Friends at the epicenters

I experienced an earthquake once, high up in a Tokyo hotel. It scared me—really, really scared me—but the next morning, when I expected everyone to be talking about the earthquake, I heard not a word. Frightening as it was to me, the magnitude was too small be a topic worth raising.

So I should have thought more about the horror of Tuesday, 12 January 2010, when a real earthquake, magnitude 7.0, hit near Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Then, less than two months later, 27 February 2010, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit near Concepcion, Chile,

It becomes terrifyingly real when you realize you have colleagues and students from those places, and you learn you can't be from there without having lost somebody.

My good friend and colleague, Michel DeGraff is from Haiti. My good friend and student, Daniel Rosenberg, is from Chile. So I sent a little money to MIT sites set up for Haitian and Chilean donations. I sent small amounts, but I know about superposition, and I know a lot of small amounts can make a big pile.

Michel has just returned from Haiti. His suggestions for donation are in the next column. Daniel suggests you give via a site set up by MIT and Harvard students which takes you to site set up by MIT for helping Chile.

Or ask one of your friends where they think your donation can do the most good.

6 March 2010

Michel DeGraff on How to Help Haiti

Professor Michel DeGraff has just returned from his native Haiti where he witnessed the devastation first hand. When asked his views on where to donate, he replied as follows.

One well-known NGO that I trust is Partners in Health.

They've had a long (20+ years) and extremely productive presence in Haiti at the grassroots level and they've included Haitians in key positions at all levels of operation. In terms of rebuilding possibilities of Haiti, my trust in Partners in Health was reinforced at a forum I attended at the Harvard Medical School. The forum was introduced by no less than Harvard President Drew Faust. There's a webcast of the forum at the following website—see the link to the upper right with title "Talks@Twelve: Video Available from February 11 Panel Discussion / Harvard and Haiti: A collaborative response to the January 12 earthquake"

Keeping in mind that famous NGOs like Partners in Health (and the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, etc.) are already inundated with earthquake-related donations—and deservedly so—perhaps it makes sense to also think of lesser known outfits.

In that vein, one worthwhile project to support is micro-financing—especially micro-financing by and for poor women. One well known and, as far as I can tell, successful effort is that of the organization Fonkoze.

And here's a recent article about their work.

I've also worked with smaller, but (I think) essential, outfits that work in relatively small and isolated communities that risk being forgotten and decimated since they've long depended on Port-au-Prince for their survival. Yet these previously isolated communities have now become a host for a massive exodus out of Port-au-Prince, even they lack the necessary infrastructure to support this influx of refugees. One of these is on the island at La Gonave: the Matènwa Community Learning Center. The population of La Gonave has, since the earthquake, increased by 20%, and the K-to-8 school in Matènwa is the only one that's currently functioning in La Gonave!

I know the Matènwa school particularly well because my five-year-old son Nuriel's school (the Fayerweather Street School) has a long-term partnership with that school in that community on La Gonave.

And I've been helping a bit with that:

especially on the "Mother Tongue" book project:

So any donation you can make to the Matènwa Community Learning Center (MCLC) will be greatly appreciated. The MCLC has the distinction of being one of the still too-rare schools in Haiti that use Haitian Creole as the main language of instruction. Haitian Creole is Haiti's national language and the only language that most Haitians speak fluently. In Haiti, the widespread practice of using French as the language of instruction is at the root of the Haitian State's massive failure to educate the general population. So any project that promotes a sound education in Haitian Creole is going to be essential to the construction of an Haiti that is better for all.

If you decide to donate to them, just make sure that you specify that the donation is for the "Matènwa Earthquake Relief Fund."

Another organization to add to the list is the Lambi Fund.

10 March 2010