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After reading the article "Nobody wants your old shoes: How not to help in Haiti," I was left feeling discouraged and disappointed. The author makes some very valid points about the most effective way to help channel aid for disasters, but I feel like those who want to help are left with nothing to do. The author was extremely negative and pessimistic, saying not to donate clothes or medicine because we don't know what is needed. The author also says not to fly to Haiti, because you will only become an extra burden on the aid-workers. He basically says that all we can do is donate money. I understand that money is crucial in Haiti right now, but just throwing money at a problem will not always fix things! In my seminar (Origins of Global Poverty) last semester, we discussed how foreign aid can be the most effective. Funneling massive amounts of money into big organizations doesn't always solve the problems because there is no accountability or native people running the programs (who would actually know what is needed). Rather than just smoothing out the surface of what's going on in Haiti, aid workers need to take a serious look at how Haiti came to be the way it is today. The roots of poverty need to be examined and addressed. Rather than trying to fix everything at once, individual problems need to be looked at (although still in a interdisciplinary way). I also don't know if I completely buy into this blogger's argument that no other form of donations are helpful. Surely organizations could use some more trained workers. Even if a few Americans can go down *with an organization* and help rebuild, or go down to witness the atrocities themselves, they can return to the U.S. with ideas of how to keep this tragedy from repeating itself. Maybe a combined approach would work. Am I crazy, or what do you guys think? 

Emily

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4 Comments

  1. Unknown User (tmendez)

    Emily, 

    I completely agree with you that we should be exploring the roots of the issue (see Russell's article on Haiti's history). Of course other donations are helpful because guess what, I didn't know a doctor could perform an amputation with a couple dollar bills. There is a need for more tangible donations as well. One of the articles also suggest that we take seeds for trees there as well to help the people begin re afforestation. They have cut down most of the trees to get fuel, and coal and just make a quick buck and unfortunately it is a sad reality that they live like this daily and without regard for what they may need for the next day.

    I would say that the best way to combat a problem is to find the cause of it (I have no clue where to begin when examining Haiti and its poverty because it is so multi-faceted) but maybe if we all brainstormed, then that would provide greater insight into what we think might be contributing factors to Haiti's present condition.

    The blogger's response I think can be likened to the discussion that we had in class about us taking poverty tours and how we felt voyeuristic and if we were in their position how upset we would probably be if we saw a bus full of college kids just staring at us and our situation.He may be taking a stance as someone from both worlds, applying a false sense of pride to something that those living in the situation and have experienced it for years will not have. Their feeling in fact might be the opposite: they might be happy that we're sending whatever we can give and at least offering our support. It may not yet be tangible but they know that people want to consider them and may just need the right guidance as to how they can being to help.  

  2. Unknown User (larmstrong)

    Hey Emily,

    here are some of my thoughts. I think that you're right...throwing money at problems is not always going to be a solution. Of course, in disasters such as this, money is REQUIRED; however, I wholeheartedly believe it must be paired with an understanding of the root of this problem (other than their "pact w/the devil").  Agree with you there.

    In terms of the blogger's pessimism that you referred to, unfortunately, it probably has left people feeling paralyzed, unable to do anything to help out of fear that they will only make it worse, or not being doing the "right" thing. Yet, I think the blogger also has a valid point. Last week I found myself thinking for a moment, "Maybe when I graduate, I'll go to Haiti and work on long-term rebuilding." Then I said, "WHAT?!" I have NOTHING to offer in this situation; I cannot speak Creole or even French. I have no hard-skills that are needed right now; the only thing I can offer is an eager and willing spirit...so can the majority of the world. Therefore, I agree that such arguments are not helpful if they only leave us feeling helpless, BUT I do think that instead of all of us focusing on "what can I do to help Haiti?" The best course of action is, do the research-decide how I will help through my donation, LEARN about why the situation in Haiti is different than when a 7.0 hit the Bay Area in California, and then devote my energies to finding the BEST way my talents and gifts match up with a great need in the world...and that place may very well be my own backyard in Greenville. OR, yes, it could be in Haiti. It just depends on the person.

    Does that make sense?

    1. Unknown User (ewirzba) AUTHOR

      That all definitely makes sense... People need to look at the talents that they have to offer the world, and then figure out how to best use them to actually make a difference. I guess I wish that people could be as committed to mobilizing in response to other ongoing crises like they have to the Haiti earthquake. Just imagine if everyone who wanted to help out in Haiti used that energy in some way, ANY way! I guess people are so desperate to help right now that they aren't being rational in thinking out what Haitians really need (aka NOT shoes). It's great that people see a need and want to fill it, however. 

      I think another issue that is very important to consider is the amount of influence the media has in determining what causes get coverage, and how aid then is distributed. Think if the news covered Darfur or basic water shortages as much as the earthquake... Maybe people would be mobilizing to help these problems as well! I wonder if they cover those issues less because they are more politically charged? There cannot be many partisan-based disputes over helping Haiti in an earthquake, but perhaps helping with other issues would be construed as too partisan. How wonderful would it be if the media picked a cause a month (or something like that) just to give coverage to these issues occurring everywhere!? 

  3. Unknown User (mmorris1821)

    I can see everyone’s point.  Maybe we should distinguish between immediate and more long-term types of aid.  All the media attention of the earthquake has generated an unprecedented amount of monetary aid.  Although I worry all the donations might get lost within the large organizations like the Red Cross, Haiti needs the money.  And I see the blogger’s point that thousands of untrained workers flying into the small country would only provide obstacles to trained workers trying to ease the sufferings of Haitians.  But I also see validity in Emily’s point that just throwing money at the country will not solve all its problems.  It alleviates the problems, but it does not extinguish them.  So maybe after the media attention dies down and the most immediate needs of the earthquake victims are acknowledged and fulfilled, all the work can be devoted to the consideration of Haiti’s poverty, the process that led to its current state, and the best way to overturn that cycle.  That said, I hope Haitian leaders will be included in the decisions on how best to rebuild their capital city and the lives of all Haitian citizens.