*edit*: Just so you are aware, I will be paying all my own costs and expenses. Any funds raised will go directly to Haven for building materials, none will pay for me to travel or be housed.
This is my editorial from today's Cork Independent. I've decided to go to Haiti in April to write about Haven's work there and the recovery process from the earthquake. Any support you can offer - even by passing this blog post on to friends - is welcome.
With all the problems facing Irish people these days, it was heartening to see the turnout at the Haven Volunteer evening held in Jury’s on Tuesday night. Haven had hoped for about 50 volunteers from Cork, and approximately 200 people showed up in the hope that they could do something to help the devastated island nation.
The Irish-based NGO, founded by Corkman Leslie Buckley with the help of businessman Denis O’Brien, is relatively new to the development world but has already built hundreds of houses for rural Haitians.
Last week’s earthquake – and yesterday’s aftershock – presents the UN and the numerous NGOs already operating in Haiti with some huge challenges. With a population of about nine million on an area smaller than Munster, Haiti is already known as something of a disaster zone, with widespread poverty, political instability and a poor record on education and literacy. But, as Karl Louis tells us in this week's exclusive interview, Haiti has not always been this way. A proud country with a history of leading the way for others to follow, it is on its knees. And the historical similarities between Ireland and Haiti are legion.
While many people are sceptical about short-term volunteering projects, it’s clear that Haven’s week away is not a holiday camp. Volunteers get up about 5am and work solidly throughout the day. Every volunteer is required to raise about €4,000. €2,000 covers their costs, and the rest is spent on essential building materials. Building a small house in Haiti costs about $3,000, so each volunteer genuinely contributes. While Haven will have two Build It weeks this year (April and October), the NGO is involved in Haiti year round, enabling local people by giving them building skills and tools, and, in their own words, ‘building communities’ and not just houses.
However, the main focus of the volunteer drives is awareness-building; one volunteer is like a one-person PR machine and will do untold work in encouraging others at home to volunteer and to donate to the NGO’s essential work. It also gives Irish people an insight into the reality of a developing country and the work of development organisations.
The plight of Haiti following last week’s earthquake is truly overwhelming. Development organisations and security personnel from all over the world and the UN are facing enormous difficulties in distributing the aid that’s there.
From Cork, in the immediate aftermath, there’s not a huge amount we can do about the logistical problems on the ground. But what we can do – in a spirit of shared humanity and of solidarity with a country with so many historical similarities – is give.
While we are all facing our own problems - with money, job security, floods and the many individual difficulties people have – not one of us is facing the same ordeal as the survivors of the Haiti earthquake.
Traumatised, grieving, terrified of another earthquake and dispossessed of what homes and belongings they had, their plight is difficult even for us to comprehend.
For now, we must each do our best to contribute, to help feed, clothe and treat the survivors. Irish people have a proud record in this area and will not be found wanting in this case.
Longer-term, the disaster raises questions about international relations that are far beyond the scope of this newspaper; questions about why Haitian infrastructure was left to decay so much; why the country is suffering due to massive international debts despite commitments to cancel debt; and whether there should be an international emergency reaction team to provide for events of this type.
Longer-term, Haiti will need leadership and investment on a huge scale.