Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How to Help Haiti

Shortly after the September 11 attacks I attended a meeting for those interested in helping the victims and fighting backlash hate crime. It turned out to be a group expression of good feelings: tolerance, acceptance, sympathy, etc. Nothing was accomplished and nothing was planned. I got the impression that most of the participants left feeling generous and involved, but the fact is that we didn't help even one person.

Now it's Haitians who need us. How can we really help this time?

  1. Give. Worried about fraud? Be careful, of course, and choose wisely. But ask yourself two questions and compare the answers: "What will I lose if I give and my donation is diverted by fraud?" and "What will someone in Haiti lose if there is no fraud and I don't give?"

  2. Tweet. Sign into Twitter, enter "Haiti" in the search box and retweet anything you think others should see. This will help keep the plight of the Haitian people in the minds of many who can help. Here's an excellent article by OperationSAFE's Jonathan Wilson about more ways to use Twitter to help.

  3. Look for specific needs. I would start with a "Haiti" search on Twitter, but do whatever works best for you. Think about whether you know someone who may know someone who can fulfill these needs, and then ask. Don't be shy: remember that you're not asking a favor for yourself. Most people I have contacted have been delighted to learn that there's something they can do. For example, you may be able to find someone to translate a document into French, or you may be able to find someone who knows how to fix a particular piece of medical equipment.

  4. Listen. I recently asked an American volunteer working in Haiti if there was anything I could do to help her. Her response was, "Knowing someone is out there helps me not feel alone in this, no one has time for each other here." Emotional exhaustion and burnout are a real danger for workers in Haiti, and listening can really help. Two recommendations: let them vent without judging, and once in a while remind them that you're listening.

  5. If you pray, then pray. If you don't pray, then take some time in a quiet place for reflection. It may sound like just superstition, but it really will help you stay focused and keep your priorities straight.

There are many more ways to help, of course. These are just a few ideas that may help get your own brain started. And don't forget to take care of your family first, and that includes yourself. You can't help anyone if you neglect yourself.

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