An Open Letter, to Do-Gooders

No photos, no brain dump. Just a plea to those who want to help Hait.

I know your hearts are in the right place. And while this note isn’t intended to reflect the views of the wonderful organization I volunteer for, I’d like for you to know that it comes from good experience on the ground. For those who are late to the game, I’m a volunteer for a disaster-relief organization. We’ve been in Haiti since January 14th, and I’ve just recently returned from three weeks on the ground with my team.

I know everyone wants to do good. Giving is never wrong. But please, please consider the following:

1. HOW you can give.

When you demand that an organization earmark your money for Haiti, it doesn’t help the organization. In fact, it might hinder it, and your funds might never get used if that organization has done what it can in the field. Please consider that the organization you’re giving to likely has been operating in the field for some time, if you’ve done your research, and that they’ll know best how to use your generous donation. There is an interesting movement afoot to pool all funds earmarked for Haiti, and I’m for this cause.

2. WHAT you can give.

Folks, if you’re thinking of going to Haiti to offer emotional succor and nothing else, please consider that there is a lot of real, tangible work to be done. I’m not saying that religious services and prayer aren’t needed, it’s just that there are a lot of well meaning people on the ground already. This is not the place to clog up with wandering missionaries.

Also, if you are taking up a collection, please ensure that you have someone on the ground to receive and distribute the materials. A box of random FA goods addressed “To the People of Haiti” is not going to go anywhere. It is going to sit in the airport warehouse, blocking the way to the goods that can be delivered to actual populations that professional organizations have targeted. Likewise, the pros have the means to distribute.

Haiti’s airport and its shipping warehouses are stretched to the limit. They are not used to managing this much stuff. Part of the backlog has to do with inexperience and simple lack of space. Please don’t let my goods sit out on the tarmac because yours are going to be in the warehouse forever.

Likewise, if you are on the ground on behalf of an organization and planning to “beg and borrow” from organizations already on the ground, please don’t. Please come with either your own aid, ready to operate, or don’t come unless you can get all of your ducks lined up before you come. Orgs already on the ground are also likely already stretched to their limits.

3. WHO you can give.

This sounds weird, but it’s not. Folks with celebrity status: Please stay at home, unless you are planning to come WITHOUT your entourage of 5,000 people. If you really want to do good, please do so from the comfort of your homes, where you can host fundraisers for the organizations that are already cleaning out their coffers and closets for aid. You can do a massive PR push just as well from your couch or from your favorite restaurant.

Your PR people are in the way. Often, they make curious demands of organizations that we are just not in a position to fulfill while we are in the field.

If you are coming quietly, by yourself, and want to just get dirty and help, welcome. No one will recognize you anyway, and your hard work will be appreciated.

That’s it for now.

Thanks,

Your friendly local humanitarian volunteer

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6 Comments ยป

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

6 Responses to An Open Letter, to Do-Gooders
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Evert Bopp, chicagocultural, Yi Shun Lai, Yi Shun Lai, B.K. Dawg and others. B.K. Dawg said: RT @EvertB: RT @gooddirt: final post on #Haiti: some advice to do-gooders, from the field. Some basic dos and don'ts: http://bit.ly/c9zAKH #fb #li […]

  2. Shari M. says:

    Thank you for this…a THOUSAND times, thank you!!

  3. shiatsu dave says:

    great article, sums up my experiences in India. Permission to share with others with “kind hearted” views?

  4. […] An Open Letter to Do-Gooders: I’ve deployed to Haiti twice as part of the ShelterBox Response Team. While I was there I noticed a few things. This letter is obviously not from ShelterBox itself, but it’s my perspective of what people who really want to help in a disaster situation should and shouldn’t do. […]

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