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Faith-based organizations in post-earthquake Haiti: religion and humanitarian aid

The ethnographic research that forms the basis of this thesis is set in the context of the earthquake of January 12, 2010 in Haiti. Causing more than 300,000 casualties, this was one of the deadliest disasters in recent history, giving rise to a series of humanitarian and military interventions as well as subsequent secondary disasters, including a cholera epidemic that killed a further eight thousand people. In the meantime Haiti has been dubbed the “Republic of NGOs”. Even before the quake the Caribbean state was host to a multitude of non-governmental aid organizations, with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 14, 000 NGOs, thus making the “poorest nation of the Western hemisphere” the one with the highest per capita ratio of NGOs worldwide. Additionally the country has been the scene of an UN stabilizing mission, MINUSTAH, since 2004.

This research analyzes the work of several faith-based NGOs in post-earthquake Haiti.  It seeks to illustrate the ways in which faith motivates both the staff as well as the beneficiaries of the organizations, and, secondly, how their actions relate to notions of professionalism and codes of conduct in the globalized world of NGOs.

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) within the field of humanitarian aid have become increasingly visible, in Haiti as well as in other intervention sites all over the world. Thus, the study of FBOs in contemporary contexts of processual disasters and humanitarian emergencies is especially relevant in analyzing the world of international aid. One can observe globally intensified modes of non-governmental intervention in general.

Additionally, a “resurgence of religion” is taking place,  also in formally secularized

regions of the world. Faith-based organizations are being more generously funded, more widely recognized by international donor agencies.  While religion itself always has been an important factor in the majority of countries in which international aid agencies operate.  Thus, religion needs to be addressed as an analytic variable alongside gender, class, “race” and ethnicity to the study of interdependent inequalities. It remains to be analyzed in what ways faith-based humanitarianism provide a contemporary alternative to the work secular agencies.

The subject of interdependent Inequalities will be approached from different angles. First as the raison d'être for the FBOs, as Haiti's present status quo is deriving from historical, and contemporary socio-economic and socio-political inequalities that the aid agencies try to counterbalance. Secondly the phenomenon of humanitarianism itself is embedded in the very same interdependent system that creates inequalities and can thus contribute to the persistence and reconfiguration of interdependent inequalities.
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