ProVision Foundation in cooperation with Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church has established a Haiti Relief Fund which will involve funding the organizations listed to the right and will balance immediate relief and ongoing development funding as more assessment and strategy is solidified. Additional trusted organizations may be included in the distribution of this fund if deemed appropriate and helpful to the overall effort. Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church is handling the gifts for this fund.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Ain't Mississippi!

As a resident of Port-au-Prince for the last year and a former liaison to non-profit and faith-based volunteer groups working post-Katrina for the White House, I wanted to pass on to my volunteer sector friends my thoughts on the beautiful, incomprable American volunteer community that I adore and despite their passion and prior experience why Haiti might still hand their asses to them if the try to venture into earthquake response. Haiti handed mine to me for 361 days prior to January 12 and that was before a 7.0 earthquake with very serious aftershocks reduced much of it to rubble. It is a wonderful country that I fell in love with with phenomenally talented, intelligent, and vivacious people, but Haitian friends concur that the general level of dysfunction is so severe that it feels like it brutalizes its inhabitants almost daily. My aim is by no means to discourage contributing to the cause, but rather to try to harness initial response energies into the most helpful relief projects possible and whenever possible taking the price of your airfare in and instead giving it to a cause unless you have a specific skillset requested by a group already operating on the ground. New reports come to me daily of more and more groups running to the rescue efforts, but I fear that we might soon be in a position of rescuing and struggling to feed more American volunteers than Haitian survivors and hope along with what I know is the right-hearted spirit of our armies of compasion that this tide can be stemmed.

Haiti is a beautiful country with vistas that even the most cosmopolitan traveler would argue are among the most spectacular in the Caribbean and thus the world. Port-au-Prince has a relatively small (for a city of its size), vibrant and motivated group of businessmen, entreprenuers, educators, and faith-based leaders. I know of almost NONE who have left the country even though they could have and I could not be more proud of the vision, intelligence, and courage they always display but even more in this moment. These Haitians who know their country intimately, have experience in operating in an extremely complex and dynamic context, and who have a long term stake in its restoration process are those we should be pinning our resources to.

And in this moment, Haiti feels a little bit like Jurassic Park. This is not a mission trip zone (while in longer term recovery efforts the whole army of compassion will be critically needed), but rather a place best suited for the skillsets of militaries and trained experts in rescue and logistics coordination. No shortage of stories have been offered so far regarding the myriad infrastructure, governmental, medical and every other kind of challenge facing the country, so I will avoid retelling those here but will say that aside from downtown many friends are reporting little to no violence. People are hungry, not "looting" in anger, but more often than not just trying to help their families survive.

Before heading towards Haiti or the Dominican Republic as a hopping off point, please ask yourself some hard questions. Do I have a resource that will allow me to communicate with Haitians? Very few Haitians speak English and Haitian creole is the most common language spoken, while many also speak French. Without the ability to speak and in already stressful situations where time is of the essence and patience for translation is minimal, language quickly becomes a very large hurdle. Do I have and am I able to bring the resources I need to survive there for weekson end? And will I be okay with feeding myself with that supply while thousands around me have nothing? Haiti's port typically only unloaded ships twice per week before the storm, so the destruction of the port has rendered the main food importing structures useless. The main food supply coming into the country are rations that are already in short supply for the many victims. Please consider consulting major volunteer coordination operations such as HandsOn Network and AidMatrix for in-kind donations. Would you have a way out? Haiti does not have road signs from Port-au-Prince pointing the way back to the Dominican Republic and transportation even before the quake was sporadic, unreliable, and potentially dangerous. You cannot drive yourself back into Texas or Georgia and since the port is down there aren't even boats. Experts on the ground now need to be directing their every energy into saving Haitians and I am so thankful for and proud of those who are.

Standing with fellow evacuees in Santo Domingo last Thursday night, I met 3 remarkable men who had begun their first mission trip to Haiti just one day before the quake. They had to leave behind the bodies of three of their fellow missionaries in the rubble of their work site. I was struck by their hearts despite what they had been through and even then their desire to return to continue serving. It is precisely that spirit of service that makes America great and we must continue to foster it while also ensuring that the means through which we want to apply our energies and compassion translate into a realistic picture of our desired ends for my beloved Ayiti, cherie.


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