Haiti/Minnesota: Connections and contributions

In the midst of the still-unfolding tragedy in Haiti, the latest in a long history of tragedies, we are reminded of the connections that link people around the world. Here in Minnesota, the Haiti Justice Committee has maintained strong connections with Haiti over the years, organizing for both changes in U.S. policy and material support and aid to the Haitian people. (They’ll be meeting at MayDay Books at 2 p.m. on Saturday – open to any who want to join them.)

Dick Bernard, a long-time member of the Haiti Justice Committee, publishes a blog which often focuses on Haiti. Most recently, he wrote about last Sunday’s visit to St. Paul by a priest from Haiti, who returned just before the earthquake.

Helping Haiti

Brian Concannon, a lawyer and director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, recommends three Haitian groups for donations:

“There are many groups doing excellent disaster relief on the ground already, but if past is prologue some groups will not spend their donations well. So make sure that you give donations to organizations that have a strong track record and are accountable, and have a long term vision for combating inequality and exploitation in Haiti. I will personally recommend three IJDH collaborators, Partners in Health, the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund and the What If? Foundation, but there are many more organizations worthy of support.”

Many international groups, including Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders, are also among the organizations seeking funds for relief efforts.

The sidebar includes a list of good organizations working in Haiti. It’s not an exhaustive list — just a few that I think are among the best. I agree with Brian Concannon’s advice to give to organizations that “have a long term vision for combating inequality and exploitation in Haiti.” The earthquake is only the latest disaster, piled on top of a string of human-made and political disasters. For more historical context, see Tracy Kidder’s New York Times column or James Ridgeway’s article in Mother Jones.

Haiti’s tortured history has nothing in common with Pat Robertson’s crazy talk. I’ve written extensively about it in the past, but would recommend Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying (and her novels) and Kidder’s Mountains beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World to readers wanting to better understand today’s Haiti.

For those interested in looking beyond immediate disaster relief, Brian Concannon has concrete directions:

I have little to add to the descriptions of devastation that we are all reading and watching. I am not hearing much from our friends on the ground, I can rarely reach anyone. I expect we will start receiving the bad news about friends, collaborators and clients soon enough, and we will share some of those stories on our website.

In the meantime it’s hard to watch such suffering and not be able to help directly – because I am 3,200 miles away, and because a law degree can’t set broken bones or lift concrete. But there are things we can all do, even if their impact will take some time to be felt.

First, we can act as citizens of our countries. In the U.S., we have been campaigning for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians since the 2008 hurricanes. Haiti was fully qualified for this status, which allows visitors from countries suffering from political or environmental stress to stay in the U.S. and work, before the earthquakes, but even now the U.S. Administration is only saying it will consider TPS, which it has already been considering since February. Please do the good, and easy action alert that our friends at TransAfrica Forum have posted, urging more resolute action.

Second, we can shape the debate about emergency relief that we are having, once again. We may not be able to prevent earthquakes and hurricanes, but we can limit Haiti’s extreme vulnerability to environmental stresses. The majority of the deaths from this earthquake will be suffered in the poor neighborhoods of poorly built houses crowded together on the precarious hills above Port-au-Prince and the ravines in the city. The people living in those houses knew the dangers, but they could not afford safer housing for their families, and the government lacked the will or the resources to enforce its building codes. We need to insist that the international community’s response to the earthquake includes long-term assistance to make Haiti less vulnerable to the next natural disaster. See good articles on this byTracy Kidder and Peter Hallward. I’ve raised the issue today in interviews with Air America, and Talk Radio News, and expect to do so Thursday on Democracy Now! . On Thursday, IJDH and several other human rights organizations will issue an advisory on Integrating Human Rights Into Disaster Response (check our website later).

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