How Rotarians can best help Haiti
A church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, damaged by the earthquake. RI President John Kenny, who visited Haiti on 23 February, said the magnitude of the devastation was more than he had anticipated and cannot be captured in pictures. Photo courtesy of District 4060
A lmost two months after a powerful earthquake shook Haiti, signs of devastation are everywhere, underscoring the long road to recovery that lies ahead.
RI President John Kenny, who visited Haiti in late February, urged Rotarians to work with District 7020 's Haiti earthquake relief team coordinating aid to the nation.
"What they are basically saying is, ‘What we need is money,’ so they can buy locally the implements that are needed to help the reconstruction," Kenny said.
More than 250,000 people are estimated to have died in the 12 January earthquake and aftershocks in Port-au-Prince, with another million homeless.
Kenny said he felt it was important to visit Haiti "to show that Rotarians worldwide care about the plight of their fellow human beings, many of whom have lost everything."
He found that the destruction was even greater than he had expected.
"When you see it on television, it's one thing," he said. "But to actually be there and see some of these buildings the way they are and to know that there are people underneath that rubble -- the sheer magnitude you can't quite capture in film."
Accompanying Kenny on his 23 February trip were Past RI Vice President Roberto Valentín; Rotarian Charles Adams, who is coordinating a disaster relief committee in the neighboring Dominican Republic; and Ramiro Sánchez Melo, governor of District 4060 (Dominican Republic).
Past RI Director Barry Rassin and Past District Governor Richard McCombe also made a trip to Port-au-Prince earlier in the month to meet with Rotary leaders involved in relief work. Both are involved with organizing the aid effort in District 7020, which covers Haiti along with 10 other Caribbean nations and areas.
In addition to money, the district is asking for large tents that can serve as classrooms, recreation areas, community centers, or therapy shelters. Nearly all of the schools in the capital were destroyed by the earthquake.
Medical supplies and equipment, classroom materials, and agricultural tools are also needed. While food, water, and temporary shelter remain important, a report by District 7020 leaders notes that work needs to begin on sustainable housing to provide jobs, shelter, and an infrastructure to support residents. Relief workers are also being cautious about handing out free food and water because a substantial part of the economy is based on small farms and businesses, and street vendors who sell produce and other staples. Too many free items can put single-family businesses in trouble and trigger a downward economic spiral.
"The best form of aid that Rotarians can now give is cash to the Rotarians in District 7020 so that it can be used to purchase supplies of food and materials locally, protecting the local economy," Kenny said.
The RI president added that Rotarians must now help in the medium- and long-term recovery, which Rotary is set up to do well.
Rotarian Claude Surena, head of the Haiti Task Force and president of the Haitian Medical Association, is representing District 7020 on the government's Post Disaster National Assistance Committee, focused on long-term recovery.
"The road to reconstruction will be a long one," Kenny said. "But I know that Rotarians will continue to play an effective part all the way."
For more information: