Haiti: A Call to Responsible Action

Yesterday evening, a huge, 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit right outside Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. There is a small timetable where the most vulnerable – those who are trapped under the rubble, who are injured, and who lack access to clean water, food, and medical supplies. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “the International Red Cross estimates as many as three million people may have been left homeless by Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti.” (Source)

With an education in Communty Development, I understand the importance of doing relief work quickly and efficiently in situations such as this one. Those who are experienced in this type of work are the ones who need to be supported right now.

Often times people who have very good intentions want to help, and believe that the most effective way to help is by going to be at the location of a natural disaster right after the event happens. When inexperienced people come to the site of a natural disaster, there is great potential to hinder the relief operations and/or to not be as culturally sensitive to the needs of the affected people.

As of a couple hours ago, the airport in Port-au-Prince is still closed, so it is very hard to even get experienced relief workers into the country. I am following Twitter updates from the Food for the Hungry Emergency Relief Unit. Their past couple of tweets indicate this. You can follow them at twitter.com/FH_ERU.

If people are looking for the best possible way to give in the immediate future, I would encourage them to give financially, and to pray. Pray that the relief operations will be able to start as soon as possible, and that the necessary people and supplies would be able to enter the country.

The following organizations are ones that I would be comfortable giving my money to for the purposes of relief work in Haiti (more will be added soon to this list).

Below is a list of more organizations (Here’s the source of a lot from this list. I am adding to it):
Emmanuel Gospel Center: http://www.egc.org/
Haiti Reborn: quixote.org/haiti
Church World Services: www.churchworldservice.org
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance: www.pcusa.org
World Vision: donate.worldvision.org
Bright Hope: www.brighthope.org
UMC Disaster Response: secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations
UNICEF: www.unicefusa.org
Christian Aid: www.christianaid.org.uk
Americares: www.americares.org
Mercy Corps: donate.mercycorps.org
American Red Cross: newsroom.redcross.org
United Church of Christ: www.ucc.org
Disciple’s Week of Compassion: secure.groundspring.org
Episcopal Relief: www.er-d.org
Reformed Church in America: www.rca.org
Oxfam: www.oxfam.org
Habitat For Humanity: www.habitat.org
Haiti Emergency Relief Fund: www.haitiaction.net
World Care: www.worldcare.org
Save the Children: www.savethechildren.org

Despite the quick action that the current crisis calls for, Haiti has a long road ahead of them filled with recovery and development. Once the days have turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, Haiti will need more than handouts intended for relief in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

There is a big difference between relief and development. Relief can be defined as helping people who are helpless to meet their most basic needs. Development, on the other hand, should be done when people ARE able to meet their most basic needs.

The challenge that those who want to help Haiti in the long run face is allowing Haitians to take control of THEIR country, and to make decisions for themselves. As development practitioners, we must be thinking about helping the poor to help themselves.

Bryant Myers, in his book “Walking With the Poor,” describes 4 key relationships that must be addressed in community development work:

  1. Relationship with God
  2. Relationship with Self
  3. Relationship with Others
  4. Relationship with the Environment

If the poor do not know God as their personal savior, they are missing out on the most important thing. If they think they they personally do not have any skills or experiences to help themselves, then they are living in denial and must be encouraged and shown that they DO have God-given skills, gifts and abilities. If they have several enemies, some of whom may be more powerful and oppress them, then they will most likely loose the little bit that they do have through bribes and oppression. And finally, if they do not take care of the environment or know how to plant a garden, then they will have a much harder time putting food onto the table.

I firmly believe that Community Development must begin with affirming the poor for who they are, for their abilities, and for their ability to make decisions. Americans (and other rich, primarily-Western developers) must not make decisions for the poor, and must not do things “For” or “To” the poor.

Instead, we are called to something better. We are called to affirm their dignity. We are called to let them make their own decisions, and let them tell us what they need.

William Easterly would agree. In his book, “The White Man’s Burden, Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so Much Ill and so Little Good,” he writes “Poor people have already accomplished far more for themselves than [people who make plans disregarding the poor’s interest] have accomplished for them.” He also writes, “The needs of the poor don’t get met because the poor have little money or political power with which to make their needs known and they cannot hold anyone accountable to meet those needs.”

Over the next weeks and months, let us continue to help Haiti by allowing them to make their own decisions. Donated money is good. Missions trips are good (when done appropriately). We can still HELP! But we need to do so responsibly.

But first, the cry for relief for over 3 million people ring out. Let us give generously. Let us pray hard. And let us hope for the best.


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