Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

How to Help Haitians?

“Haiti Rocked by 7.0 Quake.” I read the news as I sat in the waiting room at Children’s Hospital, checking the New York Times website on my laptop computer. Of course I was worried about my daughter, going through a surgical procedure that was minor but nevertheless required general anesthesia. Now, less than 24 hours later, she’s fully recovered, while the reports from Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas get worse and worse. I look back to yesterday, and recognize the extraordinary privilege I was enjoying, even during that stressful afternoon. My child was getting excellent medical care, funded by the Children’s Medicaid program. I knew where my friends and loved ones were; some were with me, and some were sending me words of encouragement through the Internet. And I was in a building which (besides offering a wireless connection) stood on solid ground, with safety and stability engineered into its very structure.

Like everyone, I want to do something, however small, to help support the survival and recovery of the Haitian people. All I have to offer is a little bit of money. So where should I send it? There are a number of fine organizations that are now, or will soon be, working on the ground to help heal and rebuild. There are other groups that might waste donations on excessive administrative costs or poor management. As a member of the global disability community, I am committed to ensuring that my donation will benefit disabled people, as well as others. I won’t let my uncertainty delay my contribution, which is tiny enough, so I did some quick research, both about Haiti itself, and about current relief efforts.

Haitian Novelist Edwidge Danticat described a little bit of her country’s history on today’s episode of Democracy Now: its founding as the first black republic in the western hemisphere, followed by the refusal of many other countries to recognize its independence; also its crushing international debt and resulting poverty. Haiti has endured colonialism, economic oppression, hurricanes, and social turmoil. This earthquake, said Danticat, “seems like the abyss of a very long and painful history of natural and political disasters.”

In the context of such a desperately poor society, people with disabilities have few opportunities for health, integration, and safety. According to one source I found, this small country’s population includes around 800,000 disabled people.

Disabled children, in particular, are often sacrificed for their families’ economic survival. According to the United Nations, as reported last year by the BBC, many of Haiti’s 200,000 children with mental or physical disabilities wind up living on the streets — or in orphanages, which is often worse. A UNICEF official is quoted as saying that only a quarter of Haiti’s 600 child care institutions are legal, and subject to any monitoring. In the others, children are often abused physically, sexually, and mentally.

Natural disasters always exacerbate these kinds of pre-existing social atrocities. And unfortunately, relief efforts don’t always take into account the needs of people with disabilities. I was glad to hear that Habitat for Humanity is already planning to go in and help low-income Haitians rebuild homes. However, as I was reading through Habitat’s website, I was disappointed to discover that their commitment to building homes accessible to people with disabilities, adopted several years ago in response to accessible housing advocates, applies only to homes they build in the United States. No such policy extends to their international projects.

So how best to help? There are the tried-and-true non-governmental organizations that do outstanding humanitarian work, and that are already mobilizing to provide aid in Haiti, including:

Medicins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders
http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/index.cfm

UNICEF
https://secure.unicefusa.org/site/Donation2?df_id=6680&6680.donation=form1

Oxfam
https://secure.oxfamamerica.org/site/Donation2?idb=1826472882&df_id=3560&3560.donation=form1

Also, friends and other people I respect have recommended the following:

The Lambi Fund of Haiti
http://www.lambifund.org/

Partners In Health
http://www.pih.org/home.html

I was looking for a more disability-specific group, with the necessary infrastructure and integrity to provide effective assistance. Then I got an e-mail from my fellow advocate, Paul Timmons, who announced that Portlight Strategies Inc., an organization he’s worked with for some time, is now mobilizing to provide medical equipment, shelter, and food for people with disabilities in Haiti. Portlight helped a lot of people during the Gulf Coast hurricanes over the last few years. They are preparing to send a container full of equipment and supplies to Haiti in the next few days. They are also working with a community of Catholic nuns in Port-au-Prince who will be opening shelters. Portlight needs money to help pay the costs of shipping the equipment, and to buy food and other shelter supplies.

So that’s where I sent my measly fifty bucks. I would feel fine about supporting any of the other organizations listed above, and would be interested in knowing where readers of this blog are sending their support. Feel free to post comments, along with links to worthy organizations.

4 Comments

  1. autumn says:

    thank you so much for doing all this footwork and sharing…and wow 800,000!
    i’ll def go with portlight too.

  2. Free Wheelchair Mission has a shipment of wheelchairs already in Haiti, and are mobilizing resources to send more to those who have been affected by the earthquake. For $59.20 you can provide someone with a wheelchair, and this covers the cost of distribution.

    Free Wheelchair Mission is a smaller grassroots organization committed to bringing mobility to children and adults around the world who are disabled.

    https://www.kintera.org/site/c.fgLFIXOJKtF/b.5720889/k.57FE/Haiti_Emergency_Relief/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp?c=fgLFIXOJKtF&b=5720889&en=eeKDIJNnGaKEKIPrEcJBIINsHcJML3PyFdILIVPwFiKTLYPxFlLZG

  3. Tamar says:

    Laura,
    Thank you for this info! I am going to post this on my facebook page.

  4. Andrea S. says:

    People can find more links to more organizations working with people with disabilities in Haiti at

    http://www.usicd.org

    Portlight is one of the organizations listed but there are others as well.

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