Haiti: how to actually be helpful

January 14, 2010

Hi folks, apologies from both Flying Whale and I for being away for so long.  Real–and regular–posts soon, but for now, an email I sent out early this morning.

most of you know about my background in disaster relief–so while i clearly don’t know everything, and post-disaster areas are notoriously complex, i’ve got a few thoughts.

first, some guiding principles (this wording from Texas in Africa):
1. Donate to organizations with an established presence, quickly. The ability to charter helicopters, buy tarps, and distribute water is eased considerably if the organization has cash in hand.
2. Work with organizations that have local staff in leadership positions and who are empowered to make quick decisions on the ground.
3. Work with organizations that partner with local social institutions, like houses of worship or community organizations. These groups’ social networks and language skills mean that they’re quickly able to identify specific problems and solutions, make lists of victims, and respond to traumatized populations in culturally-relevant ways.

for folks who want to give and have impact now, i’m suggesting MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and Partners in Health because both have in-country staff, strong in-country relationships, and a fantastic track record.  unlike in many other countries, MSF was already an important part of haiti’s healthcare infrastructure, so they aren’t outsiders to the degree that they sometimes are.  also, MSF’s main building was destroyed, so they’ll be in particular need of cash, fast.

that said, PIH and MSF are going to max out their capacity at some point, and then we’ll need to bolster their efforts by supporting smaller, less-well-known groups.  unfortunately, those groups haven’t emerged yet–it’ll depend on who still has able staff. so, you might consider holding off for a few days to wait and see who they are–figuring that most folks are going to give immediately to the big-name organizations they can easily trust.

or you might consider looking ahead to longer term recovery.  my main suggestions on that front at this point are Catholic Relief Services and Architecture for Humanity.  CRS has been in haiti for 50 years and will likely be one of the long-term recovery partners (in addition to crisis response right now).  giving them some support on the front end will make their planning for the next year better.  AFH will be focused on the rebuilding effort.  they’ve got a long history with haiti and frankly, they just do good work.  i’d encourage folks to think long-term while this is still dominating our thoughts.

finally, if you have connections to a faith-based or community-based group that you KNOW is doing EFFECTIVE, EMPOWERING work and still has on-the-ground capacity, i’d recommend giving to them as well.  they’ll be able to be more nimble than some of the larger organizations and, like i said earlier, can support the Red Cross, Mercy Corp, PIH, MSF, etc. once the bigger organizations’ capacity is reached.

I’m sending a second email–which I will also post here–once those “less-well-known” groups emerge.



One comment

  1. […] Just another WordPress.com weblog « Haiti: how to actually be helpful Don’t just give; give well January 15, 2010 If you’re new, read Part 1 […]

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