How to Help People in Haiti and Be Smart About It

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PORT-AU-PRINCE — The Caribbean country of Haiti knows no shortage of hardships. Numerous natural disasters, cholera, social turmoil and political instability plague the country constantly. Even more numerous are the relief efforts, within and outside of the country, that have come in over the years as people around the world wonder how to help people in Haiti. However, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which devastated thousands of Haitians, several controversies arose as to what was truly the most effective way to provide aid to Haiti.

There is a growing distrust among Haitians and Haitian-Americans for large American charities. Many believe that the well-funded aid programs sponsored by these charities are effective in helping Haitians. There is much ambiguity and controversy in the press over these corporations. Several accused charities—such as the Red Cross—are defending their reputations with photos and videos of their progress. If Americans stop giving, they fear Haiti may receive no help at all.

There is much truth to this fear. Large areas of Haiti remain untouched by relief forces, and they are desperate for aid. But these Haitians need more than a new house or food—they need long-term, sustainable resources to help them rise out of poverty. Practically speaking, it’s not always clear how to help people in Haiti — the number of charities, missions and outreaches asking for donations is overwhelming. But it’s not impossible to help either.

One way is to look at the location where the charity is based. Cleve Mesidor, a Haitian American and former director of public affairs at the U.S. Commerce Department, says not to give to organizations that claim to be “locally managed.” These are most likely based in Port-au-Prince or big cities and are not near the rural neighborhoods that most need relief.

Another factor to consider is who runs and volunteers for the organization. Mesidor posted a list on social media of trusted local Haitian organizations. Lead by mostly Haitian volunteers from local communities, they are well suited for relief projects. They know the areas and logistics of transporting relief packages across the terrain and have good relationships with locals. Additionally, Haitians are more willing to accept help from people “who look and speak like them,” and are then more likely to invest in long-term rebuilding efforts.

Knowing the long-term goals of a charity is essential before donating. Haitian orphanages are a popular project for foreign charities, often raking in about $70 million in donations, mainly from American donors. About 30,000 children live in Haitian orphanages today, but what most donors don’t know is that about 80 percent of these children are not orphans–many have at least one living relative.

Most of them are there because their parents think that they stand a better chance in orphanages. More chillingly, many of these orphanages are in fact centers for child trafficking, both for labor and for sex. Haiti is one of the hottest spots for trafficking in the world, and traffickers often disguise their business as orphanages to solicit money from foreign donors.

In this case, however, funding the orphanages that don’t traffic children is not the solution. Rather, the concept of an orphanage is not how to help people in Haiti at all. Lumos, an NGO founded in Haiti by author J.K. Rowling, claims that the key to helping Haiti is to stabilize families. Children need the nurturing and support of a family to thrive, not to be stuck in an orphanage until they’re adults. Lumos is hoping to develop a foster care system for children who don’t have families.

Besides Lumos, one charity that supports families is Compassion International. Donors pledge a certain amount per month to help a child. This money goes to a center in the same town as the sponsored child. There, a representative from the local area discusses with the child’s family how to use the money best for a sustained future.

Compassion International also puts the sponsored children in school, where they are 50 percent more likely to graduate college. But most importantly, it keeps the families together and helps them to grow at a sustaining pace until they are out of poverty. It’s notable that Compassion International is a large organization, more similar to the Red Cross than to smaller Haitian relief organizations. But Compassion has found a way to work towards long-term solutions in the countries it sends aid to.

Finally, it’s important to know the people that receive donations, either through organizations or real life. Andye Laroche, another Haitian-American official who works in international development, recommended that Americans could best help Haiti by vacationing there and pouring money directly into the economy. Haiti has some beautiful beaches and attractive tourist sites. But more importantly, by seeing Haiti and meeting Haitians face-to-face, Laroche feels that people will have a better understanding of how to help people in Haiti.

Haitians need aid that will help them find a way to sustain themselves and keep their families together in the long run, not just when another hurricane hits. This doesn’t mean that giving to large-scale charities during natural disasters is wrong.

This doesn’t mean supporting Haitian schools and hospitals isn’t a good idea. But it does mean donors have to be smart about how to help people in Haiti.

Sydney Cooney
Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Sydney Cooney

Sydney writes for The Borgen Project from Jericho, VT. Her academic interests include English Literature and Language, Creative Writing and Business Administration. Sydney loves foreign languages and community service. She also sings in choirs; having sung in choirs since she was 10 years old. Sydney has even sung in Carnegie Hall before!

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