Why the world cannot "fix" Haiti in a year

Widzer was homeless after the earthquake, but worked and took full advantage of assistance provided. He sees a future beyond the quake.
Widzer was homeless after the earthquake, but worked and took full advantage of assistance provided. He sees a future beyond the quake.

I am glad that the eyes of the world media are scrutinizing what is happening in Haiti one year after the earthquake. Organizations have been stepping up their game in the last couple of months. Everyone wants to look like they’ve done a lot at the one year mark. After all, more than a billion dollars has been committed. And at one year, people want results.

So one year later – what did the world’s investment in Haiti yield?

If you look across Port-au-Prince right now, you may come to the conclusion that not much constructive has happened. I can see how someone would think that – especially if they are visiting for the first time. The UN says 810,000 people remain homeless. Cholera has killed thousands. Haiti’s displaced live in fraying remains of tent cities, intended to last months, but instead lasting a year … and counting.

In the last year, aid organizations have had mixed success. Some of the newer ones have faced a steep learning curve. More established organizations like World Concern have faced logistical frustrations, with some shipments being delayed in ports for weeks, even months, for example. And every international and domestic aid group must work in the context of Haiti’s supremely challenged government and fragile transportation network.

The fact is, Haiti’s government itself is in flux – with a violently disputed presidential election still unresolved. I expect that the backlash of the election recount will likely send the country into violent protest once again in the coming weeks.

So why am I optimistic about Haiti? Why do I think Haiti has a future – and remains a worthy investment?

I am optimistic because I see positive changes. I am optimistic because I see lives being touched, and even saved.

The good news for you if you have compassion for those who are hurting: you can make a real difference. If you invest in someone’s life in a meaningful way, it changes them.

Most of all, we should continue to invest in Haiti because of this: every human life has meaning. I am a Christian and have read the clear command from God to serve those who are poor and suffering. For believers, it is a spiritual calling.

Let me tell you about a man named Widzer. He lost his daughter in the earthquake, as well as his home and his job. When World Concern met Widzer, he was homeless. We paid him to clear debris in his own community through our Cash for Work program, which uses Haitians to help their own country. Then, we helped Widzer build a temporary shelter for his family of eight.

What Widzer did next was impressive.  He saved some money through Cash for Work and invested in his home – and his wife’s business. She now once again is selling in the market, and Widzer has made his small shelter a home, finishing it with a covered porch, toilet, kitchen and more.

He told me, “When you receive something, you are supposed to build upon it. We added a kitchen, we added a toilet. We added things that would allow us to live together safely and comfortably.”

This story is not perfect, as Widzer remains underemployed. But because we offered him opportunities that provided long-term hope, he began to see life was worth living again. He sees a reason to try – a reason to plan for the future – and that’s often the biggest obstacle.

Something also worth noting is that Widzer remains in his community, instead of in a remote camp. I realize that every situation is different, but World Concern believes that whenever possible, we should keep people close to where they lived before – if not on the same property. We have seen that by doing this, they’ll have a better chance of restarting a job or educating their children.

The good news is that the humanitarian community has touched thousands of people like Widzer, although I do wish there were more like him, one year in.

As for numbers, we have measurable results. Let me be clear: I can only speak for World Concern. Here are a few ways we’ve helped thousands of people in Haiti restart their lives since the earthquake:

  • 100,000 people received disaster assistance
  • 7,091 Haitians employed through Cash for Work program
  • 1,284 houses have been repaired for Haitian families
  • 530 transitional shelters have been constructed
  • 989 livelihood grants were given out, getting Haitian business owners back to work

To achieve these figures, it took an incredible amount of work. And even when you consider World Concern with all of the other assistance, there is likely much more left to do – than what has been done already. And that’s where it is helpful to look at a fuller picture.

Consider this:

1. This was a catastrophic disaster, one of the largest of our time. It killed 230,000 people, and directly affected 3 million people – that’s one out of three people in the country. Even if all of the non-profits and government agencies were working perfectly in the last year, there would still be years of work to do. We anticipate 5-10 years is a conservative estimate to “rebuild” Haiti. And know progress HAS been made. The UN says nearly half of the 1.5 million who were homeless now are off the streets.

2. The goal should not be to “fix” Haiti in a year, or spend all donations in a year. The goal should be to make meaningful progress toward a Haiti that is equipped to take care of itself. The best life-changing assistance is long-term community development, not dropping food rations off of the back of a truck (though there is a time and place for that). In order to positively affect someone’s life in a meaningful way, to empower them to be educated, to have a safe place to live, to have some reason to go on – it often takes years of relationship. This is not instant gratification, and it is not for the faint of heart.

3. Don’t paint a broad brush stroke as to the effectiveness of humanitarian agencies. Check them out. Do your research.

The reality is, one year out, Haiti remains of the edge. About a million people. They are real people like Widzer. I hope the media continues its scrutiny. At minimum, it means Haiti will not be forgotten. While we cannot “fix” Haiti in a year, we can make progress. World Concern is one part of this – and you are too. Together we can be committed to helping people long term – one life, one family – at a time.

For more information about what World Concern has done in the first year since the earthquake, check out: http://www.haitioneyear.org

Derek Sciba is writing this from Haiti. For media inquiries, call 206-713-5564 or email dereks@worldconcern.org.

Spreading the truth about cholera

Sugar, salt and water make oral rehydration solution
Participants in a cholera prevention outreach learn to make oral rehydration solution from sugar, salt and purified water.

I’m sitting in a packed church in Port-au-Prince, with 500 people filling every row, the concrete stairs, and the balcony. The sermon today is not delivered by a pastor. Instead on this hot Thursday, health workers are delivering the vital message about cholera: how to prevent it, how to treat it, how to survive an illness that can kill within hours.

World Concern’s work here at Eglise de Dieu Jean 3:16 is likely saving lives. People in the audience are learing a health message that they have not heard before. The interactive lesson allows questions from the audience, and people do have questions.

Though you may know cholera is spread with contaminated water, feces and unsanitary conditions – many people in Haiti don’t know. Superstition often precedes knowledge. In the past few weeks, dozens of people involved in voodoo have been lynched for the baseless belief they are spreading cholera. Without good information, people come to their own conclusions. We’re making sure they know the truth – and get basic supplies to prevent cholera’s deadly spread.

For more information, please visit www.worldconcern.org/haiti

cholera information on a chalk board
Life-saving cholera information is presented to community members at a church in Port-au-Prince Haiti by World Concern.

Election Violence Halts Haiti Cholera Response

11 months after the devastating earthquake, cholera, homelessness and now violence hinder recovery.

As if Haiti needed more pain.

World Concern and nearly all other humanitarian relief organizations cannot respond to the rapidly expanding cholera epidemic.

For a second day, violent protests about the fraud-riddled election have taken over Port au Prince and have prevented World Concern staff from working to stop cholera’s spread, and rebuild the lives of Haiti’s homeless earthquake victims.

Since Tuesday night, people have been rioting in the streets of the capital city, and in other cities across the country. In many neighborhoods of Port au Prince, burning tires, makeshift barricades – and even toilets – block traffic.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Christon Domond, World Concern Haiti country director:

The chaos sparked by the election

“The office is closed. All businesses are closed. There is so much violence not only in Port au Prince but all over in Haiti. With the demonstrations that we have in all districts, we can expect cholera to spread quickly. In Jacmel, they have received a lot of cases of cholera. We could expect a large spread of cholera.”

“My staff can do nothing, because there is no possibility to go out. Those who try to go out, they cannot go. We need the leaders to talk to the population and get back into their homes.”

“Toilets have been moved out of camps and have been moved into the street as barricades. Thousands will be contaminated by cholera.”

What we can – and need to do (once it’s safe to go out)

“We need to mount an aggressive strategy to reach these people. We need people to go to their homes, to their churches, with this message.”

“We give them soap, water bottles, water treatment. Oral rehydration. Otherwise, we will have a lot of deaths. Our strategy is to reach local leaders, churches, and to mobilize the Christian community. They are going out to share the message. We can talk with them, walk with them.

“We can – we have to – make a difference. There is no other way. I like a challenge. Thank you for your support. Thank you for praying for Haiti and our staff.”

What we’ve accomplished so far

“My staff has done prevention activities with all projects. HIV and AIDS. They were able to come and be trained about cholera prevention. We have reached 5,000 people in Port au Prince.”

“We have equipped pastors and trained them how to reach their communities. In the Southeast office, they have printed t-shirts with a cholera message, and posters. But now there are demonstrations everywhere.”

Here’s how to help.


Education Can Prevent the Spread of Cholera in Haiti

World Concern is responding to the rapid spread of cholera through Haiti with a plan to help protect 250,000 people there by teaching them how to prevent the illness and providing them with the means to do so. We’re also giving them tools and information in case someone in their family becomes sick.

A woman with cholera in Haiti.
A woman with cholera awaits medical attention outside a hospital in Haiti. REUTERS/St-Felix Evens.

But with the death toll at nearly 800, and 1,000 more people becoming sick each day, some may wonder why we’re not focusing our effort on helping the sick and dying.

Aid agencies that specialize in medical care are doing the hands on work of treating sick patients. World Concern has worked in Haiti for more than 30 years, and we’ve learned a lot in that time. Through long-term relationships in the regions where we work, one thing we’ve learned is how to get vital information in the hands of people quickly and efficiently. And this is what those who are still healthy need right now.

An article on AOL News titled Sudden Death by Cholera a Mystery to Haitians reveals the dramatic lack of information people in Haiti have about how disease is spread and prevented. Some people, the article says, believe cholera is caused by evil. Others believe it is a conspiracy by the government. It’s no secret superstition is alive and well in Haiti, and something this fast-moving and deadly can lead people to jump to conclusions.

“I don’t think it’s a virus. I’ve never met a rich person who caught it. We want the government to say something about it, because I don’t think it came like they say. It’s in the air,” one woman was quoted as saying in the article. It’s hard for us, living in the developed world, to imagine not having basic health and hygiene knowledge. But there are many parts of the world, including Haiti, where millions of people simply don’t understand how disease spreads.

The truth is that cholera is spread only by oral ingestion of the bacteria via coming in contact with vomit, feces, or water contaminated with those things. Hand washing, good hygiene, proper sanitation and avoiding contaminated water (and foods prepared with or washed in it), can prevent the spread of the disease. And if someone does get sick, it is treatable; rapid rehydration can save their life.

This is what people in Haiti need to know. And we’re working to get that information to them quickly. The more they know, the better they can protect their families.

In addition to prevention education, we’re also distributing cholera health kits with oral rehydration solution packets, water purification tablets, and soap to people.

The UN warns that more than 200,000 people could get sick with cholera in Haiti before the epidemic is over. We’re working to reduce that number as much as we possibly can.

Read how cholera is prevented and treated.

Donate to help Haiti.

Haiti's Hurricane Tomas – 10,000 More Homeless

The worst impact from Hurricane Tomas appears to be focused on Southern Haiti, where World Concern helps farmers and schools. World Concern country director Christon Domond says about 10,000 people have fled their homes – or in many cases – tents.

Humanitarian organization World Concern has tarps and 2,000 hygiene kits in place in southern Haiti, which will go to those most affected by the storm. Another 1,000 kits are ready in Port au Prince. (You can donate to help with this.)

In the past few days, Haiti’s government has been telling people to get out of high-risk areas in Haiti, including low-lying camps for the homeless. They’ve uses text messaging and megaphones to get the message out. What’s so frustrating: the people at greatest risk have nowhere to go.

I spoke with Jillian Thorp today, our emergency program support manager, and she said it was heartbreaking to see that there were no good options for these families.

“They are saying, ‘If I had friends or family with houses intact, I would already be there. I wouldn’t be in a tent,’” Jillian said.

Haiti’s hurricane season was supposed to end 5 days ago. Someone – tell the weathr to pay attention to the calendar!

Understandably, these thousands of poor families are weary after living for almost a year homeless after the earthquake. Though Haitians are resilient, they are only human.

“People are tired,” Jillian said. “ They are exhausted at having to fend for themselves and to survive, and to always be in that survival mode. Not knowing what lies ahead is exhausting.”

This hurricane has caused a lot of flooding and devastating muslides already, and as the rain continues to fall, it will get worse.

We hope and pray this is the worst storm that Haiti earthquake survivors will have to endure this year.

Learn more about our response.

Help us respond with tarps and hygiene kits.

Deadly Cholera Arrives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

World Concern’s director of international health expects more people with cholera to arrive in Port-au-Prince in the coming days, bringing the infection to the crowded capital from rural communities.

A Haitian resident suffering from cholera waits for medical treatment at a local hospital in the Marchand Dessaline zone, about 36 km (22 miles) from the town of Saint Marc, October 22, 2010. REUTERS/St-Felix Evens

The World Health Organization says five people with Cholera have been located in Port-au-Prince so far; all have been isolated and are receiving treatment.

“It is coming,” says Dr. Paul Robinson. “People get on a bus to go to the capital and try to get better”.

Cholera Fact Sheet

While most of the 200 deaths in this new epidemic have occurred about 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince, new cases are closer, about 30 miles from the capital, according to AP reports. The UN says nearly 2,400 people are sick.

Robinson has briefed World Concern Haiti staff about prevention and is now planning next steps.

Our initial plan:

  1. In advance of any potential spread in Port-au-Prince, educate earthquake victims about prevention and self-treatment.
  2. Construct “Cholera Cots” for patients. Isolating those with cholera is important. These cots are equipped with pans to collect diarrhoeal waste.
  3. Readying medical supplies for the potential large number of patients, mainly to rehydrate those with severe symptoms.

People with cholera suffer from severe dehydration because of diarrhea. Left untreated, a patient may emit up to 10 liters of fluid a day.

Cholera is spread primarily through contaminated drinking water or food.

“Because Haiti hasn’t seen a Cholera epidemic in a long while, people don’t know how this works,” Robinson said.

World Concern Haiti Country Director Christon Domond has activated the humanitarian organization’s health committee to respond.

“This is real,” Domond said. “Pray for Haiti, the situation is really complex.”

The WHO stresses that Port-au-Prince is not a new location for infection. A representative says this is a worrying, but not unexpected development.

About 1,000,000 people remain homeless in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed 230,000.

Since that time, World Concern has served more than 100,000 through emergency disaster support or long-term rebuilding of homes and incomes.

Donate to help families in Haiti now

Learn more about our Haiti response

Cholera Prevention and Treatment – includes details on “Cholera Cots”: PDF or Word document

The Human Price of War

Signs warn of land mines in Sri Lanka.
Signs like this warn of land mines in Sri Lanka.

The explosion we heard tonight was powerful, rumbling, and – thankfully – not next door. We’re guessing it was a land mine on the outskirts of town.

I’m in Sri Lanka, a country that only last year ended a 26-year-long civil war. There remains tension between the warring ethnic groups – tension that World Concern is trying to help ease through economic opportunities and relationship building.

Land mines are a fact of life (and death) here in the part of the country last to see conflict. Mine clearance crews have picked up most of the mines, but not all. Caution tape and red skull and cross-bone signs mark the hazard zones. Some of these hazard zones are not very far from tents set up by families who have lost their homes in the war.

World Concern is working to bridge ethnic tensions to reduce the chance of war returning to this beautiful country.

A widown in Sri Lanka.
Kamaladarie, a widow in Sri Lanka, sits outside her home with her three children and holds a portrait of her husband who died in a mine blast.

Most importantly, though, we are assisting those civilians who have lost everything. I met a woman tonight whose late husband was almost exactly my age. She held a portrait of him, as she sat beside her mud and sticks home. She says a bomb blast killed him as he was working his field on his tractor.

Now – occasionally flashing a beautiful smile between looks of great sadness – she tells us she’s raising her three children alone. The smallest boy still doesn’t understand where daddy went. Seeing people who have lost everything – family, home, income, and sense of security – brings the reality of what war really is to the forefront of my mind. Really, what is worth this kind of pain?

I don’t want to get into a recap of the long conflict between the Tamil Tiger militants – identified as terrorists – and the Sri Lankan government, but I do want to say that it is incredibly painful to see the end result of this long-simmering angst.

I pray that I don’t meet many more widows in my life like I did today. Jesus, please bring your peace.

Tornado-Like Haiti Storm Kills 5

A serious tornado-like storm tore through Port-au-Prince Friday night, killing five people, injuring 50, and ripping nearly 6,000 emergency tents to shreds, according to Reuters. World Concern Haiti emergency coordinator Alfred Mondiwa says makeshift shelters “were just overwhelmed and destroyed by the storm.”

Storms spell trouble for the more than 1 million left homeless from the Haiti earthquake. (2-27-10 REUTERS/Carlos Barria - www.alertnet.org)

“It was pretty scary,” said Mondiwa. “It came so unexpectedly. We had not heard any forecast for this.”

Mondiwa is assessing the damage and expects that World Concern will give tarps to families whose shelters were destroyed in the next few days. In addition, World Concern may provide other humanitarian aid for families, depending on need.

“We may give other items, like bedding, pots and pans, clothing,” said Nick Archer, senior director of disaster response. “We’re going to assess the damage and respond as needed.”

In the meantime, construction of semi-permanent transitional shelters will continue on Monday. Mondiwa expects that Haitian work crews will be able resume repairing damaged homes and building sturdy transitional shelters as they have been for the last several months.

The transitional shelters, built from metal, brick and plastic sheeting, are designed to last for 3-5 years or longer. So far, World Concern has built or repaired about 800 homes since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts through November, according to the National Weather Service. Most years, Haiti is hit by at least one hurricane. In 2008, Haitians endured three hurricanes and a strong tropical storm.

To learn more or donate to World Concern’s response in Haiti, visit www.worldconcern.org/haiti-earthquake

Why We Won’t Give Up On Haiti

A Haitian grandmother outside her tent.
A Haitian grandmother sits outside her tent, where she lives with nine other people.

It’s been six months. To me, it doesn’t seem that long since January 12. I know we’ve made progress in the recovery. But to Haitians still in need, the last six months probably have seemed like an eternity.

As someone who has visited the country a few times, before and after the quake, I am not surprised Haiti remains a mess. For homeless Haitians, they have no choice but to deal with it.

Last time I was there, I sat with a grandmother in an obliterated neighborhood who smiled, touched my hand – and reassured me – when describing her life in a tent with nine other people. She showed me how they prop up their tent on rocks during thunderstorms to allow rainwater to race underneath.

Let me step back and look at what life was like pre-quake. Before the earthquake, the fragile people – and the government – were surviving on a thread. This is a place that was enduring a food crisis, where the poorest people ate mud pies, just to feel like they were eating SOMETHING. Even then, Port-au-Prince looked a like a disaster zone.

For years, the lack of basic services and infrastructure – imagine city roads only passable by 4×4 because of rocks and ruts – and the astounding poverty (80% of the population) formed a framework of instability. Still, when I visited a year prior, the UN security force, MINUSTAH, was both tolerated by locals and was providing a baseline of stability. And amazingly, Haiti WAS slowly improving.

Countries teetering on the edge of failure, though, cannot handle something like a massive earthquake. Something of that scale would likely strain even solid governments. The quake seemed to push Haiti’s government off of the radar. It is easy to see why: nearly all of the government offices, including the presidential palace, still are in ruins.

But , here is the net effect: Right now, it is up to the desperately poor to pick up the pieces and continue on. These are people who make, on average, $1.25 or less a day, like the grandma in the tent. These are people who lost their homes, livelihoods and family members. THANKFULLY, the poor are not alone, as agencies like World Concern are providing critical assistance to rebuild.

I also know this to be true: Corruption and inefficiency remain in Haiti. I’ve heard first-hand stories about how the relief is not getting done quickly enough because of powerful people who want to control the flow of supplies – and get a cut from aid organizations. Add this to a crippled infrastructure and general complications with an enormous international response, and you have a mammoth ship with many captains that is difficult to steer.

Still, I get agitated when I hear people say that the U.S. should essentially write off Haiti. I often see comments like these in response to news stories about Haiti. The logic is, “Why don’t we spend that money here. It’s just going to waste over there.”

So – what should we do about it? What is the right thing to do about it?

I can tell you one thing for certain, that if we simply decide to look away, to say it is a lost cause, people will die. Haitians do not have the resources. Plain and simple. Thankfully, many compassionate people have decided that providing this aid is the right thing to do, even if it is complicated.

What do we value? To me, we have a responsibility – as people who are able – to save lives. In a situation like this, an epic humanitarian crisis, we must have the interest of the most vulnerable in mind, not an unwillingness to work in or with a country that has failed its people.

Though progress is slow, we are rebuilding lives. For its part, World Concern is using the money pledged to rebuild in productive ways. We have provided aid to 100,000 people in the form of some sort of relief supplies or services. We have rebuilt nearly 600 homes and are ready to assemble 500 “home kits.” And, we are restarting small businesses through grants, which total about $150,000 to date.

Without a doubt, Haiti has one of the most messed up governments in the world. And, by World Concern’s estimates, the recovery time needed to rebuild has gone from 3-5 years, to 20.

I wish people could sit with a grandma in Haiti as I have. It makes it so much more real. Instead of reciting the figure that 2 million people are directly affected by the quake, it is much more helpful to recall the individual people we are fighting for. The grandmother, who touches your hand in her miserable situation and prays and believes that she will get through this pain.

Despite Haiti’s troubles, that kind grandma, through no fault of her own, lives in Haiti – and just needs to go to bed at night knowing she won’t be washed away in the storm.

Read more about what we’re doing now in this Reuters article.

Learn more and join our response.

Help Wanted: Darfur Refugees Find Work

Chad refugee
Mohammed, a 21-year-old refugee from Darfur, works in World Concern's Cash for Work program.

Stone by stone, 21-year-old Mohammed builds back a bit of his dignity. The tall, lean young man works with several hundred other refugees in 100 degree heat in Eastern Chad, picking up rocks, and dropping them into rows.

He joins other men, and many women wearing bright traditional dresses, to build these low rock walls on hillsides to reduce erosion.

The task: simple and exhausting. The outcome: dignity and freedom.

What I saw today was amazing. Darfur war refugees had an opportunity to work.

“This I like,” Mohammed tells me in English. “I buy clothes. I eat. It’s for my family.”

Mohammed left his home in Darfur, Sudan, seven years ago. He says Janjaweed rebels killed his father and many other family members, shooting rocket propelled grenades into his village.

Since he fled, he’s been living near Goz Beida, Chad. He’s in one of several camps here. In spite of his current life, he does not want to return to Sudan. All told, more than 400,000 people are refugees or   internally displaced in Chad.

Because Mohammed and thousands of others are not at home, they have seen that finding work is an incredible challenge. Because they can’t work, they can’t provide for their families beyond what they are given.

World Concern’s program, called Cash For Work, allows them to earn an income, giving them some financial freedom again, while also improving their environment.

The low walls, called bunds, slow the rain runoff down hillsides. This encourages water to soak into the ground, raising the water table. Within a year, it will be a good place for farming and a better place to drill a well.

The influx of refugees has exacted a toll on the local environment, as they have torn down trees to burn for firewood. The rock walls – and tree replanting – are helping to heal the land.

For Mohammed, he treasures each opportunity to earn money. He enjoys learning, and says he likes America. His future remains uncertain, but he now has more of a chance to direct it on his own terms.

Learn more and take action: www.worldconcern.org/darfurcrisis