Aid aimed at rebuilding Haiti after devastating quake

On weekdays at 4:53 p.m., most of us are going to work, messing around on Facebook or doing something else that is relatively unexciting. It would be hard to imagine the earth crumbling beneath our feet at that moment, and harder still to soon discover that everything we cared about has been destroyed. But this was exactly the case for the citizens of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country is about the size of Massachusetts. Port-au-Prince, the main city affected by the earthquake, had a population of 704,776 according to the 2003 census, similar to the number of people in Columbus, Ohio. But that was before Jan. 12, 2010, when the small country was the site of one of the most devastating disasters in recent times. The magnitude 7.0 earthquake killed 150,000 to 200,000 people in the country and injured 194,000.

To put this in perspective, 1,836 people were killed in Hurricane Katrina, 2,976 were killed on 9/11 and 227,898 perished in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

World brings relief to Haiti

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line (living on less than $2 a day) and 54 percent living in abject poverty (less than $1). The CIA World Factbook, the source of these statistics, adds:  “The government relies on formal international economic assistance for fiscal sustainability.”

Several organizations are supporting the earthquake relief effort in this devastated country. Among these groups are the American Red Cross, the Mercy Corps, the World Health Organization and many groups locally.

For instance, the First Day Federal Credit Union branch located inside Fairmont High School collected money to donate to the victims of the earthquake on Feb. 3, and the Red Cross has collected money at Fairmont as well. Fairmont Activities Director Jenny Borchers said the Activities Office collected around $650 through the pep rally for Haiti. Although this may not seem like a lot, any little bit could mean survival for someone in Haiti, and Borchers is proud of the donations. “I would like to thank Fairmont students for supporting the pep rally for Haiti, because it went to a very worthwhile cause,” she said.

Donating can be as simple as texting. You can donate $5 to singer/songwriter Wyclef Jean’s charity Yéle Haiti by texting YELE to 501501, or $10 to the American Red Cross by texting HAITI to 90999. Yéle Haiti alone donated more than 52,000 hot meals and 2 million gallons of filtered water to communities in and around Port-au-Prince within the first few weeks of operation and has collected $1.5 million total.

These are two of the reputable charities, but be wary of other “text to donate” services, as some have seen the earthquake as a chance to make a quick buck off of others’ good intentions.

Haiti has been rocked to its core, but with lots of aid and help, many feel the nation and its people might rebound from this better off than they were. “I think there is a definite silver lining to the tragedy,” said Fairmont senior Kayleigh Roenker. “Haiti was really bad off before, and at least now they have the world spotlight to get help and come out of it ahead.”

Haiti remains in peril

However, this help needs to happen quickly, especially with hurricane season approaching. With many Haitians living in tents or on tarps, the need could not be more pressing for some sort of stable living environment. “I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse,” said Jean, who is Haitian-born. “The over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince tonight face catastrophe alone. We must act now.”

But many also warn that uncoordinated relief efforts can create problems in this battered country. Stories surfacing from Haiti show how some people who appear to have good intentions can cause major problems.

For example, 10 Baptist missionaries from Idaho were arrested for trying to smuggle 33 Haitian children across the border to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic – even though some of the children were not, in fact, orphans at all. The missionaries were recently released, with the condition that they must return for questioning if needed. “We came here simply to help these children,” the group’s spokesperson, Laura Silsby, said in an interview with “We were just trying to do the right thing.”

The illegal removal of children out of the country has even put legitimate adoptions on hold. Officials are worried that human trafficking could happen such as it did after the tsunami in Southeast Asia back in 2004. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 children being trafficked each year for slave labor or the sex trade, and a natural disaster always seems to attract the underbelly of society.

Time Magazine reported that UNICEF, Save the Children and the Red Cross are all working to protect Haitian children from exploitation. “Traffickers fish in pools of vulnerability, and we’ve rarely if ever seen one like this,” a UNICEF official in Haiti told the magazine.

“It’s horrible that some use the unfortunate events to their advantage, but it does happen and Haiti needs to look out for it,” said Roenker.

Many are hopeful that Haiti will get help that it needs to bounce back, but if that isn’t the case, some warn of a dark tomorrow.  

As the former prime minister of Haiti, Michelle Pierre-Louis, said in an interview with CNN: “If Haiti does not see how to get out of poverty, how to get out of disease, how to get out this situation that the people are living in, we are going to be trouble for the whole world.”