I never did.
I was 17 years old when I traveled with my father to the country of Haiti. We arrived in Port-au-Prince and were promptly whisked to the Hotel Montana in Pétionville, a rich neighborhood that overlooks the smoggy capitol. We then made the bumpy eight-hour journey to Petit Trou de Nippes, a small rural town whose name literally translates to “Little Hole” located approximately 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
Once there, we spent a week on a “medical mission” with Colorado Haiti Project (CHP) where we saw close to 1,000 patients. CHP is a non-profit organization that was founded over 20 years ago with the intent to “extend aid to the poorest of the poor,” specifically in Petit Trou de Nippes.
It’s easy to romanticize Haiti; I saw a boy no older than 12 years old get a nasty pig bite stitched up without anesthetic and he made no sound. Children swarmed around us, smiling and caressing our light skin and foreign hair and they seemed so happy and curious. How amazing that these people seemed to be much happier than your average American despite that most of who we met were starving and had little access to clean water, basic health care and education.
It would have been easy to believe the apparent happiness of the children had I not been able to speak enough French to communicate on a basic level. Many of the children I spoke to told me they were hungry, that they may get one meal a day. Though they smiled and laughed and played like most children do, there was a level of sadness and strength there that I have not encountered anywhere since.
The words “disaster”, “devastating” and “heart-wrenching” have been thrown around by top media organizations during the aftermath of post-earthquake Haiti. But the truth is, this disaster was not the work merely of Mother Nature.
After years of enduring the heavy hand of western imperialism, Haiti has been left deforested, swimming in debt and without much infrastructure to speak of. Haitians are strong-willed people for a reason. After throwing off the yoke of slavery in 1804 they drove France out but were then made to pay a debt of over 150 million francs, crippling them as they entered the 20th century.
The United States then did the people of Haiti the favor of supporting numerous ruthless dictators and training those that would later overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected leader in the country’s history.
According to the BBC, the last earthquake to hit California near the magnitude of Haiti’s 7.0 was a level 6.7 in Los Angeles. Only 57 people died in comparison with a death toll that is now estimated to be well over 150,000 and rising in Haiti. These numbers may seem overwhelming but Haitians are not the sort to give up in the face of such odds.
Amazing stories continue to come out of the “hopeless” situation, like that of Anna Zizi, a 69-year-old woman who was pulled out of the rubble after a week and emerged singing. Or that of 24-year-old Jean-Pierre who was rescued after 11 days buried alive under 20 feet of rubble. It is now important that we do not forget Haiti again.
We have the responsibility as neighbors and as fellow human beings to help Haiti avoid becoming a casualty itself, as written by Drs. Paul Farmer, Louise Ivers and Claire Pierre in the Miami Herald. The best way we can help Haiti now is to give money to trustworthy organizations.
There are many monstrous aid organizations that might see a profit from disasters like this. The Red Cross, for example, an internationally known aid organization, was accused of withholding millions of dollars after both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
There are many organizations that have been working in Haiti for years that can guarantee that your donation will go directly to the people of Haiti.
Farmer, who co-founded Partners in Health and works with Ivers and Pierre, is also the United Nations deputy special envoy for Haiti under Bill Clinton. PIH was founded over 20 years ago in Cange with the intention of providing the poorest of Haiti with health care.
On a local level, the Colorado Haiti Project is a non-profit that has a long-standing history with the people of Petit Trou de Nippes. They have been working in rural Haiti building schools, developing the local economy and providing health care and clean water. The Lambi Fund of Haiti is another well-established group that was started by Haitians, Haitian-Americans, and North Americans.
Lastly, I might suggest Medecins sans Frontieres, Doctors without Borders, as another great organization to give money to. MSF is an international medical organization that works to help people “whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.”
As the “news value” of Haiti diminishes in the eyes of the international media, let us not forget our neighbors.