I have a strange and accidental habit of visiting the sites of major disasters. In 2005 I went to Sri Lanka, just six months after its coasts were desecrated by the tsunami. In 2011, I spent a week in Christchurch, New Zealand not long after the town was completely destroyed by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. And this year, Haiti was chosen as part of my Global Giving field evaluation itinerary, five years after it lost nearly 100,000 lives to an earthquake of its own.
I also had the great opportunity earlier this year to be able to work at the offices of the Disasters Emergency Committee in London, supporting them with social media as they launched the Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Although I may have been close to disaster sites in the past, this was the first time I was able to see the relief effort first hand, from the incredible outpouring of generosity from those across the world to the amazing life-saving work taking place out in the field.
But what was so interesting about the fortnight I spent in Haiti was finding out what happens after that incredible first response; what the situation is years later when the DEC and similar organisations have moved on to other appeals and the majority of aid has dried up, despite the ongoing problems the country still faces as a direct result of the initial disaster.
I was lucky enough to stay in Haiti Communitaire during my time in Port-Au-Prince, a hub for development workers and test-ground for new projects and ideas. Set up just after the earthquake in 2010, it is committed to creating sustainable regeneration and working with communities on the road to recovery. Even the accommodation and toilets provided on site are examples of eco-housing solutions.
But the best thing about the Communitaire is it brings together an extraordinary collection of bright, passionate and extremely inspirational people. In the short amount of time we stayed there, I met dozens of these committed individuals, many giving up their lives to come to Haiti to use their skills and devote their time towards making a difference.
One had just deferred a year of university to continue spending time supporting a charity there. One couple had just moved their whole lives over from the US to help build sustainable homes. One woman was researching how to use 3D printing to help those in disaster zones get what they need. She even gave us a 3D printing lesson and a sneak preview of her upcoming TED talk, which can be found at 03.19.00 in this video. I also met another group who invested in a coffee company, at no personal gain, to generate jobs and an income for those in the area.
I was so touched by the generosity of these people, who are dedicating their lives to help, often with little personal connection to the place. They’ve simply seen the struggle and hardship in what is the world’s second most malnourished country and been moved to do something.
Whilst it might have little support from the world at large now people have other disaster zones to focus on, Haiti has not been abandoned. There’s an army of committed development workers here spending their best efforts helping locals on the road to recovery and prosperity. And I hope my visit with Global Giving has made some small contribution to this task.