,I was really curious about this…Really big thanks.May i ask something to publisher? Is there any possible e-mail list which i can join and it may send me your new articles to my e-mail? Farewell, Richard

  3. Hi, Thomas,

    This is a really rich article. It shows how someone from outside the “system” with open eyes, ears and heart – as well as coaching and conflict resolution skills – can help participants reframe discussions and build a new context out of the rubble of an old one.

    The world so much needs new ways of seeing. The charity gig is growing long of tooth.

    Well done!


    1. Barbara: Thanks for your kind words. It was truly a remarkable experience. ANd now, things are getting worse, as you know. If you have any interest a friend is doing a workshop at the law school, and is welcoming others to make short presentations on topics of interest. If you want to participate, let me know, I can pass along the information.


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