Long-Term Help in Haiti

On Wednesday, I listened in on a conference call for supporters of Doctors Without Borders to get an update on the situation in Haiti. Much of that information was fascinating, firsthand accounts from people who were in the country when the earthquake hit, and learning that there are currently 260 aid organizations and charities in Haiti. I have, like so many of us, been feeling like I should find some way to get there to help, but what is clear is that at this time, what they DON’T need, is more people. While entirely well-meaning and selfless, a majority of general (non-medically trained) volunteers are more in the way than helpful in the current situation. One of the doctors running programs there likened the nation to a patient in intensive care, remarking that when you are in the ICU, you cannot have visitors. We have to wait until the status gets downgraded from critical to stable before any of us can be of use. That, of course, is where the problem lies—many of the current organizations that rushed in to help will move away from the crisis at just the time when their work can actually be more effective than it is now. Funds will run out, other crises will arise (have you noticed that the terrible floods and mudslides in Peru near Machu Picchu have gone all but ignored in the press?), and volunteer exhaustion will come into play. Burnout is a very real problem in crisis management. Doctors Without Borders is in for the long haul (as are many, many others who understand the commitment)—they have been in Haiti for 19 years already and had a team of 700 in the country BEFORE the earthquake, and have added about 500 more team members since the catastrophe.

Understanding the long-haul nature of the problem is also the organization Artists for Peace and Justice, working with “an impressive roster of Hollywood celebrities who have pledged their long-term support to Haiti through annual donations. The stars are lending their financial support and influential voices to help rebuild Haiti by funding street schools for the children living in the slums and in the burgeoning camps around the city of Port-au-Prince. Getting children back to school – often the only place they receive clean drinking water, their only food for the day, medical attention, clothing and hope – has become a top priority. APJ remains committed to long term sustainability in the ravaged country.”

Some of the high-profile celebrities that are not only donating today, but have committed to annual donations of $50,000 each for the next five years, include Jackson Browne, Gerard Butler, Daniel Craig, Russell Crowe, Penelope Cruz, Clint Eastwood, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Sean Penn, and more.

“Emergency relief is still very important — with the help of Operation USA, last week we trucked in another $150,000 in food and supplies to sustain the St. Luke’s program and the children and families of the slums that rely upon its outreach programs,” says Paul Haggis, Founder of APJ. “Schools right now might not seem like the most important thing to reestablish but it just isn’t true. The children may not be in urgent need of an education, but they desperately need physical and psychological support. They need a daily meal and water and medical care that comes with our schools. These thousands of children need a safe place to gather, where they can find hope, and even joy and beauty. The issues on the rise right now are gangs, violent crime, prostitution and child slavery. Schools are more important now than ever.”

When built, the street schools will assist thousands of children living in the slums of Port-au-Prince. Prior to the earthquake, APJ had been committed to sponsoring a number of these schools in Haiti and supporting the work of Father Rick Frechette, a doctor and community organizer who works out of St. Damiens Pediatric Hospital in Port-au-Prince, the only free pediatric hospital in the country. Donors to APJ have an opportunity to contribute to long term sustainability in a country that so desperately needs it.

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