Be the Change
(Disclaimer: There are areas of Haiti that were completely washed away by this hurricane. I am in no way trying to minimize that reality. My heart breaks for those who lost everything.)
Today, less than 24 hours after a Category 4 hurricane passed through, while driving down the streets of Anse a Galets, I see smiling faces, people sipping on cokes while playing dominoes or cards at their usual spot on the side of the street. Then, they spot me…the outsider…the “blan” and they stop what they’re doing and make the motion for us to stop. When we stop to talk to them, they give us this look of desperation and with their hand on their belly say, “I’m hungry.” Or, “What are you going to do for me and my country after this hurricane?” They're not stupid. They know that foreigners always come "save the day" and that this was a very public storm even though it didn't end up being as bad as predicted. (for our area)
We have created this.
When we hear of natural disaster, and we see photos and our hearts are moved…the first thing we want to do is help. And how can we help when we’re so far away? Well, for some, they spend hundreds of dollars and quickly buy an airline ticket to be “boots on the ground” in the relief aid. Some open their pocket book to send money so that other charities who are already in country can help those around them.
I can (and should) only speak for the areas that I have seen with my own eyes. Media and people can tell whatever story they want to tell with photos. We drove around for 90 minutes and had a hard time coming up with many “devastating” photos. I could post this photo of this boy in the road knee deep in water…
Reality…this kid was out playing in the road where the locals dug a trench two weeks ago and the flooding only covered a small section of the road.
Yes, there are places with worse flooding (that happens even with a normal storm) or a house that may have tin that blew off, or a part of a wall that knocked over where the block was weak or unfinished. There may even be a few houses that were completely destroyed, but NOTHING that needs our OUTSIDE intervention. They need to be responsible to do this for themselves. When foreigners come in trying to help clean up and fix things instead of letting the local communities do it, we're just enabling them to be MORE AND MORE dependent on outside help.
This afternoon, there were already vendors out on the road selling things again, stores open for business and water filtration shops up and running. We have heard the public water line that supplies water to all the city wells is broken, but this happens pretty regularly with big storms and will hopefully be fixed soon.
There will be some churches, houses and walls that need repaired. There are people down by the water who will need help getting mud out of their homes, but there are 30,000 people living in Anse a Galets who are more than capable of helping their neighbors.
They may not have the resources to buy that extra cement and block to fix their wall, or the piece of tin to fix their roof, but there are people here who are trained in masonry and carpentry who would love the opportunity to help, and possibly the opportunity for a job…but it’s hard to compete with FREE help the foreigners provide.
Even our friends, good hearted people, will come to us in “despair” telling us about their home and all the damage to the homes around them. Then after we talk with them for a minute, they laugh and say, “Yeah, we can fix it. It’s not that bad. But I’ve heard it’s worse up in the mountains.” Many have been so accustomed to receiving charity that they ask for help, even when it’s not truly needed…and we would probably do the same thing in their shoes.
So…how can you REALLY help?
If you feel the need to come help, look up airline tickets to come to Haiti…but don’t buy them. Instead, donate that money to an organization who is ON THE GROUND in Haiti, who knows the true needs and can find local Haitians to employ. (If you still feel the need to actually come to Haiti, please work alongside…or even employ Haitians and help with THEIR already formulated plan.)
If you’re with an organization who has heard of areas that you work with that are damaged and need repair, please let us know. Through Extollo International, we have many trained, skilled Haitian laborers who are more than capable of doing this job for you. We’ll save you the trip and your vacation time from work!
Don’t collect and send a bunch of “relief” supplies that you think are needed. Most likely, we can purchase them from the local vendors here. If there is a true need that cannot be found in country, we will make sure you know.
I hope you hear my heart. We are NOT trying to minimize legitimate needs. But not every “need” expressed is legitimate. PLEASE, make decisions wisely. This is a time when it will be easy to take advantage of charitable people with good intentions.
If you have followed along with us the past three years on our journey here in Haiti, you’ll know that we very rarely share “doom and gloom” stories. Why? Because when we look around, we see hope. We see joy. We see capable people who are stuck in a mode of dependency that WE have created. We need to stop enabling that dependency.
Let’s be the change.
Reputable Organizations that have been checked out that are serving areas who need the most help: