Haitian-Americans lead relief efforts after home country hit by deadly hurricane
Organizers encourage public to donate to "Haitian-led" groups, not international organizations
In Georgia, Haitian-Americans answer phone calls to a hotline they set up for people interested in donating to relief efforts in Haiti.
More than 600 miles away, in South Florida, volunteers stream into a warehouse daily, sorting medicine, hygiene products and other items for delivery to the island nation.
A medical team led by the Haitian American Nurses Association of Florida lands in Haiti, bound for Aquin, Cavaillon and Les Cayes, three areas hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, according to a coalition called The Haitian American Hurricane Matthew Relief Effort.
Nationwide, Haitian-Americans are leading relief efforts for their home country after Matthew killed hundreds in the southern portion and caused panic over potential rise in cholera outbreaks. Frustrated by what they believe is the lack of progress in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, some are advocating donating to smaller “Haitian-led” groups, not larger international groups, such as the American Red Cross.
‘An opportunity lost’
France Francois, who worked on social issues for the Inter-American Development Bank during its reconstruction efforts in Haiti after the earthquake, is among those who have encouraged potential donors to skip the American Red Cross.
“Billions of dollars flooded into Haiti through international NGOs … after the earthquake. And I think everybody thought that it was an opportunity to really construct a country that had proper urban planning, proper sanitation …. seismic-proof housing that could withstand certain levels of wind during these type of hurricanes and disasters,” Francois said in an interview last week from Panama, where she lives. “Instead, none of that happened. Haiti is no more prepared for a disaster today than it was six years ago when I started working in Haiti. For us as Haitians, this was an opportunity lost.”
Francois, who now works with a group that helps to reintegrate former gang members into Panamanian society, says it’s imperative the rebuilding and relief effort be Haitian-led this time around.
Lists have been shared on social media suggesting groups to donate money to, including one that lists “Trusted Haitian Organizations,” in Haiti and the United States.
Red Cross: We’re proud of our work in Haiti
In an email to CNN, the American Red Cross said the group has continuously worked in Haiti since 2004, partnering with local Haitian groups, and they’re proud of their work in the country.
“We believe our efforts in Haiti have made important investments in Haitian people, institutions, systems and lasting infrastructure including the employment of numerous Haitians in disaster management leadership positions in our projects and in the Haitian Red Cross,” the agency said.
The agency also said it has “now spent more than 90% of all funds received in health, infrastructure and resiliency programming that has helped vulnerable communities cope with and withstand emergencies.”
When the earthquake struck, they mobilized additional staff and aid, “and those resources are still on the ground in Haiti today,” the agency said.
“And throughout this time the American Red Cross has worked alongside our Haitian Red Cross partners and our other global Red Cross partners to help the Haitian people,” the agency said.
‘Three days of terror’
The hurricane has devastated southern Haiti, killing more than 500 people – a number expected to sharply rise.
Winds of around 125 mph whipped trees, destroying entire forests on the mountainous northern coast of Haiti’s Tiburon peninsula during the hurricane. The storm flooded villages; razed crops; swept away cattle, destroyed Haiti’s natural resources and knocked out electricity, cutting off parts of the island.
“Haiti has lived through what I can characterize as three days of terror,” Interim President Jocelerme Privert told CNN.
Haitian diaspora to do ‘whatever it takes’
Lorna Valcin, a Haitian-American photographer who has fielded several hotline calls, says Atlanta doctors have donated 100 pounds of medicine that’s been transported to Haiti by a Haitian-American, who founded a nonprofit that works in the region.
The Marietta-based Wings of Hope International was founded in 1998 and provides medical care and education to Haiti and other countries in the region, according to its website.
“We are the ones responsible for the Haitian community, and we are going to do whatever it takes to rebuild that community together,” says Valcin, who lives in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta.
“We’re trying to target the local organizations in Haiti who understand the Haitian people, who have a heart for the Haitian people.”
In Miami, the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, a 16-year-old social services nonprofit in Miami, will collect funds for a new South Florida Haiti Relief Group made up of civic and elected leaders in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to Sant La’s executive director Gespie Metellus.
The money will go to “Haitian-led organizations working in Haiti, in particular in the affected region.”
Metellus said Haitian-Americans are getting more involved in fund-raising to give money to smaller Haitian groups that typically don’t get a lot of donations to provide humanitarian aid.
“The Haitian diaspora is very much engaged in this relief effort,” she said.
2015 report critical of Red Cross
Last year, an investigative report by ProPublica and National Public Radio alleged shortcomings in the Red Cross’ relief efforts in Haiti, including reporting that the group received $488 million in donations but built only six permanent homes.
The agency faced “constant upheaval” of staff in Haiti, along with a “pattern” of “botched delivery of aid” and “an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole,” the account said.
After the release of the report, the Red Cross said that it was inaccurate. “Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff – 90 percent of whom are Haitians – continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago,” the agency said at the time.
The agency also said then it “has provided more than 132,000 people with safe and durable housing.”
In an interview Monday with CNN, Lesley Schaffer, director for Latin America and the Caribbean for international services for the American Red Cross, said the agency is uniquely positioned to be able to bring large quantities of supplies and efficiently get them to affected areas.
Schaffer said the relief agency has been focusing on damage assessments in Haiti since Matthew, and with the help of local groups, continues to work to get needed items to displaced residents, including hygiene, cholera prevention supplies and shelter supplies.
“There is so much need in Haiti right now in response to Hurricane Matthew that really the more humanitarian organizations and the more grass roots organizations that can work together to get critical relief supplies to the residents … the better,” Schaffer said.
‘When the cameras leave … we’re left feeling the impact’
Political instability has impeded Haiti’s ability to deal with its problems. The country was ruled by three decades of father-son dictators who assassinated political foes and crushed dissent. In a ranking by Transparency International of corruption, Haiti ranks near the bottom as 158th out of 167 countries.
Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that rates charities, suggests using Global Giving, a nonprofit that connects donors, nonprofits, and companies worldwide, as a guide for Haitian-based charities. She said groups in Haiti are not registered in the same way nonprofits are in the United States, where they are required to file a 990 with the IRS.
“Generally, with crisis giving, we also recommend that donors go with charities that have done this type of work in the past,” she said.
Francois, 30, who holds a master’s degree in international development and conflict resolution from American University in Washington, said the perception to many is that Haiti is a place “where Haitians are unskilled and simply waiting to be saved.”
She said “Haitians themselves need to be proactive in changing the disaster capital narrative so that other people aren’t speaking for us.”
“Because when the cameras leave and the large scale NGOs, like American Red Cross are done with their press conferences, we’re the ones that are left on the ground feeling the impact,” said Francois, a Cap Haitien native who grew up in Miami. “So, therefore, we should be the ones telling people what we need and how you can help us move forward and reconstruct after this type of disaster.”