The news of Haiti’s earthquake and the devastation it continues to wreak is shocking, but the tragedy has also reminded me of how little I know about the small, impoverished country.
Why has Haiti been left so vulnerable, and how did it get to this point? Anyone who’s picked up a newspaper or trolled for news online lately has seen images of the injured, of bodies covered in sheets and left in the streets, of buildings crumbled to bits. We’ve read of shantytowns sliding away—killing, maiming or leaving homeless thousands of people who’d never had a fair shot to begin with. Why weren’t they given a fair shot?Despite being so physically close to the U.S., Haiti might never have crossed Americans’ minds had it not been so harshly thrust into the international spotlight. But if ever there was a time for us to learn more, and to actually put effort into understanding Haiti, it is now.
FindingDulcinea’s Focus on Haiti article, which we first published back in 2008, is an excellent starting point for further research. Beginning with colonization in the late 1600s, the sources we’ve cited provide information about Haiti’s early successes (it was the world’s first African American-led republic), and sad failings, such as brutal dictatorships and questionable treatment of Haitian immigrants and their children by the Dominican Republic. Child slavery is also a horrific reality for many Haitian families.
Many of us, myself included, may now feel the urge to actually go to Haiti and lend a hand. But unless properly trained, whether as a medical professional or relief worker, we’d only be getting in the way. In a post for community site Gather, Kimberly Ripley writes, “Unfortunately if everyone who wanted to volunteer in Haiti simply packed up and flew to that country, more chaos would ensue.” She provides information on what it means to be a trained and qualified volunteer, and which relief organizations are reputable.
Former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, discussed with NPR the importance of sending monetary aid. “What we need now is cash to buy water, food, shelter and first-aid supplies. That's what we need,” Clinton said.
Most of us can spare $5 or $10 for Haiti, and it’s easier than ever thanks to text message donation campaigns. More information about donating to legitimate organizations is featured in this findingDulcinea article, as well as on the Clinton Foundation Web site.Sarah Amandolare