In 2010, by the time Haiti reached the two-week mark of the Jan. 12 earthquake, Haitian-Americans were among thousands of donors who gave millions to the American Red Cross, relying on the relief organization to assist their compatriots. Five years later, an investigative report revealed that the Red Cross built six homes with the $500 million collected after months of fundraising.
Now, as the two-week mark of the 2021 earthquake approaches, Haiti’s relief efforts have a different look. Feeling burned, instead of relying on a centralized group, more Haitian-American organizations and individuals are participating directly in a variety of response initiatives.
Haitian-American churches, social services groups, restaurants, health mission groups, trade associations, social media stars and many more have been collecting money and goods for Haiti. With the failures from the 2010 earthquake on their minds, the collectors have one common goal: Not to repeat the same mistakes that left scores of victims helpless and homeless years later.
Some people, like Dr. Ernest Barthelemy, have expressed reservations about rushing to travel to Haiti, until they know they are needed, instead choosing to support doctors and relief workers on the ground, in the week after the disaster.
“People haven’t recovered from the trauma of 2010 and it’s happening again,” said Ernest Barthelemy, a neurosurgeon in New York, on an Aug. 17 call. “Where we can really help is to send resources to support them and what they’re doing.”
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake mainly impacted Haiti’s southwest region, including major cities like Les Cayes and Jérémie. At least 2,207 people died, 344 were reported missing and 12,268 injured. In terms of structural damage, at least 52,953 structures were destroyed and 77,006 damaged, according to Haiti’s Civil Protection agency.
Here are the ways Haitian-Americans involved seek to avoid the mistakes of 2010 to carry out a better effort this time around.
Getting on the ground themselves
One mistake Haitian-Americans do not want repeated is not being there to make sure donated goods are distributed to victims. Many groups have been bringing items themselves — or through associates — to ensure they reach survivors.
Another goal of these visits is to evaluate the situation first-hand, before planning the next move of the long-term recovery.
“This is why we love to go by ourselves, [to] assess the place,” said Rose Valcin, president of the Haitian-American Nurses Association of Florida, or HANA.
By Aug. 23, HANA had sent medical supplies to Les Cayes through an associate and was still accepting items at two locations in Miami: Platinum Multi-Service, a consulting services company, and St. Thomas University. Two HANA members scheduled to travel to Les Cayes Saturday will bring additional medical supplies.
Like many other Haitian-American organizations, HANA has been in daily contact with local authorities in Haiti to know what’s needed. HANA has been in contact with the National Association of Licensed Nurses crew based in Les Cayes.
Meanwhile, members of Shiloh Bilingual French Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Brooklyn landed in Les Cayes Monday.
“When we’re on site it’s easier to identify the partners but when you are away it’s not easy,” said Pastor Herode Thomas.
The church has been raising funds that will be sent directly to the victims. To add to looking for relief partners, Thomas will also provide pastoral presence to victims, he said.
Smarter collection and distribution
Since scores of organizations have been sending items, another mistake Haitian-Americans are looking to avoid is bringing items residents already received or that are available in Haiti, such as food, clothes and water.
“We’re trying to collaborate and not repeat something another organization is doing,” Volcy said.
Tents are among the most in-demand items, responders and survivors have said. Members of SDA churches are planning to buy tents in Haiti to distribute in Les Cayes. Health workers are also in need of anesthetic medication for when they’re doing surgeries so HANA has been collecting them, Valcin said.
Officials and regular Haitians have also advised people abroad not to donate food, clothes and water, since these products can be purchased in Haiti to help local businesses financially, officials said.
“That goes, in a small way, to give back to those businesses [in Haiti] and also supply the needs of the people in real-time,” said Rashida Jacques, a board director at Shiloh.
“We knew that the money would get there, perhaps faster than even the goods would,” said Jacques, adding that the church has raised about $5,000, through GoFundMe and other sources. “They can utilize that money to also purchase goods that are needed, actually on the ground in Haiti, [bypassing] the need to pay those shipping costs.”
Addressing travel, safety and shipment concerns
Safety is a big priority for those traveling to Haiti, as is a way to actually get to the worst-affected areas, many said. It is taking HANA members nearly two weeks to land in Haiti because it took time to figure out how to travel to Les Cayes safely, Valcin said.
Armed gangs have blocked the entry to Haiti’s south from Port-au-Prince since June, for one. The bandits have allowed responders to go through, according to local reports, but fears of kidnapping for ransom or worse are top of mind.
Brooklyn-based Haitian American Law Enforcement Fraternal Organization, or HALEFO, is another group working to ensure its members’ safety in Haiti. The NYPD has given HALEFO authorization to designate all city precincts as drop-off points for donated goods, but the professional association is still working out the logistics of distributing them on the ground.
HALEFO is accepting first aid supplies, gloves and other medical supplies. HALEFO has yet to schedule a date of deployment to Haiti.
“There are issues of security and transportation that we have to address before we hit the ground,” said Claude Jean-Pierre, HALEFO’s spokesperson.
Calls to coordinate, unify efforts
With many more groups accepting donations in 2021 comes an increased risk of no coordination, some have said. Officials also made that mistake in 2010.
“Everyone’s doing their own thing and generally that’s been an issue with humanitarian aid efforts on the part of the diaspora, so we want to try to put forth a collaborative effort,” Jean-Pierre said.
Recognizing the need for unity, groups in Florida like HANA and Family Action Network Movement, or FANM, met last week to coordinate. Like the groups in New York have been doing, they agreed to collect medical equipment, medication and tents but not to collect food, water and clothes.
While the many organizations involved can lead to disorder, some have said that it’s necessary because of the amount of work needed.
“One organization can’t do what Haiti needs now,” Valcin said. “We need a lot of hands to come together so we can help the best we can. One visit to Haiti isn’t enough. We have to go again for the aftermath.”