Don't Go To Haiti
Posted on January 22, 2010 at 11:06 am
Unless you are an experienced aid worker and have a position with an experienced aid organization, PLEASE don’t go to Haiti.
I understand your motivation, you want to help in anyway that you can. But how much help can you actually give compared to the added burden of another body to feed and care for. After the tsunami I heard a lot about people wanting to go over and pick up rubble, tend children, drive trucks, or do whatever needs to be done. But there are thousands of local people there that can do that exact same thing, and they speak the language, understand the culture, and have a support system. The costs of having foreign volunteers are often greater than the benefits.
Local people are capable of doing much of what needs to be done after a disaster
There is a mistaken belief that disaster survivors just huddle together waiting for outside assistance, perhaps driven by images and stories in the news. However, this is far from the truth.
Tsunami survivors tell of friends, neighbors, and complete strangers helping each other out in the first hours, days, and months after the tsunami. While still gathered on the mountainside waiting for the water to recede, people were already planning how they were going to rebuild their lives. If this were you, would you want to sit by passively and watch strangers rebuild your community or would you want to gather your neighbors together and do it yourself? Although they have gone through trauma, local people are more than capable of doing much of what needs to be done, here’s one example from NPR. If local people can be hired to do the work it’s even better because their livelihoods were probably just destroyed.
The chances of volunteers being able to help care for children is also small. If this were you would you want a stranger, especially a foreigner who doesn’t even speak your language, caring for your children? With the increased risk of child trafficking after disasters, local people are far more likely to band together and help each other care for children or injured relatives.
Taking care of volunteers
Besides not being able to do much that local people can’t already do, by showing up to volunteer you could take critical resources away from the very people you are trying to help. Where is your food and clean water going to come from? Can you bring enough to sustain yourself, and if so how are you transporting it? Will you be taking up space in vehicles that could be used for transporting medical equipment, food and water to the disaster victims? What will do do about shelter? From MSNBC Disaster do-gooders can actually hinder help:
“They had no bedding, supplies or food,” he said. “They ended up glomming onto some of the NGOs.”
Even worse, certain volunteers have required emergency intervention themselves, Kirsch noted.
“Most people do quite well, but about 10 percent don’t,” he said. “They end up totally
freaking out and having to be evacuated.”
And it’s just not one or two people trying to help out. After each disaster volunteers flood into the area, again from MSNBC article Disaster do-gooders can actually hinder help:
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.
In Getting Humanitarian Aid Right blog the article Surviving Earthquakes states:
After every recent major televised earthquake, local volunteers have poured into the quake area to help. These numbers are always high if the quake takes place during one of the university and school vacation times when students are quick to volunteer. States that have ready structures for organizing this flow of sympathy fare better than those where volunteers are not organized.
After the tsunami in Thailand so many people showed up to help that a local organization had to create a branch office dedicated to coordinating and directing the work of volunteers. Luckily the area was previously a resort town and the roads weren’t damaged so there were bungalows and restaurants to meet volunteer needs. The same won’t be true in Haiti.
Even if you’re an experienced doctor, nurse, or architect, you still should not show up on your own. You may not be accepted by any of the organizations on the ground because you don’t have the experience they need and could become a liability. From a post on AidWatch
If you are a nurse or physician, especially with experience in trauma, and you want to volunteer, email Partners in Health – firstname.lastname@example.org – and offer your services. Or submit your details to International Medical Corps. They’ll take you if they can use you. Do not go to Haiti on your own, even if you are doctor. You’ll just add to the confusion, and you’ll be a burden to whoever ends up taking responsibility for your safety.
This is from the Center for International Disaster Information‘s FAQ page
“Volunteers without prior disaster relief experience are generally not selected for relief assignments. Candidates with the greatest chance of being selected have fluency in the language of the disaster-stricken area, prior disaster relief experience, and expertise in technical fields such as medicine, communications logistics, water/sanitation engineering. In many cases, these professionals are already available in-country. Most agencies will require at least ten years of experience, as well as several years of experience working overseas. ”
Even with the support of a large organization, volunteers may still be a drain on local resources. I was sent to Thailand as part of the Crisis Corps, a branch of the Peace Corps. Many of us returned to countries where we had lived and worked for two years and where we knew the local language and culture. However, this did not guarantee that we were more of a help than a burden. The feedback Peace Corps received from the volunteers led them to change their program, they no longer send volunteers into disaster response situations.
While well intended, the flood of volunteers after a disaster can make a confusing and difficult situation even worse.
Posts and articles from other sites –
Reports of Gangrene and Sepsis… And The Stark Realities of Response in Haiti – Haiti Operational Surveillance – - Chronicles the experience of one medical team’s efforts to help in Haiti and the serious challenges they faced
What could possibly go wrong? – Unthinkingly.com – Great reflection and caution on crowd sourcing to help Haiti, echos problems faced on the ground
Leave Aid to the Professionals – Tales from the Hood – An aid worker in Haiti describing the very real challenges faced in the Haiti relief efforts