With thousands dead and missing, Haiti has been struck by a catastrophe which will test the world’s capacity for generosity and responsiveness. The 7.0+ earthquake has razed national landmarks and entire neighborhoods, caused the deaths of almost-unimaginable numbers of people and elicited both the goodness and evil in people. Thus far, President Obama has pledged $100 million as part of the first phase of relief, with more aid likely to follow. NGOs like the Red Cross are working hard to supply medical aid in a country whose infrastructure has entirely collapsed. The Port-au-Prince airport is currently overrun, and although help is on its way, it has not yet met the immediate needs of an as-of-yet uncertain amount of injured and missing people. Help cannot come soon enough.
If any good can come from this event, it’s the urgent media attention that has made this island-nation more visible, its history more tangible to the rest of the world. The National Palace, once the residence and playground of the dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, is now in ruins. One cannot help but perceive its destruction as double-edged. Sure, the building once represented regal excess and egregious greed, but its ruins also signify a country whose center has struggled to hold for centuries. In the past, Haiti has evoked to the world’s media tragedy and misfortune–slavery, AIDS, political instability and now environmental catastrophe. This is unfair and wrong to Haitians, who have had a rich history of resilience and self-empowerment.
There are those in the secular and religious media who like to bring up a tired narrative–the notion that Haiti is cursed, that its history is indefinitely confined to poverty and corruption. In this case, the usual suspects have opened their insolent mouths. The televangelist Pat Robertson tells his hateful fiction of Haitians having signed a deal with the devil to free themselves of French colonialism. This is wrong on so many levels, the least of which is the implication that colonialism is god-ordained and righteous. Right-wing mouthpiece Glenn Beck has demonstrated the extent of his bad taste and bigotry by criticizing the White House for dividing the country through its quick response to Haiti. The logic of this troglodyte is reprehensible, if not entirely laughable. It would be laughable if only these men didn’t have an audience in this country. There is a place in the deepest circles of hell for people like Robertson and Beck, a place in which the most wrathful of Malebranche will inflict terrible tortures for every deceased and suffering Haitian in the world.
Amidst the rubble and chaos, Haitians are standing strong, and they will rebuild and thrive. Students at the Ciné Institute, an organization dedicated to educating young Haitians in film and media, are documenting the events of their country, reporting to the world through their own eyes and ears. If you need to feel something, take a look at any of the photographs depicting bruised and bleeding children, throngs of people gathered in line to quench their thirst and hunger. There’s no need for emotional manipulation in regards to Haiti. This is a human tragedy, not just a Haitian one, and it’s no less deserving of global attention than any of the terrible things going on in the world. Let’s not patronize to Haitians by playing the role of First World heroes, but let’s recognize the individual and collective efforts of Haitians themselves, like the micro-level heroism demonstrated by New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina.
Give if you are able, and even if you’re not, pass the word along to people who can. Here is a list of the most effective and reputable NGOs that are working in Haiti right now (via The Daily Beast):
The Red Cross: You can give $10 to the Red Cross’s International Response Fund by texting HAITI to 90999. 100 percent of your donation benefits the Red Cross, and you can print a receipt through mGive, a foundation that helps non-profits take advantage of mobile technology.
UNICEF, the United Nations Fund focusing on children, has worked on the ground in Haiti since 1949, so has the expertise to make a difference. You can donate here.
Doctors Without Borders is also present in-country. One senior staff member reports, “The situation is chaotic. I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning.” Donate to support public health efforts here.
MADRE, the international women’s rights NGO, partners with the Zanmi Lasante Clinic on the ground in Haiti. “The most urgent needs right now are bandages, broad-spectrum antibiotics and other medical supplies, as well as water tablets to prevent cholera outbreaks,” MADRE reports. Donate here.
Action Against Hunger has had a team in Haiti since 1985, and is ready to fly planeloads of emergency supplies from Paris to Port-au-Prince. Food is one necessity, but so is sanitation; in some Haitian towns, 70 percent of homes do not have plumbing. Donate here.
Mercy Corps has a history of deploying aid to regions affected by catastrophic earthquakes, such as Peru in 2007, China and Pakistan in 2008, and Indonesia last year. They are deploying a team to Haiti, and you can support their efforts here.
Partners in Health is the NGO founded in Haiti in 1987 by Dr. Paul Farmer, the celebrated physician and anthropologist who focuses on international social justice. The group’s emergency response focuses on delivering medical supplies and staff. Louise Ivers, PIH’s clinical director in the country, sent the message, “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS.” Donate here.
The International Rescue Committee, which in the past has resettled Haitian refugees in the United States, is deploying an Emergency Response Team to assist overwhelmed local aid groups. It will focus on critical medical, water, and sanitation assistance. Donate here.
I removed one organization originally listed on The Daily Beast list, and it’s musician Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation. The artist has been vocal in the past about issues related to his home country, through his music and other avenues. No one can discredit his love and connection to Haiti. Unfortunately, there are reports of Jean’s foundation involved with financial improprieties, one of which includes $410,000 being funneled into Jean and fellow board member Jerry Duplessis’ personal coffers. This is a serious blow to the organization and demonstrates a lack of transparency and credibility. The generosity of donors is better allotted to more deserving organizations like those listed above.