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How You Can Help the Crisis in Haiti

How You Can Help the Crisis in Haiti

In late February, gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, joined forces to overthrow the currently exiled prime minister and take control of the country. Haiti’s ongoing crisis has dangerously escalated ever since.

For those of us in the U.S., it may seem as though Haiti has been in and out of the news for decades, most notably in 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed nearly a quarter of a million people. Since then, political unrest, gang violence, and natural disasters have been near constant. Under the current circumstances, Haitians all over the country are suffering from food shortages and extreme threats of violence.

There are two common responses to this news: The first is apathy. People shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, what are you going to do?” before grabbing a latte on their way to work. The other is to take action — to jump in and help, just like I did in 2010.

Both responses can be harmful. But I didn’t know that back then.

Misconceptions That Harm

My husband and I moved to Haiti following a mission trip after the earthquake in 2010. Initially, our role was to help provide clean drinking water, but I soon began volunteering at a local orphanage. A three-month commitment became permanent, and for the next 12 years, we called Haiti home.

As a 23-year-old American, I had arrived holding my luggage and a number of powerful — and problematic — assumptions.

Despite having next to no experience in development work, I thought the Haitian people needed my help, and my perspective. But my perspective turned out to be wrong. During the time I spent volunteering at the orphanage, I, like so many others, innocently believed the children were truly orphans — that they didn’t have a living parent. I was also genuinely convinced that my effort to care for these children in a facility and coordinate mission teams from the States to help at the orphanage was the best way to support and serve the Haitian children. I wasn’t alone in these misconceptions — an outpouring of donations led to a 150% increase in the number of orphanages after the earthquake, and international adoptions skyrocketed.

Listening, Learning, and A Willingness to Change

After four years at the orphanage, I took note of a group of women who regularly attended our church service. The kids would surround them, and one day I asked who they were. I was told, “They’re the moms.”

This shocking revelation became a turning point for my work in Haiti.

Needing to examine my role and purpose there, I started by learning about the circumstances of children who live in orphanages. I realized that the vast majority, both in Haiti and worldwide, have living family members who want to be together with them. In supporting the orphanage, I was perpetuating the problem of families being separated.

Something had to change.

Listening to the Haitian believers already working towards development and family-strengthening efforts, I asked how we might partner together to prevent more parents from needing to rely on orphanages to care for their children. By supporting vulnerable families rather than orphanages, children could stay with their parents.

From these discussions, I became the co-founder of Konbit, a name that means “together.” And this is exactly how Konbit operates. Through the empowerment of local leaders and the community, we believe that change in Haiti will happen from the inside out. By removing barriers to school and offering after-school care, job training, emergency assistance and medical care, what started as an after-school program for 25 kids is now a robust partnership that serves between 300-400 families each year.

Informed Help Creates Local Impact

In the community where Konbit works, about an hour and a half outside of Port-au-Prince, gangs are making it nearly impossible to find food. People in Haiti are starving. But through Konbit’s grassroots network, Haitian believers are helping fellow Haitians. Some leaders are finding or buying food, then returning to the community and distributing it to local families. Others with access to food are preparing meals and serving them to families in need.

The situation in Haiti is very complex. And right now, the people of Haiti do need help. But they need it the way they say they need it, not in the way Americans believe it is best to give it.

By redirecting our giving away from orphanages and towards organizations working to strengthen families, we can ensure children and parents are fed during this crisis and that their basic needs are met. By engaging and empowering organizations already doing the work, families will be able to stay together both now and in the future. Supporting local organizations makes an enormous difference in the lives of struggling families.

If you have a heart to help, it’s tempting to believe there’s no place for you if you’re not on the ground. But that can’t be farther from the truth. Being a global partner from right where you are just might be the very best place to make a difference.

Stephanie Robinson is the Outreach Coordinator of the Faith to Action Initiative and also co-founder of a grassroots organization Konbit Haiti, which provides localized support for family preservation.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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