Posts Tagged ‘Doctors Without Borders’

Haiti One Year Later–and Your Help

Haiti Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince

I was in Haiti over the summer, doing rebuilding/construction volunteer work at an orphanage in the seaside town of Jacmel. It was seven months after the devastating earthquake that smashed the island a year ago today—and had you told me then that the quake had happened just before I arrived, I would have believed you. Several months later, and all of my friends and connections I made while there make it clear that there hasn’t been a lot of forward progress. I know you know all this from the news—today’s anniversary, declared a national day of mourning in Haiti, is on every channel. One foundation worker in Port-au-Prince tweeted last night “New Theory: There are actually only 3 people in Haiti. Sean Penn, Bill Clinton, and Wyclef” and it is true, familiar faces get a lot of air time, and also bring a lot of international attention—which is good.

International help, actual help that makes it to the people, would be better…but it is rare. Billions of dollars were pledged to Haiti’s recovery from nations across the globe, but a tiny percentage of that has ever actually been given (including the US not getting pledged dollars down to the island). Money doesn’t solve every problem, but it would go a long way toward rebuilding homes (800,000 people are still living in desperate circumstances in tent villages), drinking water and sanitation systems (the cholera epidemic is still killing people who needn’t perish—and wouldn’t perish with access to safe water), and getting kids back into schools. Sure, the government would still be a mess (the recent elections, considered by almost all Haitians to have been a corrupt failure, have still not declared results…and most citizens know the results won’t represent them), but the people…the faces that aren’t movie stars or ex-presidents…might move back toward some semblance of normalcy. Ton upon cubic ton of rubble still lies unmoved; bodies still remain buried inside pancaked buildings; disease, unrest, rape, and assault still plague the tent cities where ten or more people are shoved into tiny canvas rooms; but still there is some joy. Music, laughter, dance, a community profoundly bound by one impossible circumstance after another—spending time outside, together, playing soccer in the street, braiding hair, celebrating birthdays, hundreds of merchants singing together in the market…Haiti has not spent a year crying, but has spent a year living and the living is mostly hard.

It can, and will, get better with our continued support. Private sector donations are the only ones making it through in great numbers. There are more than 10,000 NGOs (Non-Government Organizations—charities and foundations) working in Haiti—some far more effectively than others. Surely there is one that inspires you to help. Think about some of these, or use them as a jumping off point for your own commitment to healing.

The organization with whom I volunteered, who gives 100% of funds to construction crews and materials for orphanages in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, is Hearts With Haiti.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres has treated more than 358,000 people in Haiti, performed more than 16,570 surgeries, and delivered more than 15,100 babies since the earthquake.

In addition to work in many other nations, the Rainbow World Fund has represented the international LGBT community outstandingly, and since the earthquake, has provided ongoing funding of “victory gardens” in Haiti to help fight against poverty and malnutrition, and sent thousands of pounds of supplies to help earthquake survivors rebuild their lives.

US Aid is the nation’s response to international emergency zones, and their Help Haiti programs cover a wide range of efforts, from rebuilding to medicine to investing in infrastructure.

The Clinton Foundation Haiti Fund has raised millions to build a better Haiti.

J/P HRO (J/P Haitian Relief Organization) is the group headed by Sean Penn, cutting through the bureaucratic BS and getting help directly to the people.

Here is a great map, showing where a great many of the NGOs are based and the work they are doing throughout Haiti—click around and be inspired.

World Food Day—October 16

There’s a chill in the air, which means our appetites turn toward cozy comfort food. Soups and stews and long simmering sauces, casseroles and pies, heartier fare in general. Lucky us.

There are so many people who will go to bed hungry tonight. There have never been more hungry people on the planet than there are right now. This is not to make you feel guilty for what I hope will be a bounteous and filling dinner at the end of your Saturday, but it is a call that we all have to be involved to end hunger. Thus the theme of this year’s World Hunger Day (today, Saturday, October 16). This year’s theme is “United Against Hunger.” It is a world issue, and the responsibility of our global community. There are hungry people in your neighborhood and in neighborhoods on the other side of the Earth. In addition, we have to be diligent and careful about how we try to help. “The world’s top food aid donors, including the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Union, continue to supply and finance nutritionally substandard foods to developing countries, despite conclusive scientific evidence of their ineffectiveness in reducing childhood malnutrition,” said the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. Even with good intention, it turns out that some of the food we export to help starving communities is significantly LESS nutritious than grocery store dog food. The mud cookies served in Haiti to quiet empty stomachs (mud, shortening, and salt, baked in the sun, and eaten when there is nothing else, to at least fill bellies) are as good as what we send in the name of “aid.”

Find out more about malnutrition and how kids are dying of it every moment, at the website Starved for Attention. There you can take action, sign the petition, and spread the word, today, on World Food Day, and tomorrow and tomorrow.

World Tuberculosis Day

I’m beginning a new volunteer gig soon at a hospital, and one of the things I needed to do before my first day was go get a TB test. The test has changed since I was a kid—it used to be four tiny needles, or maybe it was six, with a quick injection. Now it’s a small skin pop of serum, with one needle, just under the skin of the forearm. 48 hours later you have the injection site inspected for reaction. It’s quite simple and no big deal—as long as you’re negative.

The world is making incredible progress against this airborne disease, yet last year, 1.8 million people died of tuberculosis. It is the second biggest infectious killer of adults, worldwide.

Today, on World TB Day, consider donating to the Stop TB Partnership or Doctors Without Borders or another medical charity working to eradicate this disease. It is a matter of life, and we should have been further along by now.

Long-Term Help in Haiti

On Wednesday, I listened in on a conference call for supporters of Doctors Without Borders to get an update on the situation in Haiti. Much of that information was fascinating, firsthand accounts from people who were in the country when the earthquake hit, and learning that there are currently 260 aid organizations and charities in Haiti. I have, like so many of us, been feeling like I should find some way to get there to help, but what is clear is that at this time, what they DON’T need, is more people. While entirely well-meaning and selfless, a majority of general (non-medically trained) volunteers are more in the way than helpful in the current situation. One of the doctors running programs there likened the nation to a patient in intensive care, remarking that when you are in the ICU, you cannot have visitors. We have to wait until the status gets downgraded from critical to stable before any of us can be of use. That, of course, is where the problem lies—many of the current organizations that rushed in to help will move away from the crisis at just the time when their work can actually be more effective than it is now. Funds will run out, other crises will arise (have you noticed that the terrible floods and mudslides in Peru near Machu Picchu have gone all but ignored in the press?), and volunteer exhaustion will come into play. Burnout is a very real problem in crisis management. Doctors Without Borders is in for the long haul (as are many, many others who understand the commitment)—they have been in Haiti for 19 years already and had a team of 700 in the country BEFORE the earthquake, and have added about 500 more team members since the catastrophe.

Understanding the long-haul nature of the problem is also the organization Artists for Peace and Justice, working with “an impressive roster of Hollywood celebrities who have pledged their long-term support to Haiti through annual donations. The stars are lending their financial support and influential voices to help rebuild Haiti by funding street schools for the children living in the slums and in the burgeoning camps around the city of Port-au-Prince. Getting children back to school – often the only place they receive clean drinking water, their only food for the day, medical attention, clothing and hope – has become a top priority. APJ remains committed to long term sustainability in the ravaged country.”

Some of the high-profile celebrities that are not only donating today, but have committed to annual donations of $50,000 each for the next five years, include Jackson Browne, Gerard Butler, Daniel Craig, Russell Crowe, Penelope Cruz, Clint Eastwood, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Sean Penn, and more.

“Emergency relief is still very important — with the help of Operation USA, last week we trucked in another $150,000 in food and supplies to sustain the St. Luke’s program and the children and families of the slums that rely upon its outreach programs,” says Paul Haggis, Founder of APJ. “Schools right now might not seem like the most important thing to reestablish but it just isn’t true. The children may not be in urgent need of an education, but they desperately need physical and psychological support. They need a daily meal and water and medical care that comes with our schools. These thousands of children need a safe place to gather, where they can find hope, and even joy and beauty. The issues on the rise right now are gangs, violent crime, prostitution and child slavery. Schools are more important now than ever.”

When built, the street schools will assist thousands of children living in the slums of Port-au-Prince. Prior to the earthquake, APJ had been committed to sponsoring a number of these schools in Haiti and supporting the work of Father Rick Frechette, a doctor and community organizer who works out of St. Damiens Pediatric Hospital in Port-au-Prince, the only free pediatric hospital in the country. Donors to APJ have an opportunity to contribute to long term sustainability in a country that so desperately needs it.

Living in Emergency

This is the first time I’ve blogged about Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), but I can promise it won’t be the last. In all the world of charitable organizations, this is one of my very favorites. The work they do worldwide is unmatched and vital. Lives are saved every day because of these people.

The work they do has impact in ways we can only guess, even if you are on the mailing list and get email updates and action alerts like I do, it is still somewhat mysterious. Now, pull the veil, and learn more from the front lines of changing the world, by attending this one-night-only cinema event on December 14.

It is the first time a documentary crew had open access to Doctors Without Borders field operations, and the resulting film shows you the world of four doctors “in the face of overwhelming medical need.”

There are 450 theatres nationwide showing the film and the live staelite town hall discussion that follows (featuring panelists Sebastian Junger-best-selling author of The Perfect Storm and Vanity Fair contributing editor, Dr. Tom Krueger-Doctors Without Borders surgeon featured in the documentary, and Sophie Delaunay-executive director of Doctors Without Borders-USA, moderated by ABC news anchor Elizabeth Vargas).

If you can’t see the film, you should still visit the website and support this unparalleled organization.