[UPDATE 1/14/10 6:15 p.m.
David Miller, Senior Editor of Matador, commented earlier today, "We’ve now added prominent donation links at all relevant posts." Sweeeeet.
He also says, on behalf of Julie Schwietert, "1) Matador will not be taking volunteers to Haiti who are unqualified or unskilled as medical professionals and/or proven disaster relief. 2) We are working in direct concert with [Haitian] consul in NYC and established orgs to determine their needs and to WAIT for their direction before even considering making a move. We DO NOT want to contribute to chaos, be a burden, or get in way.” Double sweeeeet. THANKS GUYS.]
An Open Letter to the Matador Network re: Haiti, for any untrained people considering travel to Haiti.
1) Can you please include prominent donation links to qualified organizations in each of your Haiti updates? Today’s post on Matadortv.com has such a list, but besides the link to the Haitian Consulate, the four other Haiti posts do not. This will help involve people who are not considering travel to Haiti.
2) Urging people to collect goods, while well-intentioned, creates a less-than-efficient response. Such collection is not informed by on-the-ground needs. The goods are bought at retail in consumer packaging, without the purchasing power of an established aid organization. $10 of goods at retail vs. the same at wholesale is a big difference. Shipping costs for such goods are exorbitant in comparison to goods acquired centrally. A deluge of unsolicited goods takes staff away from more critical tasks (known in aid circles as “the second disaster”). Please see this link for more info: http://www.disasternews.net/news/article.php?articleid=2953
3) A plane of trained or semi-trained professionals would have a greater impact than a plane of well-intentioned but unskilled volunteers. I read about the lists you’re working on, so it seems you may be focusing your priorities on bringing qualified people from within the Matador Network to Haiti. I hope so. Every additional person who arrives puts a greater strain on the already limited food and water supplies. The plan to only take people with set volunteer placements is a great idea. Will you have a set packing list, ensuring that as many cubic feet of space as possible are dedicated to relief supplies? How will you communicate with the volunteers if they get placed around a variety of groups? Are you arranging transportation home, or even back to the Dominican Republic?
4) The cash value of an untrained person’s trip to Haiti would go much further if directed — right now — to an organization already on the ground. Consider the costs of transportation to the airport, consumption of only $10/day of food and supplies, the silent costs of personal prep materials (big boxes of Imodium, sunscreen, TP, a new hat). Add in the lost earnings of two plus weeks of work (from $400 to $2,000 and up). There’s a lot of money invested in each person’s trip, and helping to direct even a fraction of the sum to an efficient, trained group would have a bigger and more immediate impact.
5) In the November 2009 issue of American Psychologist, Dr. Michael Wessells (winner of the APA’s International Humanitarian Award) writes,
“Parachuting refers to the arrival of Western or outside ‘helpers’ who have ongoing relations with neither relief efforts or agencies nor the affected population. Parachuting creates a number of problems. For example, it uses scarce resources such as food and water that might better go to affected people or to seasoned humanitarian responders.
“…Parachuters cause harm in myriad other ways, such as by using culturally inappropriate methods; by violating security precautions;…by providing short-term support that raises expectations and leaves people feeling abandoned when the parachuters leave; and by failing to coordinate their work with related efforts.
“Parachuting is based on a misconception that outside psychologists [and other paraprofessionals] should assume a role of providing direct services. Such a role is inadvisable, especially in light of their general lack of knowledge of the culture, sociohistoric context, and current situation.” LINK
You have done so much already, but I have rushed this email to you because I have to voice my concern. You have a considerable reach within the travel community and I want to argue for the most efficient use of our collective resources as the situation in Haiti develops. You are doing way more than anyone I know, and sincerely, thank you.
Disclosure: I have no direct personal connections to nor interest in any aid groups. One friend retired from Doctors Without Borders, and I have friends of friends at Partners in Health. I have donated to Direct Relief International’s Haiti Earthquake fund.
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