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How You Can Help Haiti in the Aftermath of the Earthquake

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 15 January 2010

The devastation and tragedy are heart-wrenching following the 7.3 earthquake that leveled most of Port-au-Price, Haiti. The dispiriting pictures and tales of loss reach to the depth of our sorrow, just as the living, breathing bodies pulled from the rubble are reason for quiet celebration.

People, injured and afraid, on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, following the earthquake (photo courtesy of Lambi Fund for Haiti)

People, injured and afraid, on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, following the earthquake (photo courtesy of Lambi Fund for Haiti)

I watch in horror, helpless from my distant perch (Sydney, Australia) but committed in whatever trifling ways open to me, reminded of just how thin the thread is that keeps us all safe on a sometimes merciless planet that, with a simple shrug, is able to wreak so much havoc. I was resident (albeit not present) in Sri Lanka at the time of the tsunami five years ago. I hastened home to Colombo a week later to do what I could then. What I feel today is laced with the anger and frustration of that time.

Thankfully, faced with rising predictions of the number of lives lost, the international community is promising financial aid, food, water, medicine, clothing and anything else of those who survived the catastrophe.

In solidarity with the Haitian people, hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of people around the globe are reaching into their pockets.

Special News About How You Can Help

To help you make a decision about how you can help, I’ve received permission from a fellow travel writer, Paul Clammer, author of the Lonely Planet guide book to Haiti, to reproduce sections of an email he sent to many of his colleagues yesterday.

It’s the kind of inside take we should all always have when in search of an informed way to help. My trust in what he shares here is implicit:

“I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to get to grips with the news from [Haiti], and as we’ve all discovered, hard news has been hard to come by in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. The Haitian phone network was out of action all yesterday, and is patchy today. I haven’t been able to contact any of my friends in Port-au-Prince directly, but have managed to learn (unbelievably, through following a long chain of Twitterers) that they’re OK.

The place I like to stay at in Port-au-Prince, St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, a vocational home for ex-street kids that also runs as a guesthouse popular with backpackers, was totally destroyed, although mercifully no one was injured.

But things aren’t good – parliament destroyed, the presidential palace destroyed, the main hospital, the UN headquarters, a major hotel, the prison, the Catholic cathedral – all destroyed. The southern town of Jacmel – a truly lovely place with beautiful Victorian buildings and one of the best carnivals in the Caribbean – is also reportedly heavily damaged, and the road over the mountains connecting it to to Port-au-Prince is impassable due to landslides. The scale of the disaster is quite numbing, and people can so far only guess at the number of dead. Tens of thousands doesn’t seem unlikely.

Naturally, aid agencies are crying out for assistance, and I urge you to please give something if you can. The BBC website has a good page listing NGOs on the ground in Haiti. Of these, the Red Cross is naturally one of the biggest players, while Oxfam have long had a big operation in Haiti.

That said, I’d like to mention three excellent smaller organisations in Haiti worthy of your support – these are the sort of smaller players who inevitably get overlooked in the media scrum, but often have more focussed and effective programmes working among local communities – essential characteristics once the immediate heavy lifting of disaster relief is over, and the media and world inevitably turn their attention to the next story.

Partners in Health is a medical charity that has been working in Haiti for a long time, building local medical capacity. Run by MD Paul Farmer, a noted writer on Haiti, it has a large network of Haitian doctors and nurses well-placed to offer immediate and long-term medical assistance.

* The Lambi Fund is a smaller but highly regarded development charity. It offers assistance to communities outside Port-au-Prince (areas also hit by the effects of the quake) to help arrest the decline of the agricultural sector which has driven hundreds of thousands of young people from the countryside to search for a livelihood in the capital’s now-stricken shanty-towns.

* Yele is a development NGO working mainly in education and community projects, but with extensive experience in food distribution and emergency relief. Yele was set up by the musician Wyclef Jean, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador for Haiti. Its close ties to communities in some of the poorest and worst affected areas will be invaluable in the coming weeks and months.

Parts of the media haven’t been slow to point out that Haiti seems like a country from which only bad news ever seems to come, but the last few years really had seen the country begin to turn a corner. Security has largely no longer been an issue, peaceful elections have been held, and some major foreign investors have started to return to the country. The tourism sector, once Haiti’s major hard currency earner, was also starting to pick up. It’s not all a bed of roses certainly, but the outlook was positive. But the legacy of long periods of political instability has seen Haiti’s infrastructure in tatters even before the earthquake. This is a country in need of serious and prolonged help.”

If you’re based in the US or use a USE mobile phone carrier, two further popular and very effective ways of making a donation are as follows. Despite rumors to the contrary, these are NOT scams. Others may be, but these two are reliable:

* Text HAITI to 90999 – The U.S. Dept of State’s website has suggested making a $10 donation. This charge will show up on your next phone bill.

* Texting YELE to 501501 – This is in support of Wyclef Jean’s Yele movement (see above). You will automatically be making a $5 donation.

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Caribbean, Haiti, human interests, natural disasters, North America, poverty,

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