Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Support for the locals...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the money that's been pouring into aid groups to support the people in Haiti. Almost 1 billion has been raised in the US alone by private charities. Of course, it's not yet close to the 14 billion the government says it's going to take to rebuild, but it's pretty damn good.

However, as I've mentioned before, I wonder how much of that money will actually be seen or directly contribute to the well-being of the Haitian people? I've read that groups who receive money from USAID to assist in the recovery effort only have to spend 30% of that money within the country they are assisting. The rest can be spent on hiring staff, procuring (American made) equipment, and whatever else they choose to spend it on really. So that's why I'm really glad to be doing the kind of work we are doing here.

Today for example, Scott (a new DRI-Haiti staff member) and I filled up Pino's truck with pallets of medical supplies for four hospitals around Port au Prince. Not only are all of these hospitals providing free services to every patient who comes in, but they are all completely run by Haitian doctors, nurses, and administrators. While they are all currently receiving support from overseas medical personnel, the fact that they have been around since before the quake means that they are not going to be gone in a few weeks or months down the line. And that means that the medical supplies we are providing them directly support their infrastructure and long-term capabilities because they can take the money away from buying costly medicines and use it to rebuild their hospitals.

One of the hospitals we went to today was Grace Children's Hospital. They are a non-profit hospital that before the earthquake was providing free treatment and medications for children with HIV and TB. Before the quake, they had a multi-story facility with multiple wards but now that the their hospital is destroyed the children who stayed there are now sleeping in tents outside. And at this moment, it's pouring down rain. When we went to drop off the medicines today, the medical director thanked us profusely for the supplies, but then proceeded to ask us if we could provide any money so they could start to rebuild the facility and continue to run their generator. Since their is no electricity in PaP without one, it essentially means they need money to keep the hospital open.

And this brings me to the other aspect of our work down here. Direct Relief has decided to fund locally-run organizations so that we can ensure at least some of the money raised for Haitian people is actually getting to them. After hearing this request from the director, I knew exactly why a fund like this is so important. Even if groups like DRI provide them with free medicines and other groups provide them with medical personnel, they cannot continue to run their hospital without raising the money to pay staff, buy diesel fuel, or repair the buildings.

Likewise, yesterday Brett and I met with a woman named Nadege (who is actually a professor at UCSB and was born in Haiti) and her father to discuss the possibility of providing funding for him to rebuild his library and community center in Carrefour-feuilles, a city just outside of PaP. This library served a population of 250,000 people and provided parents with a safe place to send their kids where they could use computers, go swimming, or read one of the 8,000 books from the collection. The library was completely destroyed as a result of the quake so they basically need to start over from scratch.

And while we were there, another group came in to request that we fund them to provide food for the 16,000 residents of this city who haven't gotten any support from any other organizations since the quake. This group had spent the last two months canvassing the city to ascertain who had perished in the quake, what families had moved, and what the immediate needs for people were. Unfortunately, once they had completed the survey, they had no funding to provide the most destitute of these people the food, water, shelter, and medical attention that they so need.

I think we all have to remember that the money raised to help the people of Haiti should go to the people of Haiti. Clearly not every penny is able to make it down here, but I think too often we get bogged down with doing what we think the people need and don't usually take the time to ask them. Or provide them with the resources to do it for themselves.

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