herode thomas, Haiti relief efforts, Haitian Diaspora relief
Herode Thomas (left) meets with survivors of the Aug. 14 earthquake in Les Cayes. Courtesy: Shiloh Bilingual Seventh Day Adventist

In the days following the Aug. 14 earthquake, Carlo Damus reached out to fellow community members in Brooklyn and beyond. His South Haiti Relief Effort Whatsapp group now has 80 participants, with fundraising for humanitarian needs a key priority. 

“The government is not even doing a makeshift shelter for the people to sleep,” said Damus, a Brooklyn-based public school teacher. “I’m planning to buy tents that can [house] four to five people.”

As of Aug. 30, a GoFundMe page started by Damus and others had raised $3,000. Currently, Damus said, he is coordinating with friends in Les Cayes to pick up the tents when they are shipped to Port-au-Prince. 

Amid skepticism of big-name non-governmental organizations like the American Red Cross, Haitians in the diaspora have coordinated directly with contacts on the ground in southwestern Haiti. They have directed their money to locally based or grassroots crowdfunding efforts and in some cases established nonprofits with existing relationships in the country. 

For instance, the nonprofit Capracare, which has operated health clinics in Les Cayes for over a decade, has already reported more donations since the earthquake than any single calendar year, its president and founder Jean Pierre-Louis said. 

“We’ve been using those [funds] to buy a lot of medications [and] supplies on the ground,” said Pierre-Louis. “It’s a blessing to be recognized by some amazing known and unknown allies.” 

Grassroots fundraising, transnational connections

On one major crowdfunding channel, GoFundMe, more than 350 Haiti earthquake relief campaigns have been created by individuals and nonprofits this month, some raising as little as $60, others raising $40,000 or more. 

Since Aug. 14, fundraisers on GoFundMe have collected more than $500,000 for earthquake relief, with support coming from at least 50 different countries, said Melanie Yost, a spokesperson for the crowdfunding company. The company also has a hub for identifying verified fundraisers. 

“GoFundMe is continuing to monitor the platform for fundraisers created to help Haitian individuals, families and communities,” Yost said.

One of these fundraising efforts was started by Herode Thomas, pastor of the Shiloh Bilingual Seventh Day Adventist Church in Brooklyn. Last week, Thomas traveled to earthquake-ravaged cities like Les Cayes, where he met with individuals impacted by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

Herode Thomas (left) meets a Les Cayes resident who lost loved ones in the earthquake. Courtesy: Shiloh Bilingual Seventh Day Adventist Church

Thus far, Thomas said, the church has distributed $6,500 largely to individuals, including parents who lost multiple children. Thomas said he also hopes to support municipal leaders in Les Cayes and surrounding towns. 

“We provided the opportunity to be heard,” Thomas said about city officials in Les Cayes. “We’re looking forward to seeing how we can support the city leaders. We’d like to go back and support them.” 

Many community service nonprofits not usually involved in disaster response have pivoted to help with earthquake relief as well. Life of Hope Center, for one, normally serves immigrants in central Brooklyn, but the organization’s leadership has kept close contact with family in Les Cayes. 

Board member Dr. Christina Pardo said she has communicated daily with her aunt in the city, along with contacts in Haiti’s health ministry, to learn about needs on the ground. 

These connections have helped Pardo identify at least three organizations in southern Haiti to send medical supplies. And, Life of Hope has partnered with nonprofit emergency care organization Emedex International to ship the equipment and help raise money. The goal is set at $25,000. 

“We really wanted to partner with people with the same ideals, who have been on the ground and have a long-term commitment,” Pardo said. “We’ve engaged Emedex to partner in this initiative for the main reason that they’ve used charters to fly supplies down.”

Preliminary numbers from established nonprofits

As skeptical potential donors searched for reputable recipients in the days following the earthquake, numerous groups published lists of credible organizations. The Haitian Times published a list of six nonprofits with a record of financial transparency. 

Two of these groups have shared their preliminary fundraising estimates. Fonkoze, which provides microfinance and development services in rural Haiti, started an earthquake relief effort to provide tailored loans, hygiene kits, psychological support and more to those impacted. The group has raised more than $316,700 in earthquake relief, administrator Ray Huber said. 

For all of 2020, Fonkoze received more than $2.2 million in donations and grants, according to a recent financial statement available through Guidestar, a charity transparency organization. It collected $2.2 million in 2019 and $1.8 million in 2018, respectively, records indicate

Historically, Capracare has had a much smaller annual donation pool. It collected nearly $67,700 in gifts and grants during 2018, the most recent year for which records were available on the Guidestar database. But since Aug. 14, the organization has raised at least $137,000, Pierre-Louis confirmed. 

Over the past two weeks, Capracare has worked in more than 10 rural communities in southwestern Haiti, operating two mobile health clinics staffed by 23 trained health care workers. More than 2,000 people have received medical services thus far, Pierre-Louis said.

In addition to mental health support, staff have also been able to treat injuries using antibiotics and wound care equipment that Capracare purchases locally, Pierre-Louis said. 

“The support has also significantly impacted our response to the hard-to-reach rural communities in the south,” said Pierre-Louis. 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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