How We Can Help Haiti the Right Way

It was April when, in passing, I asked the head of a nonprofit
that’s doing a lot of work in Haiti how things were going there. The
look on his face said everything.

He proceeded to tell me how the need in Haiti is still overwhelming,
how not enough resources are getting in and how some NGOs are growing
frustrated waiting on someone to take lead.

This is six months after the earthquake. I couldn’t believe it.
What about the millions people texted to help the relief efforts? What
about the billions pledged by USAID and the U.N.?

The media isn’t talking about Haiti anymore, so the perception is
everything there is on the road to recovery. But if what he said about
Haiti is true, someone should be talking about it. Three weeks later,
Roxanne Wieman and I boarded a plane for the short two-hour trip. We
had to see this for ourselves.

What we encountered was, in a word, unbelievable. The devastation
was mind-numbing, the poverty more severe than anything we could’ve
anticipated. The loss was palpable.

Haiti, right now, is in a holding pattern. As bad as it looks, all
of the relief agencies say the crisis of the earthquake is largely
under control. People are fed, sheltered (though, many, crudely) and
getting back to life as normal.

The country just can’t move forward because there’s too much to
do—and no plan. Centuries of mishandled (some have said corrupt)
government have created a nation with no infrastructure, stripped
natural resources, no public schools and no clear way to dig itself
out. And that was before a devastating earthquake wiped out the
country’s capital, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing more
than a million.

What you’d think is happening in Haiti right now is widespread
clean-up and construction, right? It’s not. But ask any Haitian why
not, and you’ll find it’s just not a top priority. Aside from the fact
there is virtually no equipment to clear debris (let alone rebuild),
the loss of jobs and need for infrastructure is far more pressing.
Unfortunately, those are the types of needs that can’t be fixed
quickly.

We landed in Port-au-Prince and spent most of a week canvassing as
much of Haiti as we could. It was like drinking water from a firehose.
Roxanne went into Port-au-Prince and met with NGOs and government
agencies about the work happening, asking hard questions and seeing
up-close what’s going on. You can read her story here.

I spent more time in the rural areas. The devastation there is
completely different than the city. It is strikingly desolate. What
should be a lush tropical island (and is, on the Dominican Republic
side) is nothing but bald, desert-like mountains. Decades of
deforestation have wreaked havoc, and with strong rains much of the
year, the soil—and hillsides—has literally washed away.

The lack of vegetation, which should absorb the rain, leads to
constant flash flooding in the valleys—where the majority live. People
regularly die because the floods are so violent. This is the biggest
threat facing Haiti this summer, all the way to the tent cities in
Port-au-Prince.

Why has Haiti been so deforested? By necessity. People there are
very survival-minded. The main fuel used in the country is wood.
There’s no land ownership like we know it, and no government oversight,
so if cutting that tree down means your family can have a fire to cook
dinner tonight, that’s what you do.

What it’s done, though, is left the country with little farmable
land, no exports to speak of, and an economy where people can only grow
enough to feed their families, and maybe eke out a few dollars a week.

Compounding this is the lack of an education system to break the
cycle. There isn’t one public school in Haiti. If a child wants to be
educated, he has to go to a church school where his parents pay tuition
(which pays the teachers’ salaries). Since most families can’t
regularly afford tuition, attendance is sporadic at best for the ones
fortunate enough to go at all.

When asked what needs to be done to rebuild Haiti, virtually every
leader we talked to echoed the same three things: Infrastructure
(sanitation, water, food, power), jobs and education.

See Also

Education seems to be the least urgent in a time of crisis, but if
Haiti is ever going to rebuild itself, educating the next generation is
vital.

Many of the schools in Port-au-Prince crumbled, putting strain on
the rural ones (many have seen their attendance double as families
relocate from the city to rural villages). And many of these rural
school structures are damaged as well. The cinderblock walls may be
still standing but look as though they could easily collapse. The thing
is, children are meeting inside these schools every day.

Everyone wants to help Haiti. But the proud, resilient Haitian
people don’t want handouts. They just need an opportunity. One way we
can help Haiti stand on its own is to ensure more kids are able to get
an education by making sure they have buildings to meet in.

We want to help rebuild some of the damaged and collapsed schools
we saw, and we need your help. We want to fund the rebuilding of three
schools in particular, partnering with those churches to hire local
workers who need jobs to do the labor.

The churches we’ve chosen to partner with have strong leadership
and have been influential in their communities for quite some time. We
know this because our friends at Convoy of Hope have been partnering
with these schools for years, providing nutritious meals and clean
water to the schoolchildren and their families.

Our goal is to raise the money to erect new, safe structures
(roughly, $15,000 per school). It’s very basic—block walls and a
roof—but will provide a place for hundreds of kids to get an education.
With your help, we know we can do this. Will you consider donating $10?
All you have to do is visit RELEVANTmagazine.com/HaitiSchools and every dime you give will go directly to the field.

Haiti has had an urgent crisis, and the world responded. We now
need to look ahead and help Haiti in its long-term recovery. We feel
helping kids get an education is a great place to start.

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