Tropical storm names add a human element to these unpredictable, uncontrollable weather phenomenons. Although, this only seems to make news reports more devastating, as death tolls rise and images of destruction play continuously across our screens. The knee-jerk reaction we have to natural disasters of immense caliber is to ask: “What can I do? How can I help?”
The devastation of Hurricane Matthew means disaster relief in Haiti will continue for many days, weeks, and months. Luckily, for those of you in the vast majority asking how you can get involved in recovery, there are plenty of meaningful ways to help Haiti and support communities in need. But, first things first...
Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 124 mph, made landfall over Haiti and Cuba on October 4th, 2016. It is the strongest hurricane to impact the Caribbean since 2007, according to USAID; it is also “the largest humanitarian event” since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, once again thrusting Haiti’s developmental issues into the headlines.
Preparations for the storm were made in advance by local government units, UN agencies, and NGOs, but not even the greatest of preparations could protect all Haitians or the nation’s infrastructure entirely from the heavy wind damage and extensive flooding. Hurricane Matthew’s wrath destroyed houses and agricultural land, and unfortunately, hundreds of lives in Southern Haiti especially. Though Hurricane Matthew has since moved on to batter the Southeastern coast of the United States, making landfall in both North and South Carolina, Haiti is far from recovered from the storm.
Even one week after the storm, the official death toll is still unknown, though it is steadily rising as rescue efforts continue to reach affected areas. The BBC reported that some of the hardest-hit towns are yet to be reached by land, with some parts facing “complete destruction” according to aid workers on the ground. The threat of even greater loss of life is looming to say the least.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, local health officials are preparing for a likely surge in cholera cases, which has become an all too common health concern for Haitians; Haiti has been struggling with cholera outbreaks since the earthquake in 2010. The storm’s impact on water sanitation and infrastructure as well as the damage to many hospitals in the area puts the population, particularly children, at higher risk of contracting cholera, so local clinics and international humanitarian organizations are doing their best to proactive before outbreaks begin to spread.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP HAITI?
Haiti is in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Now more than ever, the international community needs to come together to help take care of those in need of immediate aid and commit to continuing to help Haiti rebuild long after the storm passes. Many families were still struggling to recover from the earthquake, even 6 years later, so this new disaster has thrusted them into an even more desolate situation.
To truly help Haiti, it is most important to listen to and address the needs of people on the ground. So, here’s how you can get involved and help Haiti recover from Hurricane Matthew:
GIVE BACK FINANCIALLY
As much as you’d love to just hop on a plane and lend your helping hands on the ground, in times of crisis, that often has the opposite effect, doing more harm than good. After natural disasters, generally the best way to help survivors is by donating money to effective local and international organizations that have an established presence on the ground.
Tips for Donating Money
Not all charitable organizations are created equal. Though we wish for the best in everyone, especially in times of crisis, there are still a few bad apples that spoil the bushel. Countless new organizations and campaign websites will pop up hoping to capitalize on your generosity and desire to help Haiti. The money you donate to these “quick fix” types of organizations will likely never reach the hands of aid workers or locals in desperate need of funds and supplies on the ground. Therefore, the trick is to:
Go local – Do your due diligence to find local, home-grown organizations supporting disaster relief in Haiti if you can. They’ll understand the needs of the community best, be able to effectively allocate your funds, and offer the right course of action in the aftermath of a disaster. This is the best way to ensure your money is going directly into the hands of Haitians in need too. Larger, multinational organizations will have higher operating costs, and more difficulty getting donated funds into the hands of the needy. Check out the GoAbroad Foundation's recommended organizations to support, which are conducting fundraising efforts to support Hurricane Matthew relief!
Investigate before you donate – Learn as much as possible about the charity you choose, including a deep dive into their website(s) and mentions of their names in online forums or reviews. You can check their ratings on sites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar too. Keep an eye out for any news about the organization, especially larger ones with name-recognition, and double check their relationships with the local community.
Follow up – Most charitable organizations ask you to specify exactly what your donated funds will be used for. A few months later, be sure to follow up to see where your money went, how disaster relief efforts in Haiti are progressing, and if they need more help or financial support. This is a tangible way you can continue to disaster relief for Haitians in wake of Hurricane Matthew.
In short, connect with organizations in Haiti that are transparent about how donated funds are spent, properly vetted, and happy to answer your questions (Contact the Director of GoAbroad’s charitable foundation to learn more about reputable organizations contributing to Hurricane Matthew relief in Haiti).
***Note: One other important tip about donating, don’t send supplies. Although this seems like a great, very palpable way to lend a helping hand if you’re not on the ground in the disaster area, it likely isn’t. People in Haiti are in desperate need of food, water, and shelter, so it seems like a no-brainer, right? Just pack it all up and ship it all out? This type of philanthropy has its heart in the right place, but is simply not practical or efficient. Humanitarian aid is struggling to reach impacted regions in the interior of the country, so even if mail could reach these areas, it’s a logistical nightmare. No one is there to receive donated goods, so no one is there to sort through them and distribute them accordingly. Instead of sending old clothes or dollar store toiletries, host a fundraising event and donate those funds to a reputable organization in Haiti.
GIVE YOUR TIME AND SKILLS
Experts typically recommend giving funds to groups working on the ground and advise against traveling there to help. Instead, sincerely weigh the benefit of that $300 to $1,000 plane ticket as a potential donation (or for a donation amount of equal or lesser value). However, for those skilled individuals who have the time to offer their service, volunteer contributions to disaster relief in Haiti can be helpful and fruitful.
Tips for Supporting On-the-Ground Relief Efforts
You can’t justify your long-awaited Caribbean vacation by sacrificing one day of your itinerary to work in disaster relief in Haiti. Only serious, skilled volunteers who are ready to work and have been trained in emergency response are welcomed by local and international organizations to generously supply their time and skills. Here is some advice for anyone that is considering volunteering in Haiti to read before booking a ticket:
Decide if your help is really needed RIGHT NOW – Kudos to your altruism, but you need to ask some hard-hitting, soul-searching questions to determine if you’ll be a help (or a hindrance) in disaster zones at this time. Immediate relief work is in full swing, with professional aid workers already on the ground, and they need the support of individuals trained in disaster response or emergency medicine. However, if your skills set doesn’t fall in either of those categories, you’ll most likely get in the way rather than actually providing help in Haiti.
But remember, this won’t remain true indefinitely; once immediate crisis intervention is no longer the focus, international (and local) volunteers will be needed to support long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts.
Think long-term and plan for future volunteering in Haiti – Start searching now for legitimate organizations to volunteer abroad in Haiti with, or even in Cuba, which was also badly hit by Hurricane Matthew. In a few months time, relief organizations WILL be looking for more helpful hands and hearts on the ground. Begin researching organizations and programs that will connect you with meaningful work in countries affected by Hurricane Matthew. Just like you should research organizations before donating funds, do your research on volunteer organizations you are interested in working with. Read reviews, contact several programs, and talk with past participants to know the quality and effectiveness of their volunteer experience. And once you’ve been selected to volunteer with an organization in Haiti, don’t forget these top nine things to bring when volunteering in a disaster zone.
Reach out to fellow volunteers – Read about their disaster relief volunteer work; before you become a disaster relief volunteer, make sure you know what you are signing up for. Working in the aftermath of a natural disaster, surrounded by trauma and devastation, is emotionally and physically draining, especially for volunteers who have never traveled to developing countries before. Recognize that you’re privileged to have the choice to leave, but still seek out the insights of previous volunteers to know how to be effective and useful, maximizing the positive impact of your helping in Haiti.
If you have to help RIGHT NOW. Look for opportunities to help those in your immediate communities. People are going through a lot right now. If you have friends or colleagues from these countries, or who may have family still in-country or surrounding areas, research ways to support disaster prevention and recovery.
STAY IN THE KNOW
The hard truth is, eventually the media will forget about Haiti and Hurricane Matthew. As relief efforts continue long-term, it will cease to be “breaking news.” But, you can choose to keep it in your consciousness. Commit to learning more about the realities facing Haitians as they rebuild from Hurricane Matthew. Don’t just send one donation, write it off, and consider your job done. When you see new opportunities to get involved and help Haiti, get involved, educate others, and continue your support.
This world is better and brighter when we come together and take care of each other.
Be generous, and remember, you can effectively help Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.