This is another installment in our series of articles on volunteering in Haiti, selected from the articles written for our contest with Helium and GlobalPost. Read our first article selection and more background here.
By James Mallon
The Non profit agency called UniversalGiving provides people the opportunity to use their skills to volunteer in countries where their expertise is urgently required. The organisation also accepts donations, but their real vision is to “Create a world where giving and volunteering are a natural part of everyday life”. This is a practical and personalised form of making a donation; it also means the recipient receives 100% of what is possibly the greatest gift of all, your very own time and commitment.
Two years have passed since a catastrophic earthquake shook and reduced a large part of Haiti into a pile of debris. Most of this rubble still lies in the place where it fell today, as if in honour to the forces of nature and its merciless potency. This disaster obviously attracted the attention of worldwide governments, charitable groups and relief agencies, including UniversalGiving who have several schemes in operation, to help rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure. Some of the volunteering projects available include rebuilding Homes, summer camps for children, Medical supplies, clean water and teaching.
The projects are all equally important; they highlight the basic human needs that people are lacking in this country, with respect to community services and life saving supplies and equipment; items we simply take for granted. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and will need huge financial support and manpower just to resuscitate it back to its impoverished pre-earthquake lifestyle, which most of the population were originally accustomed to. Haiti has been in economic turmoil for years and the arrival of that natural disaster, complicated matters to the extreme.
If I was offered a volunteering opportunity from UniversalGiving, I would request a project teaching children for the reason they are the most vulnerable members of any society. Before the earthquake, there were approximately 380,000 children living in orphanages, which is nearly 10% of the child population in care. After the tremor, it is not fully known how many additional children became orphans, or how many more should be in care, as a result of losing their parents in those tragic circumstances. Irwin Redlener, a representative of Columbia University, said “I think we’ll be facing the most horrific disaster for children in memory.” It was also stressed that rebuilding efforts in such circumstances, often focused too heavily on the infrastructure, instead of communities and schools.
In any disaster situation, what really matters is the stability and welfare of children. The earthquake destroyed most schools in Port–au-Prince and the surrounding regions, so there is an urgent need to rebuild their schools. Prior to the earthquake, only 2% of children completed their school education because they were forced out of the learning process through abject poverty. In theory, elementary education is compulsory, but most children drop out before they reach the fifth grade. Education is meant to be free for children, but only 15% of schools are government controlled, with the remaining private institutions charging tuition fees. Education is simply too costly for most families to support a population of children under the age of 18 years, which accounts for nearly half the population.
Many nations occasionally suffer a temporary form of amnesia, which prevents them remembering that their youth is the future of their country, and that the appropriate investment in their education system should be made. Haiti suffers permanent memory loss, due to a poor political system, corrupt governments and poor administration that places little emphasis on important social community needs. It is very unlikely that even with, or without future tragedies, that this country will pull itself out of the huge abyss of poverty it has been entrenched in for the last couple of centuries.
The latest tragic event has resulted in many children suffering from post traumatic stress; therefore any form of stability will bring an improvement to their lives. Providing them an education will provide a modicum of human attention, which will hopefully bring them some normality while enriching their knowledge through schooling. This would be a sufficient enough reason to provide some free time, which would be a very good cause; however it will take more than a couple of weeks to mend the pain and suffering that these children have endured over the last two years.