I've Got One Week - How Can I Help? (Volunteering in Haiti)

By Bryan Schaaf on Saturday, April 5, 2008.
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We get quite a few emails from young people with a week or two off of school who would like to volunteer in Haiti. Without knowing Kreyol or having special skills, opportunities are somewhat limited but they are out there.  Through volunteering you can learn about the country, its culture, and develop an awareness of the developmental challenges, and just as important, how to addresss them. When you come back, that's when the hard work starts.  You may well find that you can do more for Haiti stateside.

 

There are a large number of non profits based in the United States that operate in Haiti.  Consider being involved in one of them.  Even if not in the same geographic area, you could help raise awareness for them, hold fundraisers, etc.   

 

 

Any number of civil society organization are involved with Haiti.  Rotary Clubs, through Rotary International, support projects throughout Haiti.  So does Kiwanis International.  Being involved with either of this organizations provides numerous opportunities for staying connected to Haiti.

 

 

There are also a great number of faith based organizations involved in Haiti.  Some are very professional, recognize that they are guests in the country, roll up their sleeves and do real work for the time they are there.   There are others that cause more harm than good.  Do the research first.

 

 

There are orphanages throughout Haiti which could use assistance, even for a short period of time.  An official list is available from the State Department.  I won't copy them here as there are hundreds throughout the country.  In addition to orphanages, there are a number of faith based organizations involved in health, education, etc.  You can find a few of them under the 'Charitable" section of this link.  A simple internet search will reveal many others. 

 

It can be a bit overwhelming going through these lists.  I can vouch for two organizations.  First is the Saint Joseph's Orphanage in Port au Prince.  For 30.00 (or so) each night, you can stay at the orpanage, spend time with kids, learn about Haitian Culture, and get started on your Kreyol.   The Norwich Mission House may also be able to set up up with a place to stay and some short term work.  Both organizations are reputable and doing good work. 

 

 

Plenty of other organizations operating in Haiti.  Here is a short list of volunteer opportunities with different organizations, mostly in teaching.  In his blog, Brian McElroy notes that Fondwa University (Haiti's first and only rural university) is always looking for volunteers. 

 

 

Hands Together has a page for volunteers.  Volunteers for Peace also accepts volunteers for a nominal free.  If you are interested in reforestation, there is Foundasyon Mapou.   UMCOR is a solid development organization which takes volunteers and interns.  FATEM takes volunteers in Mirebalais.  Outreach International also accepts volunteers.

 

If you have specialized skills you will surely find opportunities to assist.  Konbit Sante needs volunteers both stateside for fundraising and awarenes building and in Cap Haitian for construction, engineering, etc.  If you are a medical or public health student, you could help form a partnership with Project Medishare or another health oriented NGO.  Of course, Habitat for Humanity would love to have volunteers with a construction background.  Got a background in finance?  Think about linking up with Fonkoze or FINCA. 

 

 

Of course, you can always get started working with Haitians in the United States.  New York City, Miami, Boston (and to a certain extent Chicago and Washington DC) have large Haitian populations.  The Haitian Coalition operates outside of Boston. The Center for Haitian Studies is in Miami.  Church World Service has programs for Haitian immigrants as well.  Latin American Youth Center in Washington DC has some Haitian youth who are enrolled in activities.

 

 

Sadly, Peace Corps is not active in Haiti right now.  We all hope that, when the time is right, the program can resume once more.   If/When this happens, we will let you know. 

 

 

Of course,  you can always reach out to any of the organizations we've written about on the blog and inquire as to what opportunities are available.  Organizations are not so much interested in having a volunteer for a week as they are having someone who will be involved over the long term.  Spending time in Haiti will make you a better advocate and help you build bridges between organizations.  The problem with Haiti has never been a lack of interest so much as a lack of coordination among the interested. 

 

 

This was not meant to be an exhaustive list of opportunities.  However, we hope that we have given you a place to get started from.   And, of course, if you know of any opportunities which we have not covered here then please post them in the comment section.   Thanks!

 

Bryan 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I stopped Being a Voluntourist (By Pippa Bidlle)

White people aren’t told that the color of their skin is a problem very often. We sail through police check points, don’t garner sideways glances in affluent neighborhoods, and are generally understood to be predispositioned for success based on a physical characteristic (the color of our skin) we have little control over beyond sunscreen and tanning oil. After six years of working in and traveling through a number of different countries where white people are in the numerical minority, I’ve come to realize that there is one place being white is not only a hindrance, but negative — most of the developing world. In high school, I travelled to Tanzania as part of a school trip. There were 14 white girls, 1 black girl who, to her frustration, was called white by almost everyone we met in Tanzania, and a few teachers/chaperones. $3000 bought us a week at an orphanage, a half built library, and a few pickup soccer games, followed by a week long safari. Our mission while at the orphanage was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.
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Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level. That same summer, I started working in the Dominican Republic at a summer camp I helped organize for HIV+ children. Within days, it was obvious that my rudimentary Spanish set me so far apart from the local Dominican staff that I might as well have been an alien. Try caring for children who have a serious medical condition, and are not inclined to listen, in a language that you barely speak. It isn’t easy. Now, 6 years later, I am much better at Spanish and am still highly involved with the camp programing, fundraising, and leadership. However, I have stopped attending having finally accepted that my presence is not the godsend I was coached by non-profits, documentaries, and service programs to believe it would be. You see, the work we were doing in both the DR and Tanzania was good. The orphanage needed a library so that they could be accredited to a higher level as a school, and the camp in the DR needed funding and supplies so that it could provide HIV+ children with programs integral to their mental and physical health. It wasn’t the work that was bad. It was me being there.
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It turns out that I, a little white girl, am good at a lot of things. I am good at raising money, training volunteers, collecting items, coordinating programs, and telling stories. I am flexible, creative, and able to think on my feet. On paper I am, by most people’s standards, highly qualified to do international aid. But I shouldn’t be. I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a 5' 4" white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, horse around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else. Some might say that that’s enough. That as long as I go to X country with an open mind and a good heart I’ll leave at least one child so uplifted and emboldened by my short stay that they will, for years, think of me every morning.
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I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning. After my first trip to the Dominican Republic, I pledged to myself that we would, one day, have a camp run and executed by Dominicans. Now, about seven years later, the camp director, program leaders and all but a handful of counselors are Dominican. Each year we bring in a few Peace Corps Volunteers and highly-skilled volunteers from the USA who add value to our program, but they are not the ones in charge. I think we’re finally doing aid right, and I’m not there. Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about traveling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.
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Originally published on pippabiddle.com

Good Intentions and Challenges in Haiti (4/22/2013)

By Tony Leys
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A U.N.-built water tower serving residents of Arcahaie has been unusable since its pump broke five years ago. City leaders say they can't afford to fix it. Dr. Chris Buresh has seen plenty of well-meaning Americans fail to think through their actions before trying to help Haitians.
“I don’t want to sound like a jerk,” said Buresh, a University of Iowa physician who leads medical teams to Haiti. “I think people send things down here and do things with all the best intentions and with hearts full of hope and charity and love.”
But as an example, he points to used ambulances that American groups have sent. The groups stock the ambulances with medical equipment, then spend thousands of dollars to have them shipped to Haiti. If they’re lucky, they’ll find some Haitians with enough training to use the ambulances for a while. But when the vehicles break, he said, there are no spare parts and no mechanics able to fix complicated equipment. Even when the ambulances work, he said, there’s no way for injured people to summon one. “What number do you call? They don’t have 911, right? So you call — who?”
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In the end, he said, a donated ambulance won’t do Haiti much good. “It was an amazing idea, and really a very charitable thing to do, but it just rusts,” he said. He urges donors and aid agencies to think carefully about how best to help people. One of the simplest ways to do that, he said, is to talk to Haitians to determine what they need.
About these stories
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Des Moines Register reporter Tony Leys and photographer Mary Chind accompanied the Community Health Initiative team to rural Haiti during the last week of March. Their travel was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
The Community Health Initiative, based in Iowa City, sends medical teams to Haiti at least four times a year. The group’s founders include Dr. Chris Buresh, a University of Iowa emergency medicine physician who has been working regularly in Haiti for 10 years. The group provides basic health care during weeklong clinics, and sometimes brings surgeons to perform operations. It also hires and trains local health workers to monitor village residents year-round, and it coordinates public health projects, such as construction of latrines and drilling of clean-water wells. For more information about the group, go online to chihaiti.com.
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Jean-Francois Wilson knew just what to show visiting Iowans who asked for examples of the problems his small city faces. Wilson, the deputy mayor, ushered his American guests into a “tap-tap,” a garishly painted pickup-truck taxi whose bed is fitted with wooden benches and a roof. He directed the driver to go through town, then turn down an overgrown dirt track that cuts through farm fields. The truck bumped along for a few minutes, then stopped in front of a concrete monument to good intentions gone awry. The structure is a modern water tower, about five stories tall. It was built to provide steady water service to 45,000 residents. A United Nations agency built it about 20 years ago, Wilson said. He’s not sure how much the project cost, but it must have been a small fortune.
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The tower and an accompanying treatment apparatus worked well until about five years ago, when the pump that drew water into the tower broke. Residents have resumed using latrines instead of toilets, and many of them draw drinking water from streams teeming with bacteria. A new pump would cost about $18,000 in American money, an impossible sum for Wilson’s impoverished city. No aid groups have been willing to help his government pay for it, he said. “All the big organizations, they just keep the money themselves,” he said in Creole, rubbing his palms together in a cash-collecting gesture. “They don’t give that much.” Independent experts on aid to Haiti said the empty water tower is an example of a common problem. “Things break down, and they stay broken down forever,” said Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow for the Center for Global Development. She said aid groups and donors tend to be more excited about building new projects than about maintaining existing ones. Ramachandran, a Washington, D.C., researcher who has studied the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, said about $9 billion in aid poured in over three years. About a third of that came from the U.S. government, a third from other governments and a third from individual donors, mainly Americans. Much of that money apparently went to pay the salaries and expenses of Americans and other foreigners, she said. Many foreign officials drove new SUVs, rented nice houses and trucked in drinking water and food for their teams. “Basically, everybody got flooded with cash — everybody but the Haitians.”
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Ramachandran said the biggest problem is that little of the assistance has been routed through Haiti’s government or local organizations. Instead, services have been provided directly by foreign nonprofits or contractors. The intentions are mainly good, she said, and there’s no doubt that aid groups saved many lives in the quake’s aftermath. But all that money and effort have done little to prepare Haiti for the next earthquake, hurricane or other disaster. For example, she said, Haiti’s government has struggled to rebuild its main hospital in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Countless medical groups have sent doctors and medication into the capital, but few have shown interest in helping the country build up its own health system. “That’s just not what they do,” she said.
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Dr. Chris Buresh, a University of Iowa physician who leads U.S. medical teams in the Arcahaie area, has heard the widespread criticism that Haitians’ faith in their government erodes further when outside groups provide freelance help. “It’s true, and I hate that,” Buresh said one night outside his group’s clinic. “Having said that, it’s not that easy working with the Haitian government, because it’s hard to know who to talk to and how to get ahold of certain people and what the system is. If there was a system that we could go through where we could kind of sign up ... we would do that. … They should absolutely be in charge of who’s here and what they’re doing.” The wealthy Haitian couple who own the compound where the Iowans work told Buresh that they’d registered the clinic with the Haitian government, but he said he didn’t know the details. The next morning, Buresh chuckled when his stated wish for a connection to the Haitian government came true — in the form of two SUVs full of inspectors carrying clipboards. The inspection included interviews with the American doctors and nurses, which crimped their work for several hours. But Buresh said it was good to see the Haitian government taking steps to ensure medical care was being provided properly.
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A top United Nations official in Haiti said such oversight is becoming more common. Osian Jones, the U.N.’s assistant country director for development in Haiti, said the Haitian government had gained significant strength over several years leading up to 2010. “But a lot of that basically was washed away with the earthquake,” he said. Many officials died as their headquarters buildings collapsed, he said, leaving the government all but paralyzed. Now the government is showing clear signs of regaining its feet, he said, and the United Nations and other international agencies are focused on encouraging it. Jones’ office didn’t have many details about what happened with the Arcahaie water tower because it was built by a U.N. agency no longer working in Haiti. Officials said their records indicate responsibility for the water tower was handed over to local authorities, which is usually the goal with such projects. They try to ensure that locals have the ability to sustain improvements, though that can be difficult to guarantee. How to increase oversight? Laurent Dubois, a Duke University professor who has written several books about Haiti’s history, said there’s little dispute about the need for the country’s government to oversee and coordinate development efforts. “Everybody agrees that should be the endpoint. But how do you get to that endpoint?” he said.
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Dubois said it’s telling that the country’s National Palace, which was irreparably damaged in the earthquake, wasn’t demolished until recently because the government lacked money for the project. Meanwhile, several luxury hotels have been built to serve foreigners visiting Port-au-Prince. The professor said corruption has long plagued Haiti’s government, partly because foreign business interests have cultivated it. But he said the government has the potential to straighten out and take responsibility for running the country. For now, the government will be heavily dependent on foreign money for its budget because it can’t raise much tax revenue from its poor citizens. Even so, he said, it should gain more oversight of the hodgepodge of thousands of aid projects. Dubois said more independent aid groups are working in Haiti than in any other country. That’s probably because Haiti is so close to the United States, allowing Americans to visit quickly and inexpensively. In the 1950s, about 200,000 Americans a year traveled to Haiti for relaxing tropical vacations, he said. Roughly that number now travel there, mainly to volunteer.
Ignorance of history hurts efforts
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Many Americans participate in short mission trips, often organized by churches, without having much knowledge about the country. Dubois said people go with the best of intentions, but he wonders about the impressions they come home with if they do nothing but volunteer at orphanages or other charitable projects. “There’s sometimes this sense that Haiti is nothing more than a series of very tragic stories,” he said. Part of the problem is that mission-trip organizers often have exaggerated fears of crime, and they tightly restrict interactions with everyday Haitians, he said. Also, relatively few of the trips go to rural Haiti, which tends to be safer than Port-au-Prince. Dubois added that American visitors sometimes add to the friction by being unaware of the history between the two countries. That history includes the U.S. Marine Corps’ occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, plus initial American support for the ruinous dictatorship of the Duvalier family, which ruled from 1957 to 1986. Most Haitians are familiar with those facts, and know about the United States’ on-again, off-again aid policies in recent decades.
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Dubois said Americans and other foreigners should make sure their projects are what local people want, and they should strive to have Haitians providing service to other Haitians. He also noted that Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly, is trying to encourage foreign corporations to set up production facilities in his country. So far, Dubois said, the policy hasn’t had a big effect. The professor also would like to see more efforts to help small farmers grow and market crops, such as mangoes, coffee and rice, which they can use to feed their country.
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Amy Wilentz, an American journalist who has been writing about Haiti since 1985, said donors naively believed that infusions of money would quickly help the situation. “It’s really not easy to know what to do with billions of dollars in Haiti,” she said. “That’s counterintuitive, right? You know how much suffering there is in Haiti. But how do you spend the money in a proper, humane, decent way?” Wilentz stressed that foreign groups should start only those projects that Haitians can sustain. The water tower in Arcahaie, she said, showed how the local government remains so weak that it can’t provide basic repairs to a critical system. The long-term answer isn’t for the United Nations to come fix the pump on the water tower it built, she said. The answer is to strengthen Haiti’s government so it can take care of such matters. Americans should continue trying to help Haiti, she said, but they should strive for the most effective ways to do it.
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Raphael Cook, a spokesman for U.S. AID, which oversees most American government aid, said the agency is working to include the Haitian government more in recovery projects. Cook said about $190 million of the $1.6 billion his agency has spent on recovery, reconstruction and development in Haiti has gone to improve the Haitian government’s capabilities. Ramachandran estimates that foreign aid groups provide 80 percent of Haiti’s social services, such as health care and education. Haitians learn to rely on such groups for help, she said, but there’s no guarantee groups will stay in the long run, especially if their donors lose interest in the country. She asked: “What’s going to happen if a lot of these guys pack up and go away?”

Don’t go to Haiti to Volunteer (12/21/2010)

By Catherine Porter
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If you want to help Haiti, take a vacation there. Send money to a charity you trust working on the ground. Even better, set up a micro-credit loan for a single mother so she can rebuild her shattered market stall and send her kids to school. Just don’t go down there to volunteer for two weeks. I know, you want to help personally. That’s noble. But your good intentions might have the opposite effect: you would be paying to do a job a Haitian is literally starving for, and the normally neglected child you are holding for a few days in a run-down orphanage might be damaged from your affection.
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Those are big statements. Let me uncrate them. Voluntourism is the new ecotourism. One 2008 survey revealed that one in five travellers had volunteered on their vacation — most of them working on small construction sites, but some helping in orphanages, teaching English, protecting egg-laying turtles in Costa Rica, cleaning up garbage at the base of Mount Everest . . . The pricey trips are marketed as “meaningful travel.” Promotional websites usually feature a white adult smiling with a black child. I’ve been to Haiti eight times in the past year, and every flight — save the first one, which was an aid shipment — has been packed with young people in matching T-shirts on a mission. Most were with church groups planning to rebuild a school or orphanage. Some were hosting “crusades,” which are healing church services, they told me. Others planned to play with babies in orphanages, teach English in schools or help out in tent camps around the city. Think of it this way: a $600 round-trip ticket to Haiti is just $130 short of the annual income of the average Haitian. You shouldn’t pay to do that job. A Haitian should be paid to do it. Before the earthquake, up to 80 per cent of the country’s population was unemployed, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The number one request from residents in refugee camps around the capital writing to the International Organization of Migration? A job. Then they could pay for food, a new home and their kids’ school tuition themselves. They wouldn’t need help.
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Many readers write to me about the orphans in Haiti. The stories break their hearts, and mine, too. But Haitian kids, like Canadian kids, need to be played with for more than two weeks. They need stable, full-time caregivers who make them feel secure and act as role models. They need their parents, who are often still alive but just poor. Remember those American missionaries caught at the Dominican border shortly after the earthquake with 33 orphans they intended to save? Most of those children had parents who couldn’t afford to keep them. Wouldn’t it be better to sponsor parents to keep their kids, rather than supporting orphanages with free labour? Let’s say the kids are truly orphaned. Your two-week cuddling trip could be doing them more harm than good. A recent study on “AIDS orphan tourism” — can you believe there is such a thing! — states that children who make and break repeated connections with revolving volunteers are at an “increased risk of developing disorganized attachments, thus affecting their socio-psychological development and long-term well-being.” After comforting and engaging them for two weeks, volunteers reinforce the lesson that the people they love will ultimately leave them.
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Imagine if our foster homes were packed with non-English speaking Khmers and Costa Ricans, looking to help and gain insight into our culture for two weeks. We’d call Children’s Aid. Or if your kid came home from school to tell you that a Chinese teenager was in the class teaching Mandarin. Why do we think it’s okay in Haiti then? My Haitian translator Dimitri says this reinforces the slavery mentality —– that anyone from the developed world who can afford to come to Haiti and is white has something to teach. There are plenty of unemployed and underpaid teachers in Haiti. Wouldn’t it be better to pay them to do their jobs?
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Of course, there are exceptions. In the days following last year’s earthquake, thousands of volunteers saved lives in Haiti — including that of 3-year-old Lovely, whom we at the Star spent months writing about. Many had no medical training, but they still could dig for people in the rubble, hand out food and hold hands. I’m grateful they went. A team of North American neurologists has been travelling to Haiti since 2003 to perform difficult surgeries and train Haitian doctors, since there is no formal neurosurgery program in Haiti. I’m glad they go. And Habitat for Humanity Canada’s international volunteer program director, Rick Tait, points out that every Canadian volunteer who heads overseas to build a house iss required to donate $350 to the long-term program (though it doesn’t send teams to Haiti) . “People probably wouldn’t donate the same amount of money if they didn’t get to go and have a hands-on experience,” he says. Then, once home, they keep giving. “They haven’t just built a house. They’ve expanded their perception of the world.” The world needs all the humanitarians it can get. I assure you: a two-week trip to Haiti will open your eyes. It might even change your life. But it likely won’t change the life of a Haitian. A country can’t be rebuilt two weeks at a time. If you are interested in funding a teacher or microcredit loan in Haiti, I recommend the Sawatzky Family Foundation. It does both through the SOPODEP school ( www.sopudep.org/donate) in Port-au-Prince.Catherine Porter’s column usually runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. She can be reached at cporter@thestar.ca

Aid Volunteers - Good or Bad for Haiti? (11/16/2010)

The Guardian
By Rory Carroll
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There was so much goodness packed on to the plane there was almost no room for me. I had a boarding pass but by the time I got to the gate every seat was filled. This was American Airlines flight 575 from Miami to Port-au-Prince and the passengers were on a mission to help Haiti. A volunteer agreed to take a later flight and I squeezed on. The front rows had people in orange T-shirts, further on there were blue ones and at the back lime-green, each with a Haiti-related logo. Instead of the in-flight magazine, people were reading engineering manuals, budget reports, the Bible and books with titles such as Touching Them Now and Forever.
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Spirits were high. We were on our way to another world, which would provide a sense of purpose, not to mention adventure. "Welcome aboard!" beamed the steward. Two hours later, as we trooped off into blinding Caribbean sun, the steward was still beaming. "Bye bye!" I was too depressed to smile back. During the flight I had been reminded by the passenger seated beside me how do-gooding outsiders can screw up Haiti. What made it all the sadder was the fact he was nice, decent and humane. It is harsh to identify Ed Hettinga and his group, Mission to Haiti Canada, as exemplars of an unfolding tragedy. Each member was coming on his and her own time and dime (air fare alone, £980) and was almost certain to improve the lives of some Haitians.
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Villains in Haiti's suffering include France, which crippled its former colony with two centuries of immoral debt; the US, which bullied Haiti to cut food tariffs, swamping the country with US imports and destroying homegrown agriculture; donors who have welched on funding pledges; and Haiti's political and business elite, cocooned in luxury and indifference. But what about people such as Hettinga, a retired dairy farmer from Ontario who is treasurer of a well-meaning non-governmental organisation? Where other westerners wring their hands, he wraps his around buckets of cement and builds houses. Hettinga can be admired, and his heart is in the right place. But in Haiti's ongoing disaster, his NGO – and thousands of others – is one reason why so much international goodwill has added up to so little. Mission to Haiti Canada, founded in 1997, raised £32m after January's earthquake for medical treatment, drugs, housing and to run six schools and an orphanage. "We are faith-based but non-denominational," said Ed. "We don't evangelise and don't care if people are voodoo or whatever. We just want to help."
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In April a team of 28 Canadians and 38 Haitians built a hurricane-proof two-room house. "It cost $6,000 and we did it right, just like back home. Why should we expect people here to live in garbage?" says Hettinga. The plan was for locals to build dozens more. "We're teaching them. The idea is to be self-sustaining." The NGO spent $10,000 shipping a container with three big tents, clothes, rice and beans. They felt they were filling a vacuum left by a useless, predatory state. Sounds noble, but consider this: more than 1 million homeless people urgently need housing. Here you can build a decent home for a fraction of what the Canadians spend. The group, which does not speak Creole, relies on a young local fixer to select beneficiaries, disburse funds and keep records. Locals have no realistic way to build in the absence of occasional Canadian visitors. The group has zero contact, and therefore no coordination, with the housing, health or education ministries. Hettinga's cheerful countenance briefly clouded as he acknowledged some problems. "As soon as we leave, everything stops. You try to teach . . . but really you just touch the people you deal with directly."
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Better than nothing? Consider that this picture is multiplied across Haiti via more than 9,000 organisations. It is a republic of NGOs. Most are not registered, pay no tax and are not accountable. They shun cost-benefit analysis but soak up aid money, saying Haiti's state is incompetent and corrupt. The latter may be true but is a self-serving argument, which starves the government of resources and legitimacy, creating a vicious circle of dependence and institutional infantilism. How can Haitians make policy when foreign-run fiefdoms suck up funds for pet projects? How can local farmers harvest crops when free food floods markets? These questions were far from the minds of the passengers of Flight 575 as they spilled out of the plane rubbing their hands with anti-bacterial gel and shooing away tip-hungry porters. "I'm just here for the ride," grinned an amiable, skinny teen from Kentucky's Grace Foundation. "I'm not sure what we're going to do. Build a wall, I think, move some concrete." There are some professional NGOs that are registered and do excellent work – Christian Aid, MSF and Oxfam, among others – but despite jargon about "capacity building" they too breed dependence. The solution is not for all foreigners to pack up and leave. Haiti needs NGO help. But it also needs to rein in aid tourists who turn the country into a zoo and to fold the serious NGOs into a coherent, Haitian-directed strategy. Fingers crossed the 28 November election produces a strong government to start the process.

'Alternative' spring-breakers steered from Haiti missions

3/7/2010
USA Today
By Betty Klinck
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http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-03-08-springbreak08_st_N.htm
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In the next couple of weeks, thousands of college students nationwide will forgo relaxing with fruity drinks and flip-flops during spring break to go on educational service trips known as "alternative breaks." About 72,000 students will take part this year, estimates Break Away, an alternative-break resource representing programs at about 130 colleges.
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A number of colleges have shown interest in helping Haiti after its earthquake. But they're being discouraged. The Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) is telling inexperienced volunteers to wait at least a few months before traveling to Haiti, center director Suzanne Brooks told the online publication Inside Higher Ed.
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"I don't think it's impossible that a year from now for spring break there may be some programs up and running, but I really don't think it makes sense for this year," she said. Inside Higher Ed also says Break Away has told its college chapters not to arrange trips there until conditions are better. "There is a lot of work that needs to be done by people who have skills to help with the immediate response to disaster before unskilled groups can start going there," said Samantha Giacobozzi, programs director. "The resources that would be utilized by alternative breakers would be better used by Haitians and people doing essential work."
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So for now, more of the alternative breaks will be in traditional service tasks. Blake LeMaster, a senior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, will travel to Dallas to work with leukemia patients at a pediatric oncology clinic. LeMaster is co-chair of Vanderbilt's alternative-breaks program. This spring the program will send about 500 students out on 36 trips, says adviser Shaiya Baer, assistant director of the university's Office of Active Citizenship and Service.
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During her alternative break last year, Britney Holland, a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, taught as part of the Kilimanjaro Young Girls in Need program in Tanzania, where she also helped revitalize the cafe the girls ran when they were not in school. Holland, an Iraq war veteran, is leading an alternative break to Colorado Springs, where she and other student veterans will rebuild the homes of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
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Loyola Marymount is sending 18 other trips out this spring but is unable to send students to its most highly requested location, Haiti, because of safety concerns, says Joanne Dennis, alternative-breaks coordinator. "We're looking into sending a team down there this summer, if this is going to be a possibility ... but right now Haiti doesn't need unskilled volunteers taking up their resources," Dennis says.
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Florida International University in Miami is planning to send 12 students to Haiti this summer through its alternative-break program to work on humanitarian relief and health care, says Angel Garcia, assistant director for leadership and service. This spring break, Florida International's alternative-break program will aid Haiti victims by working at an orphanage with children who have spilled over into the Dominican Republic.
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Students at Xavier University in Cincinnati will be working with orphans in Jamaica, helping rebuild parts of their orphanage and through participating in developmental activities with the kids, says Christopher Bridges, assistant director of peace and justice programs.
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Another program from American University in Washington, D.C., will be traveling to the Navajo Nation reserve that spans parts of Arizona and New Mexico to work on an environmental justice program with the states' uranium and coal mines.
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Despite the diversity of alternative-break trips, which range from addressing homelessness in Washington, D.C., to geriatric care in North Carolina, the programs all have one mission: "to work toward creating active citizens through education, action and reflection," Bridges says.

Haiti quake sparks interest in 'voluntourism' (CNN - 3/5/2010)

By Jim Kavanagh
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When the going gets tough, the compassionate get going. The January earthquake in Haiti prompted a spike in interest in service vacations, sometimes called "voluntourism," several organizations report.
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"We've seen a tremendous uptick with groups interested in coming to Haiti," said Brett Curtis, chief operating officer of Youth With a Mission San Diego-Baja, a Christian organization that organizes service trips for young people. "We haven't turned any away yet. We're telling them we'll have some information in the next few weeks about how they'll be deployed."
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Projects-Abroad.org reported it received 46 percent more applications than expected since the earthquake.
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At Idealist.org, the number of people inquiring specifically about volunteering in Haiti in the month following the earthquake was almost three times the site's normal traffic about volunteering in general, said Erin Barnhart, the organization's director of volunteerism initiatives.
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"Absolutely, we're seeing an increase," she said. "Particularly I think it's those people who perhaps had thought of the idea before and this has spurred them into action to say, 'Hey, I've been wanting to try this. Now's the time.' "
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A group called REACH -- Reconstruction Efforts Aiding Children without Homes -- is seizing the moment. The group has scheduled nine trips between March and August for volunteers to work on a construction project at a large orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti. Volunteers will pay a minimum of $1,775 plus airfare for the trip, the group says.
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However, it may not be the time for many unskilled volunteers to flood into Haiti. Many organizations are advising people on other ways or places they can help. "Because of logistics and security, we're not in a place right now where we're bringing volunteers into Haiti, and it may be a while before we are able to do that," said Desiree Hadaway, senior director of volunteer mobilization with Habitat for Humanity International. "Because we won't do it until we know that people can be safe and have a really great volunteer experience."
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To boost the battered Haitian economy, Habitat is hiring local residents to do some work in Haiti that otherwise would be done by volunteers, Hadaway said.
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TEAMeffort, a Christian youth camp sponsor based in Gainesville, Georgia, is re-evaluating plans to take groups to Haiti this summer, overseas director Bryant Underwood said.
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"We want to have groups there this summer but we need to know it's feasible or see if we should wait a year," he said. "We definitely don't want to get in the way of people providing aid at this time."
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Natural disasters always result in greater interest in volunteering, said Troy Peden, co-founder of GoAbroad.com, which provides information for students interested in international travel.
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Chile also suffered a severe earthquake on February 27. As was the case in Haiti, the greatest need in Chile at the moment is highly trained first responders. Chile is more developed and self-sufficient and so far has not requested outside help. However, before the earthquake there were opportunities to volunteer at schools and on environmental projects in Chile, so interested travelers may still want to check into those.
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Would-be volunteers are being encouraged to seek first-responder and search-and-rescue training at home, so they can be part of the first wave of help the next time disaster strikes, Idealist.org's Barnhart said."With past globally impacting events, for example the 2004 tsunami, there was a surge in interest, in people saying, 'What can I do to lend a hand myself? I'm willing to travel, I have vacation time, I want to do something meaningful with my time off,'" Barnhart said.
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There are plenty of opportunities. For example, between now and April 3, Campus Crusade for Christ is expecting at least 2,500 students to attend its weeklong "Big Break" conferences in Panama City Beach, Florida, where they will pack 1 million nutrient-rich meal kits for Haitians.
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"I'm hearing from students around the country who are excited about this opportunity to help ease the suffering in Haiti in a tangible way," said Mark Gauthier, the group's national director of U.S. campus ministry. After Hurricane Katrina, 17,000 students traveled to Mississippi and Louisiana to join Campus Crusade relief projects, the organization said.
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Indeed, "We're five years out of Hurricane Katrina, and there are still opportunities for people to volunteer," Barnhart said. "There's always going to be a space for people who are willing and able to help."

Some who came to help told to go home (Miami Herald - 1/28/2010)

BY JIM WYSS
jwyss@MiamiHerald.com
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PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Jonathan Bopp arrived at the doorstep of the Red Cross in the Dominican Republic with $100 worth of supplies he had picked up at his local pharmacy, no return ticket and faith that he was needed in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
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The first person he met told the 24-year-old political science student from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., to go home.
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``They said the only thing they could do for me was put me on the next plane out,'' said Bopp, who made his way to Haiti a few days after the massive Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated much of the country. ``There were all these organizations that need help so badly, but at the point of entry I was told to leave.''
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Haiti's crisis has brought out the best in people, who have rushed to the aid of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
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But like many things in post-earthquake Haiti, lack of communication and coordination have sapped some of the strength from the army of do-gooders.
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With hundreds of state-sponsored rescue and aid teams on the ground, there is little reliable information about the number of freelance, or informal, volunteers who have been called here by the crisis. But many larger organizations have suggested that there are better ways to help.
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The International Red Cross and the U.S. Agency for International Development have said the scarcest commodity is money. France's Doctors Without Borders said that many victims they are now treating received second-rate medical care from other volunteers. Mirta Roses, director of the Pan American Health Organization, said that many volunteer teams are arriving without clear assignments and with few provisions.
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``They may be tremendously willing, but they sometimes may not be so prepared,'' she said, adding that the public needs to understand that ``there is a place and a time to make generosity useful.''
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While vast areas of Haiti are still in desperate need of attention, other areas are awash in helping hands. On Tuesday, a group of seven doctors from American and French teams huddled around a tent pitched in the parking lot of a hospital in Pétionville and talked to each other through a translator. Inside the improvised tent was a woman with an exposed tibia and weeping wounds.
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``There are a lot of people here and it's not very well organized,'' said Rajesh Patel, a doctor from Long Island who arrived Saturday with 16 colleagues and enough supplies to be self-sufficient.
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``We don't have enough stretchers, but everyone wants to help.'' Members of a Dominican team that had been at the hospital since Jan. 13 said they were leaving Port-au-Prince to go to some other town in Haiti where their help might be needed.
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When Bopp and some colleagues tried to deliver tents to the neighborhood of Cité Soleil, a riot broke out and his group had to retreat. ``I came down here knowing I wanted to help,'' he said. ``But it's a little more complicated than that.''
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Miami Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

Disaster do-gooders can actually hinder help (1/28/2010)

Uninvited volunteers, useless donations can cost money, time — and lives
MSNBC
1/28/2010
By JoNel Aleccia
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No question, the two church-goers from New Jersey had the best intentions in the world when they arrived in Port-au-Prince this week to help victims of Haiti’s killer earthquake.
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Trouble was, that was all they had in a land where food, water, shelter and transportation are at a desperate premium, said Laura Blank, a disaster communications manager on the ground for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian aid group with long ties to the country.
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“They seemed very eager and very passionate about helping the people of Haiti, but they didn’t have a ride to get out of the airport,” said Blank, who had to direct the pair to assistance.
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More than a week after a magnitude-7 earthquake devastated the country, disaster organizers say they’re seeing the first signs of a problem that can hinder even the most ambitious recovery efforts: good intentions gone wrong.
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From volunteer medical teams who show up uninvited, to stateside donors who ship boxes of unusable household goods, misdirected compassion can actually tax scarce resources, costing time, money, energy — and lives, experts say.
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“Everyone wants to be a hero. Everyone wants to help,” said Dr. Thomas Kirsch, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Refugee and Disaster Response. “It’s not the way to do it.”
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Even a medical crew from his own school — Kirsch declined to identify them — arrived in Haiti so ill-prepared they had to seek sustenance from non-governmental organizations.
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“They had no bedding, supplies or food,” he said. “They ended up glomming onto some of the NGOs.”
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What to do with well-meaning volunteers is not a new problem. In every disaster, large numbers of people simply show up to help. A handbook published by California disaster officials estimates organizers can count on 50,000 “convergent” volunteers after any severe earthquake. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, more than 40,000 unsolicited volunteers arrived at Ground Zero in New York.
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In the U.S. and around the world, aid organizations are walking a fine line, trying to encourage skilled professionals who can provide indispensable assistance — and waving off those who might not be up to the task. At the federal Center for International Disaster Information, a stern note warns the well-intentioned:
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“Volunteers without prior disaster relief experience are generally not selected for relief assignments,” it reads. “Most offers of another body to drive trucks, set up tents, and feed children are not accepted.”
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It’s an effort to help would-be Samaritans recognize the reality of the situation, said CIDI director Suzanne H. Brooks. “It’s very romantic in the TV and movies,” she said. “They think it’s flying in for a weekend. They need to think of it in terms of months.”
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Those best suited to help are probably already there, experts said. They’re trained crews who not only have experience working in disasters, but also in developing nations, Kirsch said. The best teams also have a command of Haitian Creole and French, if possible.
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When teams arrive without those skills and without their own supplies, they drain resources that could better be used for actual victims, said Dr. Kristi L. Koenig, an emergency physician at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in disaster response.
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“Unless you’re part of a team before the disaster happens with a formal mission, you’re going to be part of the problem,” she said. Even worse, certain volunteers have required emergency intervention themselves, Kirsch noted.
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“Most people do quite well, but about 10 percent don't,” he said. “They end up totally freaking out and having to be evacuated.”
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A different but equally pressing problem is the flood of ill-advised donations that aid agencies already are facing, organizers said. A handful of “Help Haiti” food and clothing drives across the country are inspiring cringes among some workers, said Diana Rothe-Smith, executive director of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a coalition of agencies.
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“I would strongly recommend that no donation drives be conducted unless there’s an existing organization on the ground, in Haiti, that has asked for the help,” Rothe-Smith said. “It does pile up very quickly.”
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Donations of old clothes, canned goods, water and outdated prescriptions are accumulating, said Brooks. While such items sound useful, they’re actually expensive to sort, to transport and to distribute, she said. Cast-off drugs can be dangerous.
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Oftentimes, the household items donated are simply not useful to the disaster victims they’re intended to help.
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“I guarantee you someone is going to send a winter coat or high-heeled shoes,” Brooks said.
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In fact, after the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, aid organizers in Sri Lanka were forced to deal with donations of stiletto shoes, expired cans of salmon, evening gowns and even thong panties, according to news reports. In Florida, a truckload of mink coats showed up during the 2004 hurricane season, Rothe-Smith said, a likely tax write-off for a retailer having trouble pushing furs.
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The compassion behind some donations is understandable — and laudable, she added. People see dire images on television or in news reports and they want to help. “It seems to make logical sense to go through your own cupboard and gather those items,” Rothe-Smith said.
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The reality, however, is that inappropriate donations actually do more harm than good. “If you buy a can of peas and it costs 59 cents, it’ll cost about $80 to get it where it needs to go,” Rothe-Smith said.
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Mathematics of donation favor cash. Many agencies try to motivate donors with the mathematics of the situation. Jeff Nene, a spokesman for Convoy of Hope, a Springfield, Mo., agency that feeds 11,000 children a day in Haiti, urges cash donations that allow his group to buy in bulk from large suppliers and retailers.
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“When people give $1, it translates into $7 in the field,” he said. “If they spend $5 for bottled water, that’s nice and it makes them feel good, but probably it costs us more than $5 to send it. If they give us $5, we can get $35 worth of water.”
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That’s a sentiment echoed by virtually every aid agency.“I would really say at this point, honestly, right now, money is the best thing to give,” Rothe-Smith said. Donors can find vetted agencies helping in Haiti on sites such as Charity Navigator.
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Still, trying to direct the flood of compassion can be tricky, Nene acknowledged.
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“Some people get a little miffed by it. They think they’re trying to help and when you don’t receive it in that attitude and spirit, they get upset,” he said. “You just have to tread lightly. You don’t want to crush people when they’re so willing to help.”
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http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34958965/ns/world_news-haiti_earthquake/

I am a college student and a

I am a college student and a am willing to give up my spring break vacation and go to Haiti to help out. I am willing to cover my expenses.

I want to help!

I really want to volunteer and help the people of Haiti but because I just finished school I have no money or anyway way to get down there. If anyone has any advice about how I can help please send me an email. I would love to go down there for month and help out as much as possible.

Michael

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