Innovation Ecosystem

Help, hope, are four-letter words

With each disaster that afflicts the Haitian people, the response must be a Haitian solution. Please, let’s get it right this time

Photo courtesy of Toby Simon

School children from Jeremie in Haiti.

Image from Toby Simon Facebook Page, from a map produced by The Haitian Times

Map showing the extent of damage caused by the recent earthquake in Haiti.

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By Toby Simon
Posted 8/23/21
At a time of great need in Haiti, following an earthquake and a tropical storm, Haitians are depending not on the AAA, but the HHH, three Haitians, so that donations to help need to go to local organizations promoting a Haitian solution.
For everyone rushing out to buy bread and milk off the shelves in advance of Henri, how many could spare a donation to a local organization in Haiti? What news reporting on the approaching potential hurricane Henri will include coverage of climate change as the cause of the increased frequency and severity of weather events? What is the best way to include the history of Haiti as part of the American history curriculum in Rhode Island schools?
With so much difficult news, our hearts often become hardened to hearing more bad news, wherever it occurs in the world. As someone who is now disabled, more and more dependent on the kindness of strangers, I often experience first-hand the choices that people make – or do not make – when it comes to day-to-day interactions.
The woman talking on her phone, entering the physical therapy facility, surprised to find me blocking her entrance, moving much too slowly for her, as she tries to push by me instead of holding the door, oblivious. The person walking her dog who parks her car, oblivious to the fact that she has blocked my car in at my apartment building. The manager at the local market who lied not once, not twice, but three times, regarding the availability of smaller carts, which I can manage, blaming their absence on the “neighborhood,” a not-so-subtle bit of racism.
Murder, mayhem, sex exploitation, anxiety and crisis sells, not just news but ratings and advertising. Kindness and consideration are what binds us together, as neighbors, as friends, as humans.

WELLFLEET, Mass. – Haitians are always the first responders. In any emergency, big or small.

There’s no AAA in Haiti if you have car problems while on the road, but there is a triple H [HHH]. Whenever your car breaks down [as happens frequently] three Haitians appear to help out.

In the rural areas there are no ambulances to take sick people to the nearest hospital, which can be reached on foot, often taking 4-7 hours. Haitians are the ambulances, placing the patient on a flat piece of wood, rigging some protection from the sun, and then walking for hours, at an extremely fast pace to the nearest medical facility.

Years ago Peter and I went to the nearby market in Verrettes, a small town not far from the hospital where we worked. Our younger son Ben was with us, age 13 at the time. And three local boys from our village who had befriended Ben came along with us. After the market, the boys wanted to take us to a nearby riverbank and waterfalls. Along the way Ben started to feel weak and disoriented, in what seemed to be a rather serious case of heat stroke.

Peter and the boys lay Ben down along the dirt path, under some bushes to keep him out of the sun. The boys tended to Ben and gave him sips of water while Peter did a mini-medical assessment. Peter removed Ben’s dirty T-shirt and shorts. The boys carried him a decent distance, to the river, to lay him down so his body could cool off.

One of the boys continuously and gently poured cool water from the river over Ben’s head. At one point, I took my eyes off Ben and glanced over my shoulder. The other two boys had gathered Ben’s dirty clothes, scrubbed them clean in the river, and then laid them on the rocks to dry. Our first responders.

Grief and sadness
On the morning of the recent earthquake in Haiti my WhatsApp was buzzing away with messages from my friends and colleagues at the YWCA Haiti, based in Petionville, just above the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Most of these women live in the PauP area and reported feeling the earthquake, running outside and staying there for a long while.

Turns out the real damage took place in what’s referred to as the Southern peninsula. The cities and surrounding areas of Jeremie and Les Cayes were severely damaged. The death toll is around 2,000 and will continue to rise.

The timing of this earthquake is particularly awful: the region affected is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew four years ago, the political turmoil has been exacerbated by the recent assassination of their President and COVID is raging.

Once again the pangs of grief and sadness hit me. And fear since tropical hurricane Grace was predicted to hit that region the following day. Within hours images of the devastation appeared showing numerous pictures and videos, each one horrifying and troubling and reminiscent of “Douz janvye” [Haitians’ reference to the 2010 earthquake].

Brief attention span
Once again Haiti has the attention of the news cycle although it won’t be for long if history is any indication.

But this time, can the response to the earthquake be done the right way? Let’s not repeat the mistakes from the 2010 earthquake when the rush to donate immediately and to groups that Americans recognize like the Red Cross, led to extremely serious problems.

At the moment, the Haitian government and the NGO responders are still assessing the damage while the Internet is flooded with requests for aid to be sent to certain organizations in Haiti. I’ve received so many caring notes from friends, former students and acquaintances about how to help and where any donations might be sent.

The best options for donations are local organizations on the ground in Haiti, led by Haitians with a history of transparency in rural communities as well as proven track records for competent management, program evaluation and a commitment to sustainability.

Long-term solutions
Investment in reinforcing Haitian capacity is key for obvious reasons: local professionals have the linguistic and cultural competencies and are closer to the impacted communities.

Look at organizations investing in long-term solutions, who work with grassroots organizations on the ground.

And once the rebuilding starts, attention must be paid on how the region is rebuilt, with specific attention to design and materials to withstand earthquakes since this last one happened on the fault line, meaning there will be more.

In considering where to make donations, there is a list of trusted emergency responders for at www.haitiresponse.org. It includes an extensive list of organizations and medical establishments in the Southern peninsula. There are also organizations listed that are based in other parts of Haiti but they have a proven track record as trustworthy, and they are already assisting with the work in the Les Cayes and Jeremie regions. They, too, are accepting donations but will specifically use the funds in the recovery and rebuilding efforts by this last disaster. Getting in touch with the Diaspora in your community is also suggested because, as Edwige Danticat said: “We may have left Haiti but Haiti has not left us.” They can be hugely helpful and resourceful.

With each disaster that affects the Haitian people, the response must be a Haitian solution. Please, let’s get it right this time.

Toby Simon is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.

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