SOUTHBURY — Thirteen months ago we all were humanitarians. We raced to our pocketbooks and wrote checks to the American Red Cross, UNICEF, our churches. Anything to help Haiti. Images of homeless, crying orphans tugged at our heart strings.
But now, 403 days later, we’ve grown numb to the devastation that is Haiti. Just like we've grown numb to suicide bombers in Pakistan, the intolerance in Uganda and the flooding in Australia. Partly because we wonder where our donations went. Americans raised $1.4 billion dollars for Haiti relief and according to Charity Navigator charities report spending just over a third of that money.
According to a report by the charity Oxfam, nearly 1 million people are still displaced one year after the earthquake. Only 15 percent of the temporary housing has been built, less than 5 percent of the 20 million cubic meters of rubble has been cleared and few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been built. The money isn’t making it there as quickly as we’d like, but relief agencies seem to have a plan.
Save the Children, for instance, provided food to hundreds of thousands of Haitians immediately after the earthquake, provided medical services to more than 165,000 children and adults and helped reunite 1,100 families. But they still have a lot of work to do, which is why they’ve made a five year commitment to helping Haiti. Since donations have slowed, though, Save the Children is forced to make their money last until 2015.
Same story with other aid groups.
“Think of what happened to New Orleans and how more than five years later there’s still dedicated hour-long TV shows to the fact that so much still hasn’t been done,” said Kyn Tolson, development director for Outreach to Haiti, a ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich. “Now put that template on Port-au-Prince…much was needed before the earthquake, and much is needed now.”
It should be noted that Americans raised $3.3 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief.
The Haitian flag rises above a tent city in Haiti/Tracy Simmons
Tolson has traveled to Haiti four times since the earthquake and says, though it may seem dismal, progress is being made slowly but surely.
“You can see a difference, cleanup is occurring, a lot of systems have to be built for the first time,” she said. ” We want to make it better than before.”
And she’s right. I was in Haiti in December and was pleased to hear the sound of construction crews at work. If you want to know where your Haiti relief donations went, ask. Don’t stop giving. Organizations like Charity Navigator, the American Institute of Philanthropy and Reliefweb are dedicated to following your dollar. Take advantage.
My theory is to give locally. Give to organizations you can trust, like your church. But there’s a catch – churches aren’t required to make their financial records public. So, choose a religious organization that’s willing to reveal their audit reports.
One church I’ve reported on before and can vouch for is Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Southbury. The church hasn’t forgotten about the sickness, the homelessness, the starvation and the heartbreak that plagues Haiti.
On April 30 the parish will continue its mission to bring hope to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation by hosting Hoof it for Haiti, a 5K road race in Southbury. St. Elizabeth’s Seton in Rocky Hill will host its third annual Hoof it for Haiti on Sept. 24.
“The goal is to raise money and also to promote awareness about the needs of the Haitian people and to advocate for social justice,” said Race Director Christine Granja. “I think it’s important that we always keep them in our thoughts because there’s still a lot of work to be done in rebuilding the country.”
Students play at a school in Haiti/Tracy Simmons
In 2009, under the Outreach to Haiti twinning program (then called Haitian Ministries for the Diocese of Norwich) Sacred Heart partnered with Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish in Grand Boulage, a small parish about 90 minutes north of Port-au-Prince.
Tolson explained that the twinning program partners churches from the Archdiocese of Hartford and the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince so the parishes can work together and enhance their ministries.
“It’s a serious commitment on both parts,” she said. “They (the churches) really get to know each other.”
Seventy percent of Haiti’s infrastructure was damaged in the 2010 earthquake, including Our Lady of Sorrows. The priest’s room (no rectory for this rural parish) was destroyed and he’s since been staying with parishioners who welcome him in. Since the quake, the church was damaged further after a fire ripped through part of the remaining building. The money raised from the 5K will go toward restoring the church.
Early registration for joggers is $15, and registration on race day is $20. Registration is $10 for walkers and $5 for children. Sponsorships are also available. The race will begin and end at Sacred Heart, 910 Main St. in Southbury. For information visit www.hoofitforhaiti.org.
And, like Rev. Joseph Donnelly, rector of Sacred Heart said, the 5K is a great way to enter the Spring season.
So, lace up your sneakers, get out your checkbook and race to Haiti’s rescue.
This column, CT@Prayer, also appeared on CtWatchdog