Monday, January 18, 2010

A quick PSA on charity and the Haitian earthquake (by skylanda)

Give, and please.

Americans are tenacious defenders of the notion that charity can somehow replace justice. This does not make us particularly popular around the world, but it does make us notably generous when the lightening bolt of sudden tragedy unleashes from the sky and strikes down at one unfortunate spot or another on the surface of this tragedy-rife everyday planet. Now is not a particularly opportune time to quibble about what caused greater morbidity and mortality: the shaking of the earth, or the entrenched poverty of a nation put down by years of colonialism, post-colonialism, and rank racism that makes the difference between a seven-point-something earthquake in California that typically causes the death of a few hundred and a similarly scaled shaker in Haiti that causes the death of a tens of thousands. Now is just the time to open the wallet and give.

So, a quick PSA on the topic of giving at times like these: every time an earth-shaking tragedy strikes (9/11, the Boxing Day tsunami, Katrina, this earthquake), involved NGOs open up their fundraising drives for specific donations to the cause. And donations pour in for that cause alone. Everyone wants to imagine their ten dollars going to that specific Haitian orphan, that particular New York firefighter, that exact stranded family on a New Orleans roof. It's noble. It helps the cause. It brings in the cash.

I am here to beg you, please, when you give a donation, to whomever you give: check that box that says “wherever most needed.” Every time disaster of this nature strikes, people rush to give to the specific cause, and NGOs like the Red Cross (with its internal and international branches) see their coffers empty out of donations to the causes that continue day and night regardless of what’s happening in Haiti: everyday floods and fires on US soil, the ongoing catastrophe in Darfur, routine training of citizens and providers in basic and advanced life support. These things do not stop because Haiti got hit; but the donations do. The Red Cross got crucified in the press after 9/11 for diverting an excess of funds from well-meaning people from direct 9/11 causes into programs that suffered because of the diversion of routine donations into the 9/11 fund; these programs continued to be vital regardless of what happened in New York that day, just as they continue to be vital no matter what happened in Haiti this week.

Please, please imagine that your donation is going where it is needed. Some will go to Haiti. Some will go to Darfur. Some will go to the family down the street who will be sheltered by the Red Cross when their house burns in the middle of the night. It’s all good, ya know.

If you’re thinking of donating, please put Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health at the top of your list. PIH has been doing ground-breaking grassroots health care in Haiti for a couple of decades now (particularly around complex long-term HIV and TB care), and they are probably the best equipped NGO to understand the landscape of need on the ground in Port-au-Prince and the highlands. They aren’t as flashy or known as the Red Cross, but they are among the best at pulling communities together to the task at hand. And an immense, terrible task it will be in these coming months.

Cross-posted from my infrequently-updated blog, Loose Chicks Sink Ships.