Like anyone who’s seen news of the earthquake in Haiti, I’ve been both shocked and saddened by the devastation. I visited Haiti at the end of October and spent the majority of my time in Port au Prince. I met with several of the agencies in the capital who are now completing emergency work; saw many of the buildings that are now lying in ruins; and met with local Haitians who lived and worked in the capital.
Although my time in Haiti was short, it didn’t take long to see the challenges many of the residents of Port au Prince faced. Overcrowding, poor infrastructure, corruption, food insecurity, and lack of jobs were just some of the barriers before the earthquake. Now, clean water, emergency health services, shelter and food are life-saving priorities. The immediate international response has been impressive, with governments, aid agencies and the military providing support and others donating generously to charities. Of equal importance is the resilience of Haitians in the face of hurricanes, food shortages and political instability, and now this most recent disaster. In any emergency, it’s the local population who come together to help fellow neighbors and community members before international assistance can be mobilized.
However, having been in Sri Lanka shortly after the 2004 tsunami, I saw firsthand not only the devastation and the immediate aid response, but also the effects of relief efforts not being tied to development programs. Aid initiatives overlapped and resources were used ineffectively, media interest in the tsunami decreased and many of the underlying factors that fueled poverty and conflict remained.
Prior to this week’s earthquake there was no shortage of development programs in Haiti–it’s Canada’s second largest recipient of aid after Afghanistan. UN agencies and peacekeepers, national and international actors and a broad network of faith-based organizations were all implementing programs. Ultimately, the success of the earthquake response should be measured not only in the immediate achievements of the rescue operation, but how the attention, funds and support that go toward the earthquake are able to address the deeper issues of poverty and political instability.
-Steve Cumming, International Programs Director
Following Hurricane Ivan in 2006-2007 in Grenada, YCI worked with local partners and young people to provide psycho-social support to youth and implement reconstruction projects. To aid in the hurricane reconstruction efforts, volunteers also participated in the following activities:
- Mt. Pleasant Community Centre – With a combined effort of 220 labour hours, volunteers plastered walls, built a retaining wall and assisted with general construction of the centre, one of Carriacou’s viable hurricane shelters .
- Grensave Summer Camp – Volunteers worked with local children and counsellors organizing a variety of activities to educate the young campers on disaster preparedness, hurricane ingredients, promoting youth empowerment and team-building exercises. There were art therapy lessons and together the group created and executed a hurricane workshop module.
- Program for Adolescent Mothers (PAM) – Volunteers renovated an existing room in the Mt Pleasant Community Centre to serve as a local childcare centre for young mothers attending PAM classes. Volunteers also worked to identify participants, create relevant curriculum, and deliver workshops and professional development for PAM staff members.
YCI is appealing for funds to support local organizations in Haiti to provide essential emergency services and support to children and youth affected by the disaster. Raise your hands up for Haiti here.