Disaster relief efforts and long-term sustainability plans don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but what would it look like if they coincided just enough to bring efficient response to the most devastated – while keeping dignity, strength, and economy paramount? What if the vulnerable citizens of these communities, who are typically dependent on the generosity of others, were active participants in their own recovery and preparedness?
This is the first time since the earthquake of 2010 that I’ve been faced with a dilemma of such magnitude. Years of working as a disaster responder, coupled with more recent years of being a social entrepreneur, sometimes feels like my body is a bottle and my insides are oil and water. I exist. I have two parts about me. They do not mix well… Especially in the time of true and devastating disaster.
My team on the ground in Haiti, the media, the general public, and of course my own intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be without food or medical care, standing in a tent full of water, surrounded by destruction – these messages and memories feed my desire to take whatever I can get, food, clothing, shelter, and distribute them as quickly as I can to those impacted by recent events.
And then in the dead of night when everyone else is sleeping, I’m haunted by the memory of what disaster relief looked like after the earthquake. Months afterwards, when I still lived in Haiti’s decimated and traumatized capital city of Port-Au-Prince, almost everyone I knew had gone back to their own lives. As the dust settled, hordes of relief workers disbanded as quickly as they arrived, and Haiti was left to restore and rebuild on its own. Despite countless millions of dollars that flooded in for emergency relief – the only thing that remained was a Band-Aid; a sterile covering on a festering wound that needed deeper healing and recovery.
Haiti again has the spotlight, not because of the incredible recovery and bravery from the earthquake or because of the life changing businesses birthed from the tragedy. We are the talk of the town, for a few more days at least, because of the destruction Hurricane Matthew left behind.
Purses are opening and many are ready to jump on planes to rebuild homes for Haitians who, may or may not, have income to pay for their basic needs in the following months. And I know these generous offers of support come with the purest of intentions. But what if the solution was slightly altered to helped folks not only recover from this natural disaster, but also from the daily disaster of poverty, which by the way, is the root cause of the destruction we are seeing now.
I am confident God made each one of us for His own purpose. Mine is to “stay the course” even though the scrutiny and loneliness of focusing on business and economy in the midst of a humanitarian crisis is overwhelming. It will remain overwhelming unless there are others who will stand up in solidarity and say, ”No. Not this way. Not again”
I am not short sighted or jaded enough to suggest that we’re not in need of trained carpenters who would hire Haitian crews to help lead rebuilding efforts, or skilled medical professionals who would assist our Haitian doctors and nurses immediately. Every single skill is needed so we can work harmoniously together to help alleviate suffering. But can we be brave enough to say “no” to prepackaged food, old clothes and left over bottles of water being flown in when these supplies can be purchased locally in Haiti? Will we say “no” to untrained crews of builders flying to the Island to build homes when there are dozens trained Haitian builders in every community who need work?
We need a more thoughtful response. We need jobs. We need to focus on business infrastructure. As my Global Operations Director, Sarah Sandsted stated, “We don’t need Miami to be our central distribution hub, Port-Au-Prince has all the supplies we need to act as the staging ground for relief.”
This is why I will take cash over water bottles. Let us buy in Port-au-Prince. Let us rebuild businesses in Port-au-Prince. And let us all work together to mix the oil and water that needs to coexist to properly invest in the developing world.