Hearing about Haiti’s latest catastrophe, with homes and hospitals reduced to rubble, mountains of corpses decomposing in the 90-degree humidity, dwindling food and clean water supplies — who doesn’t feel compelled to hop on an airplane headed for Toussaint Louverture International Airport? The impulse to do something, anything, feels overwhelming.
But then what? Let’s face it — this is not a time when just showing up is enough. The most effective rescue and repair efforts here will come from organizations that run a tight ship, with the structure and experience to roll out operations quickly. We saw that with Wal-Mart in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. We’re now seeing that in Haiti with the U.S. military, and with smaller non-profit groups like Zanmi Lasante, aka Partners in Health, Paul Farmer’s organization, that already have infrastructure in place.
Zanmi Lasante has helped to bring clean water and basic medical care to rural Haiti for twenty years and, importantly, has trained locals to operate and staff a network of ten small town hospitals and clinics. According to Tracy Kidder, Z.L. may be the largest functioning health system in Haiti at the moment, being located in areas not as badly affected by the quake.
So be smart in how you decide to help. Give money to organizations with a long track record of working towards social justice in Haiti such as Partners in Health, Fonkoze, or Yele Haiti, to quickly bolster their resources. If you’re a trauma surgeon, anesthetist, or surgical nurse, if you have large quantities of surgical supplies to give, or yes, a private plane that can get skilled hands and supplies to Haiti, volunteer or donate now.
And if learning about Haiti is “all” you can do, do that, and support efforts towards basic sanitation, schools, health care, and local economies even after the country fades from the headlines. Favorite Haiti readings are Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying, a story of growing up in Haiti apart from immigrant parents, and of our flawed border operations, and Tracy Kidder’s “The Good Doctor”, with reporting on how American agriculture policy in Haiti wrecked small local producers.