Helping Haitians in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

Danny Montdesdeoca, Writer

Our often forgotten Latina/o Haitian brothers and sisters were hit by the devastating Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 4. The destruction of the Category Four hurricane, the second highest hurricane classification, has left the dead toll at over 1,000, according to a report by Reuters on Nov. 10.

Hurricane Matthew came nearly six years after Haiti was hit with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the capital, Port-Au-Prince, leaving over 200,000 dead and 300,000 injured, as reported by NPR. The lasting effects of the earthquake were perhaps even more dire than the earthquake itself.

One of those lasting effects is the cholera epidemic that’s plaguing the country and has the death toll count at 9,200, but the actual death toll could far exceed that, according to the NY Times. Evidence suggests that the outbreak originated in one of the U.N.’s peacekeeping camps and spread from there.

In a report done by Progressio, a lobbying-firm that aims “to change policies that keep people poor,” examined how social and political relationships, coupled with a totalled infrastructure and the cholera outbreak, helped contribute to the lack of efficient help the Haitian people received.

Haitians are desperate for food and supplies and have grown impatient with the government, non-governmental organizations and private organizations resulted and their lack of coordination. Distributions have also been slowed down by public officials who are making emotionally driven decisions that are affecting the needs of the Haitian people.

The NY Times reported that the interior minister’s absolute refusal to distribute tents in the wake of the hurricane is one case where decisions were made based on emotion. After the earthquake in 2010, the government distributed tents to thousands of people without any semblance of shelter. Haiti became known, internationally, for these tent cities. The infamous legacy of these tent cities has kept Haitian government officials from distributing tents to those left without shelter.

“Maybe we will be a prosperous country one day, and we can use tents to send our children to summer camp,” said the interior minister, François Anick Joseph, to the NY Times. “But we will never be a nation of tent cities again.”

However, this comes at time when most of those without shelter are crammed in local schools, and with classes already supposed to be in session, a new problem arises.

Haiti is already the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Four in five people in Haiti live on less than two USD per day. Their central government, which can only provide so much help for its people, has very limited resources making Haiti heavily reliant on outside donations and support. Support that comes from people like you and me.

However, when it comes to giving support, we shouldn’t just blindly give it, even if we are well-intentioned. We must think about the subtle things, like should you donate cases of water bottles that eventually run out and leaves behind empty plastic bottles, or do you donate a water filtration pump that provides a family with a steady stream of drinkable water.

An assessment of what is needed prior to the collection of goods and supplies is crucial to avoid sending products that will be of little to no use. Working in collaboration with the Haitian Consulate or other non-government organizations can help you figure out exactly what the people of Haiti need, as these organizations are already well-established on the ground.

Working with well-established organizations means that they have some structure amongst all the madness. The structure will help ensure that goods and supplies aren’t distributed in an anarchic manner. To be able to make the most out of in you send over, and making sure the organization you’re working with works efficiently is imperative to maximize help efforts in Haiti.

Sending money rather than goods and supplies also proves to be more efficient than donating food and supplies. It’s a lot more cost effective, and the money that’s sent over starts circulating in the local Haitian economy. This is important as there is already very little money amongst Haitians to spend. Prior to the earthquake, around 60 percent of Haitians were unemployed.

If you want to play a direct role in the help, instead of just donating, then it’s important to look at and research the different organizations and exactly what it is they do. You want to able to use your skill set to effectively and efficiently help. If you have a background in construction, then your efforts will be well spent constructing shelter rather than administering food and medical supplies.

Don’t try to help by yourself. Helping is a noble act in itself, but these dire situations call for team action. Collaborating with other people, and even collaboration between organizations is encouraged. We are stronger in numbers. We need to work collectively with the volunteers, with the Haitian government and the Haitian people. If we’re in this, we’re in this together.

Que Ondee Sola stands in solidarity with the Haitian people. They were hit with another natural catastrophe while still managing to recover from one that left the country in shambles nearly six years ago and while dealing with a cholera epidemic.

Now, more than ever, we must unite. 2016 wasn’t the best of years for the world. The Syrian refugee crisis has proved that the world is in a moral turmoil. The nuclear war tensions around the globe have shown us how we let social constructs and political borders divide us. The U.S. has elected Donald Trump to be the 45th president. The world is divided, but there is always the possibility to change that and unite. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes events like a hurricane to destroy the homes and lives of thousands of people before we unite, but as long as we do we will prosper and continue forward.