Haiti Still Needs You

 In Philanthropy

When the earthquake in Haiti hit, there was an outpouring of support like I’ve never seen. Everyone–every individual, every organization–they all wanted to help. Maybe it was all because of social networking. When Hurricane Katrina hit, there wasn’t Twitter and Facebook hadn’t yet become the phenomenon it is today. I think there was probably only MySpace, which is pretty lame when it comes to getting a message out to the world that isn’t “Hey, look at my crappy band.” So I don’t think New Orleans got the support it would’ve if the same thing happened today. Haiti even a star-studded telethon that managed to overrun something like 80 networks. Organized in only a few weeks, it was pretty impressive. So were the donation numbers that came from it: something around $16 million. I personally got involved by donating some money to Artists for Peace and Justice, an organization I’ll speak more about in a few minutes. And, along with my Creature! Creative partner, Christine Diaz, I created a silk screened poster for The Haiti Poster Project. I wish there was more that I could do, but I’m broke, working around the clock these days. Maybe taking a few minutes to write this post (which no one will probably read, but even if one person takes something away from it . . . ) will allow me to do just a little more.

Like most disasters that get a lot of celebrity support, Haiti seems to have moved back into the collective peripheral. Understandable since there have been numerous other tragedies since: earthquakes, ash clouds, horrific oil spills, tornadoes–wow, maybe this really is the end of days! One of the reasons the earthquake in Haiti was so devastating is because in that peripheral is where the country has almost always resided. It is one of the poorest places on the planet and its structures are incredibly unsound. But that’s just one of many problems there. Too few schools, too few hospitals, corruption, violence, poverty, famine are all things that the people of Haiti have to deal with on a regular basis.

Even before the earthquake, Artists for Peace and Justice was in Haiti doing their part to help eradicate as many of these problems as possible. Their focus is where it’s needed the most: the children. Founded in 2009 by film director Paul Haggis, the organization has been working in Port-Au-Prince to build schools, hospitals, and orphanages. With a group of board members and volunteers that reads like a Vanity Fair Oscar party guestlist (Clint Eastwood, Ben Stiller, Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Demi Moore, and Diane Lane, to name a few), AJP has the means to get people involved. Everyone loves a celebrity, right? If they’re doing something, you want to do it too. Hell, that’s how I found out about AJP last year. I saw some of the people involved and it got me curious. The more I learned, though, the less it mattered who was doing what at the organization. The mission itself, regardless of who’s doing it, is why I’m writing this post. Oh, and here’s the best part: 100% of the donations they receive go straight to Haiti. There’s no overhead, no handling fees, no salaries to cover first. Nothing. Just money sent straight to Father Rick Frechette, APJ’s man-on-the-ground.

Father Rick has been in Port-Au-Price for over 20 years now. He first went there as a priest, but after seeing that what the country needed more than a man of faith was a man of medicine, he studied to become a doctor and has since managed–along with his team–to build clinics and a free pediatric hospital (the only one in the country), as well as schools and an orphanage. It’s truly remarkable.

Sadly, a lot of what Father Rick has managed to erect came unraveled in the earthquake. But with the help of AJP and their received donations, the rebuilding process has begun and I think there are even schools completely finish already, just months after they fell to the ground. Even the most modest buildings in America take longer than that to build. To me that shows the level of dedication these folks have to helping to build a better life for the Haitian children.

I got to thinking about Haiti a bit more consciously today because I saw two news articles involving AJP members and it reminded me that while most of our country (and probably the world) has moved on, they did not. The first article was in the Washington Post, and it spotlighted Demi Moore’s trip to Capitol Hill yesterday. She was there on behalf of her DNA Foundation, which works to put an end to child trafficking and sex slavery around the world. She was recently on Today discussing her trip to Haiti and how now, more than ever, these practices are rampant. In that country, there is a restavec system, which makes it legal for children to be sold into families with more means. But while those parents see this as giving their kids a better life, that’s rarely the case. Instead, they are often forced into child labor and prostitution. Demi is working with AJP to educate the people of Haiti on the subject and to put a ban on the practice.

The other article I came across today was an editorial by Olivia Wilde on The Huffington Post. In it, she talks about her trips to Haiti both before and after the earthquake. The devastation she describes is incredibly heartbreaking. I couldn’t imagine being there and seeing things like the bodies of children wrapped in blankets or the twisted metal of all the crumbled buildings where you know so many people have died. But she also speaks of hope and how despite the trauma these people have gone though, they still maintain optimism and enthusiasm for a better future–especially the children.

Seeing news about Haiti today reminded me that while I pay attention to it, I also kind of put it on the back burner, and that’s not what’s going to help the country. Earthquake or no, this is a country that needs assistance. There are tons of great organizations out there helping–Doctors Without Borders, The Red Cross, Yele Haiti, The Clinton Global Initiative. Artists for Peace and Justice is a good fit for me, but all of them are doing wonderful work. So if you have the means, make a donation. Short of going there yourself and volunteering, this is the best way you can lend a hand.

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