Aid on the Brain — Helping Haiti

After five hours of typing away at my computer, I’m still only at the beginning of the dent-making process for my dissertation proposal (which needs to be done by tomorrow). I’ve been reading for hours and hours on various social policy-related topics trying to narrow down my dissertation ideas and after much deliberation (and months of ideas circling in my head), I have finally settled on one. Here’s the best part: it was the idea I came to LSE with that I just didn’t want to accept too readily initially. I’ve been wanting to really explore the topics that are of utmost interest to me (aid effectiveness, HIV/AIDS, failed states, etc.), but after doing some research, I found that my ideas were too broad and I was having a difficult time narrowing them down; that there was too much information, or, conversely, that there was too little information to create an effective argument. Thus, I’m back to square one and have come to terms with accepting it. On the bright side, after all of this brain storming/’thought showering’, I have come up with the idea for my project planning assignment that is due in May. At least something productive came out of this.

In any case, after doing all of these readings on the topics of aid and responding to humanitarian crises (another one of my dissertation ideas), in conjunction with my addiction to watching CNN clips, I have found it very interesting and rather hopeful to see the influx of aid for Haiti. After looking at the response during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the preceding Asian Tsunami in 2004, it is interesting to see how the public responds to these crises. Fortunately crises of these magnitude aren’t a frequent happening, but it is clear that there are lessons to be learned from our experiences during all of these natural disasters. During Katrina, the response was heavily criticized — aid wasn’t delivered quickly enough and people lived without housing for long periods of time afterwards (I’m sure there are many still recovering). In the case of the Tsunami, despite the extreme loss of life (230’000+ people), it was interesting to see the global community come together to assist with the crisis. $14 billion (yes, billion) was raised for disaster relief and a great deal of it came from private donors — people and corporations digging into their pockets to help relieve some suffering from afar. One of the interesting things that was noted by Aid Watch’s contributor Laura Freschi was that the $14 billion that was raised was actually about $4 billion more than costs incurred from the storm (around $10 billion).

Despite the sadness that surrounds Haiti at this time, there is surely a sense of hope as we watch the world mobilize to help a nation in need. To see the compassion that human beings can have for one another is actually rather inspiring. Doctors, nurses and medical professionals were on-site as quickly as possible, patching wounds, resetting bones and performing surgeries in low-tech and rather primitive environments in the hope of saving as many lives as possible. First aid kits were disbursed and food and water were delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible. Of course, there are logistical issues that have been encountered: lack of organization on the parts of some, lack of proper tools, getting supplies to the area in time, and harmonization of the number of agencies on the ground in Port-au-Prince. The issues will (hopefully) undoubtedly be lessons learned for the future; when future crises strike, the hope is that we will be better equipped internationally to help support those in need.

With all of the humanitarian aid delivered and with individuals continuing to want to assist, an interesting question arises about donating money and/or products to Haiti. An interesting article I ran across delivered some to-the-point, eye-opening information. The article was entitled ‘Nobody wants your old shoes’ and discusses the impracticality of sending stuff to a country in crisis. In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Honduras was inundated with goods by people wanting to help. Of course, it seems kind to send clothes, shoes, equipment, medicines, etc. Key word in that sentence: seems. Mind you, it is a kind gesture, but not a practical one. As with Hurricane Mitch, the shipments of goods actually harmed more than helped — the ports couldn’t absorb the incoming shipments and, moreover, many of the items are rather useless for the people in need. As I’m sure is the case with the Haitians right now, they could probably use professional medical attention and a home more than they can use your prescription Motrin or Chuck Taylors. The problem with most people (I fall into this category at times), is that we’re a bit nervous when it comes to giving our hard-earned money to an organization. It seems much more handy (to us) to send them goods. We know that we purchased something that we think is useful and we’re sending it to people directly. There’s no middleman, thus no one (theoretically) to intercept cash and use it for other purposes (like administrative costs and advertising). Well, here’s the reality: cash is more practical. Money donations is what they need. The people on the ground know what’s going on; they see it with their own eyes and understand where the system is most under pressure. They can use your cash to help people with the things that are really of interest at this moment in time; life-saving necessities.

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Here’s how I have come to think of it: Find an organization that you know and trust. Check out Charity Navigator so you can evaluate any of the charities and give to an group that you align with. If I don’t trust an organization or dont’ like the way that they allocate funds, I won’t donate to them. There are loads of organizations out there — surely you’ll find one that you appreciate. Here’s the other part of this equation: Haiti is but one tragic disaster. It is without a doubt a horrendous tragedy that continues to touch my heart and the hearts of many others, but we must realize that there are many disasters in the world. This has received a lot of media attention (not undeserving), but what about when the media attention stops? Do we forget about it then? What about the other countries that have seen disasters that haven’t received the same media attention? I’m sure it’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that we don’t know. Also, let’s remember that the Asian Tsunami relief received $4 billion more than necessary to cover the costs of disaster in Asia… when the funding requirements for Haiti are reached, couldn’t your money be better used to help someone else suffering elsewhere in the world? In donating money to an organization that you trust, you can ensure that it’s earmarked for emergency relief, but it doesn’t have to be for Haiti. If it’s a good organization, they’ll be using your money to help people in need all around the world. I know it feels good to give. It especially feels good to give when you’re seeing the people that the money is benefiting, but whether Haiti receives your donation or not, the cash will go to help another human being in need somewhere in the world. It will help in saving lives, rebuilding homes, reconstructing infrastructure, giving people back their livelihoods. Click here to donate to Doctors Without Borders, an organization that I highly respect and one that has done some amazing work in Haiti thus far.

Lots of love and prayers for Haiti,

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.