Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Schuller, Mark. Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-8135-5363-4. 233 pp.
Reviewed by Lisa-Marie Pierre
Mark Schuller is the author of Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs, a 2010 Rutgers University Press publication. Schuller has an educational background in anthropology, women’s studies, and global studies. He currently is an assistant professor of anthropology and NGO leadership development at Northern Illinois University. As a scholar, Schuller has published over twenty articles and book chapters, one documentary, and four books on Haiti, non-governmental organizations, gender, and globalization. Killing with Kindness is a great addition to his academic portfolio and topically relevant to current NGO news in Haiti.
Schuller uses a civic infrastructure framework and an ethnographically based analysis to describe the non-governmental politics in Haiti and beyond. This book will interest anthropology students and scholars or individuals interested in learning about Haiti, international development, and nongovernmental organizations through a critical sociopolitical lens. After a descriptive narrative introduction of his time in Haiti during the 2004 coup and after the 2010 earthquake, Schuller reveals his research questions by the end of the introductory chapter. The three central questions that drive Schuller's thesis are as follows:
· “How are we to evaluate NGOs and their impacts on Haiti and other countries in the global South?” (p. 9)
· “Do NGOs democratize development, being closer to the people they serve and offering a better system of governance as some believe?” (p. 9)
· “Are NGOs a tool of imperialism… on what basis can we make and evaluate these claims?” (p. 9)
Schuller often flashes between the past and present to address his research questions. For some readers, this may not be a writing style they enjoy and serves as a distraction to the purpose of the book, but for others, the process of reading through past experiences and comparisons to the 2010 earthquake may help them think through their own opinions about non-governmental organizations and participation at the local level.
Schuller’s goal is that the reader discovers that a relationship exists between development aid, recipient nongovernmental organizations, and communities as it applies to Haiti. This goal is achievable for readers of this book. The book is divided into five chapters – as Schuller calls it, a ‘detective story’ – all framed by theory, personal accounts, literature and Schuller’s strong ethical standpoint and policy recommendations for international aid in Haiti. The introduction is the first time the reader learns of Schuller’s experiences in Haiti, the research questions, and the structure of the book.
In chapter one, Schuller introduces the readers to the issues women face in Haiti. It is also the introduction to the two organizations – Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm. These two organizations are used to frame the importance of women’s organizations and the relationships between donors and local agencies in Haiti. In chapters two through four, Schuller discusses the history of the Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm. These three chapters paint the picture of the relationships these two organizations have with their staff, the community, and the donor organizations. Also, Schuller provides insight into the autonomy or lack of autonomy from donor organizations that Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm have at their local office.
In chapter five, Schuller gives insight into the history of USAID and its donor policies, while tying the chapter back to Fanm Tet Ansanm and Sove Lavi and the hierarchical nature between donors and recipients. In the conclusion and afterward, Schuller discusses his theoretical framework in more detail and concludes the book with recommendations on how to end killing with kindness in Haiti. He addresses this section to different actors in the foreign aid system – the grassroots, NGOs, the Haitian government, USAID, donors, citizens, and everyone in general.
The most captivating chapters are those dedicated to the Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm. The detailed descriptions of the inner workings of the employees and the relationships with outside donors are important for readers to understand the nuances of their relationships. It is in these chapters readers can gain insight into the research questions Schuller proposed in the introduction.
The concluding chapters on policy recommendations and future agendas while stimulating, did not seem to push the envelope far enough. They were good critiques that would satisfy an academic or students, but maybe not someone on the ground working in Haiti, who is firsthand dealing with these issues. The general solution was too simple for the complexity of the county.
Despite these shortcomings of the final two chapters, this book is an excellent choice for those who need more understanding of Haiti and NGOs. Particularly, the firsthand accounts are what really drive the book.
By the end of the book, the three central questions are answered – not directly, but implied. Schuller suggests that “central to understanding these questions are participation and autonomy within NGOs” (p. 9). There needs to be balance between using statistics to convey performance and gaining meaningful participation at the local level. Long term studies such as Schuller’s can evaluate NGOs and their impacts on the global South. Using an ethnographic approach allowed Schuller to see how Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm progressed over time – it appears that some autonomy can help NGOs offer a better governance system.
Schuller, as evidenced in his title, proposes that Haiti is being killed with kindness. By reading this book and taking note of current news, it can be concluded that yes, Haiti is being killed by kindness.
Lisa-Marie Pierre, Michigan State University