Many of us have been glued to our television sets this week watching the earthquake disaster in Haiti. It is incomprehensible that the kind of devastation and damage could take place so close to the United States where we have so much. We hear from television anchors day in and day out how Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere. Some of the news people are saying that the damage would not have been as extensive if the buildings had been engineered and built to be earthquake proof. That may or may not be, as the United Nation’s area was completely devastated. It was not hardened like a U.S. embassy, but it wasn’t a poverty building, either. They lost many people including the secretary-general’s main Haiti envoy.
Having seen the devastation firsthand after Hurricane Katrina, I know that it takes years to rebuild. Right after Hurricane Katrina, the Methodist bishop of Mississippi said it would be 10 days of emergency, 100 days of relief and 1,000 days of recovery. Most of what the bishop said has been true, although it has taken more than 1,000 days of recovery. The Hurricane Katrina disaster happened in our country, with relative wealth compared to Haiti. It is very clear that the emergency phase is going to be more than 10 days. The emergency phase will be more like 100 days. Relief will take many months. Recovery will take many years.
Many of us know how very long it has taken to rebuild one small patch of New York after Sept. 11. We know about the stories of loss and pain that families have had to endure. People in Haiti have to attend to rescuing who they can and, at the same time, deal with loss of friends and family. Having to function at that level, given the amount of loss, is a testament to human strength.
Because of how busy our lives are, we may forget Haiti relatively quickly. Having witnessed on a month-by-month basis recovery of our Gulf Coast, it will need concentrated effort and giving by many of us who have resources and those of us who don’t have many resources at all. What is different about this disaster, because of the poverty, is that every little bit helps.
Getting people food, shelter and clothing is one piece of the current emergency work. Helping people to recover emotionally is something that is not being talked about. Post-Katrina, it has taken years for emotional recovery. The Lutheran Church came to the Gulf Coast the summer after the storm and made a huge difference in children’s lives. They sponsored Camp Noah, which encouraged children to tell their stories to a stuffed animal they had chosen. The process of telling their stories allowed the staff at the camp to be able to find children who needed immediate intervention. Most of the staff were not trained in mental health or caring individuals from the community. It was relatively easy to find children who needed help and intervention to get their lives back on track.
What concerned Americans need to do now, is to raise money and send supplies, clothing and whatever else is needed. What needs to happen in the long run is that Americans, who care about our brothers and sisters in Haiti, come up with creative and long-term solutions. From a Camp Noah type of intervention to helping develop quick housing and perhaps micro-enterprise solutions, we need to develop ideas that can help the Haitian people. We have so many people out of work in this country that perhaps there is a way of taking some of their time and energy and having them spend time in Haiti developing the kinds of solutions that can make a difference.
Almost every faith-based group in this country has a volunteer effort. Unemployed people with skills can offer their help. Families can give up their vacations to help in Haiti, and even little children can have their lemonade stands send a few dollars to our southern neighbors. Americans are compassionate. With our understanding that the Haitian recovery is going to take years of our help and ingenuity, we can show the world how great America really is.