Haiti is suffering from the massive Jan 12 earthquake and needs our help. Below I've posted some first-hand accounts of the quake from people in Haiti. Please consider a donation to an organization in Haiti. If you would like to give directly to a Haitian family, please contact me (anna.versluis@gmail.com).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How to help: Haitian organizations

The following are four smaller organizations that work in Haiti. They do not have international reputations, but they do impressive work in Haiti. They tend to have excellent Haitian leadership which, in my experience, makes for more successful programs. They are not search-and-rescue type organizations; they are going to be working hard in the long-term to rebuild Haiti.

National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH in French): This is the organization I worked for when I lived in Haiti. They’re absolutely amazing. I loved working for them. Unfortunately, their site doesn’t have any easy way to donate (except by sending an email—English is fine—to admin@rnddh.org), and most of the site is in French. The website has not been updated since the earthquake disaster. I’m guessing they have their hands full with other things right now.

The Lambi Fund: Lambi is the Haitian word for conch shell. Throughout rural Haiti, blowing into a conch shell is the traditional way to call people together—the sound is audible for quite some distance. (Though I do wonder if the cell phone revolution has put the conch shells out of business!) The Lambi Fund works in a wide variety of areas, from environment to micro-credit to leadership training.

Fonkoze: Fonkoze stands for “Fondasyon Kole Zepòl,” which means “Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation.” They are an “alternative bank” that provides micro-credit—small loans—to poor people in Haiti. This is an extremely important service in Haiti, and they have an excellent reputation throughout Haiti.

Beyond Borders: This organization is affiliated with Tony Campolo. I got to know them because I shared office space with them in Port-au-Prince. They always struck me as one of the most progressive, “with it” service groups in Haiti. They do excellent work in education and literacy especially.

How to help: International organizations

There are many international organizations doing great work in Haiti. If you’d like to donate to an international organization, here are some possibilites:

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC): MCC is a leader in service and relief work throughout the world. They are highly respected and have a long history of working in Haiti through partnerships with Haitian-run organizations. It was thanks to MCC that I was able to work at RNDDH (above). They are my default organization to give to when a disaster hits.

Lutheran World Federation: They work thoughout the world, and are very active in Haiti.

Catholic Relief Services: Another well respected, international church-based organization.

Partners in Health: If you’ve read Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, then you know about this organization started by Dr. Paul Farmer.

Doctors Without Borders: Be like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and give $1 million to this organization!

The Red Cross: I bet you’ve heard of them.

UNICEF: The branch of the UN focusing specifically on children.

I’m sure I have forgotten many great organizations, but since there are about 10,000 non-profit organizations working in Haiti, I’d better stop here.

News from Joseph, a university student and accountant in Haiti

"We are still here. Our house is gone but we are here. There is no food or water. We’re in the street with our children, but we’re here. We’re sleeping in the street now just like everyone in our neighborhood—we’re all living in the street. From time to time there are aftershocks. We are very afraid but we’re praying. The first earthquake happened when I was in class, on the top floor of the building. But God saved me."

News from Ben, a photographer and reporter in Haiti (www.fonkoze.org)

"When the actual earthquake happened, my wife and I had just gotten back from work and were about to eat dinner.The house started shaking and so we ran outside. Just as soon as it stopped shaking we decided to run back inside. My wife changed clothes and we grabbed a pickax and water and some bandages—we hardly have any first-aid kit. We went out into the neighborhood surrounding our house. The whole zone—there’s just houses that had fallen everywhere. We were working for a while trying to pull people out. Just after the earthquake a lot of the people in our community were working together. People were helping strangers and pulling them out of the rubble. I think everyone here is pretty shell-shocked.

"Today we were driving past mass graves and there were dump trucks pouring bodies into mass graves. It’s just everywhere buildings are fallen down.

"The response on the ground—so many of the offices of the major organizations have been destroyed. Their main offices have fallen so there’s been no response on the ground.

"Right now there’s thousands of people out in the streets and in the parks. A lot of them are running out of water and a lot of people haven’t eaten since the earthquake. There’s probably hundreds or thousands of people still trapped under the rubble. There’s just been no emergency response. People in their own communities have been trying to find people, but other than that. . .That’s probably the worst part—just knowing there’s probably thousands of people still alive up until probably today. Probably today was the last day."

[Photo from MCC.org. Listen to Ben’s account at http://mcc.org/stories/podcasts/world-shaken.]

News from Frislain, a community development worker in Haiti

"I am alive thanks to the Almighty Lord. I was in a meeting in the building that collapsed on the UN staff, including the UN Chief Hedi Anabi [who was killed]. Thirty minutes after I left, the earthquake hit. I was in my office on the second floor. God grabbed me and put me outside and I am alive. All is well in my family. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers and continue to pray as the people and the country were destroyed completely. P.S. I am in the south trying to flee the terrible aftermath of Port-au-Prince."

News from Gibbs, a human rights activist in Haiti (www.rnddh.org)

"I’m okay but things are not good at all here. I was at work when it happened—at work at RNDDH [the human rights organization, www.rnddh.org]. The office itself wasn’t damaged. My wife was at our house with her niece. My wife was in the living room and our neice [who lives with us] was in the kitchen when the earthquake happened. My niece started to run—she’d never been in a situation like this and she ran out into the street. When she was almost in front of the gate, the neighbor’s house fell on her. The neighbor’s roof and a wall crushed her head. She died right there. This happened in an area they call Diquini 63, in Carrefour [on the western outskirts of the Port-au-Prince area—closer to the earthquake epicenter]. Her name is Ismaella. She was eight years old. She is our godchild. I’m in shock. The morgues cannot take any more bodies so Ismaella’s family and I had no choice but to bury her quickly.

"My wife is okay. We’re sleeping like everyone else—in the street. When there are aftershocks and even when there aren’t we’re sleeping in the street.

"Our neighbor’s house is destroyed. Our house wasn’t destroyed but we can’t get into it—all the rubble from the neighbor’s house blocks us from getting in. There is a lot of damage in our neighborhood. There are more than 100 houses that are demolished. A lot of people died. I don’t have the exact numbers but there could be around 500 people who died in the neighborhood.

"We’re temporarily living in an area called Brochette where my wife has family. We’re eating together in a small community of my wife’s family.

"It is a terrible situation we’re in. It shouldn’t be this way. Things aren’t working like we’d like them to. I’m at the RNDDH office now. I had to walk here on foot to get here. This isn’t right. There is no transportation. It took me two hours to walk here. To get back to my house, it will be the same thing.

"Keep us up-to-date on how the fundraising goes. We’re waiting to hear from you."

News from Moїse, a seminary student in Haiti

Dear friends, I want to tell you that my family and I are alive but in the school eight of us died and the building is completely destroyed. Thank you.

News from David, a pilot in Haiti

We have experienced a major earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Our family is okay.

At the time that I’m writing this.. I have not had the opportunity to hear what is being reported on the news. You may have more information about this disaster than we do. Our cell phones are not working, so we cannot communicate with many people we are wondering about here in Port-au-Prince. Here is our version of the story…

I had a long hard day of work at the airport, having flown a lot, and I had carpooled with my coworkers to my house. I took the Christmas tree down, and we were doing a little bit more cleanup in the house, expecting to meet our landlord for a discussion this evening. My wife and I were in the living room talking, and watching our son as he was crawling around. With almost no warning the room began to shake violently, and continued for what seemed like a long time. I picked up my son, and the 3 of us were close together. All kinds of things in the house shook and slid and came tumbling to the floor. Bookcases and their contents, broken dishes and all sorts of things are strewn throughout the house.. but our house stood. All of the perimeter walls around our house stood, with only minor damage. We were shaken…literally… and now we are shaken emotionally.

There have been many aftershocks and tremors. They seem to be weakening.. but I doubt if it is over yet. Although our house did stand, we don’t know if it is compromised.. we are camping out in our driveway right now. Nathan is in his pac’n’play with a mosquito net over it next to our car. Our big perimeter gate, 18 feet wide by 10 feet tall, rattles and shakes ever time there is a tremor giving us warning to be on the alert. I’m not sure if we’ll get much sleep.

In the property next to us, the perimeter wall collapsed. In the next lot the entire 2nd story completely collapsed. The large supermarket we were in at this time yesterday, we heard that it has completely collapsed. Electric polls are down everywhere, and there will be no city power for some time I’m sure. We have some battery power, but are conserving all we can. We will be able to run our make-shift generator, but have little fuel. We don’t know how we will get food in the coming days.

Given the few facts we have, it seems probable that there has been extensive damage and loss of life. In spite of all the sorrow, this evening we heard a group from the nearby ravine singing songs of thanksgiving. Especially in these times, we recognize our need to turn to God. He is powerful, and the only sure One we can turn to. He is our Rock.

Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers. We have much to be thankful for.

New from Pierre, a human rights activist in Haiti (www.rnddh.org)

"We’re fine. Everyone at work is fine. The country is demolished. Anything people can find to aid us is welcomed. If there are people who want to give, they will help us."