Imagine wondering how you’re going to feed 32 children every week? As far as the mission of his charity is concerned, Carlo’s is quite simple: care for the needs of the children who call the SMDT orphanage in Port-Au-Prince their home. The orphanage, which stands for Sant Mete Men Pou Defann Dwa Timoun or Hands Together to Defend the Right of Children, was founded by a pastor a number of years ago, but he was killed in the 2010 earthquake and the building was destroyed. Carlo’s mum took over, and Carlo has now stepped in as Director.
We’re here representing Global Giving, but we already know this is going to be a very different kind of visit. In contrast to the larger organisations we’ve so far evaluated, talking to Carlo about issues such as governance or internal communications wouldn’t make much sense. I’m even nervous talking to him about social media, as how could this ever be a priority for him above the day-to-day care of the children?
Carlo understands though. He understands the long-term potential of crowdfunding networks such as Global Giving, where the International Disaster Volunteers raise money on his behalf. He understands the power of external communications, of Facebook, of Twitter, in bringing in more awareness, opportunities and funds for his organisation.
He explains that he wants to make the orphanage more sustainable. One of his ideas – and currently a project on Global Giving – is to buy a bus to take the children to school, saving money on their transport costs but also renting the vehicle locally to raise extra funds.
He also tells us that he needs to find a new building for the orphanage in the next year, the lease of the current residence nearly expired and rent climbing to an unaffordable rate.
When we’re introduced to the children, it’s difficult not to hand Carlo the sum of my savings on the spot for what little help it would do. They sing us a welcome song when we first arrive and for the next hour or so we’re swamped by children, clamouring for their pictures to be taken, hanging from our limbs and tugging the cameras out of our hands. At one point I’m handed a baby, which is quite an unfair thing to do to someone at my delicate child-rearing age. I hold her for about an hour, transfixed.
It’s worse on the Saturday of our week, where Carlo takes us on a field trip with the children to the beach. We’re picked up from the Communitaire by the whole busload, and climb aboard to a sea of grinning faces, their arms aloft, motioning us to sit with them. I find a place with two young girls, looking earnestly forwards and clutching their swimming bags. One of them is about three year’s old.
The day is an endless procession of piggy backs in the sea, requested frequently and enthusiastically by the weaker swimmers of the group. I nearly drown several times, overburdened under the weight of their sheer eagerness. Later, I share my towel with a number of toddlers that come dripping towards me from the sea. One little girl sits on my lap contentedly for half an hour and helps me take pictures of the dramatic coastline.
Experiences like these put the overplayed debates about charities and transparency in the UK into perspective. Carlo has the simplest and most powerful of fundraising asks: give these 32 children, many of whom lost their whole families in the devastating 2010 earthquake, a chance for a life.
One of the things I love about Global Giving is it gives donors direct access to these kinds of projects; locally-run, grassroots charities where even the smallest donations can make a phenomenal difference.
We visited another of these projects during our time in Haiti, the English in Mind Institute, which holds English classes for the community. Brunel, who runs the school, started the project after the earthquake when he realised the huge opportunity learning English could give local people. Another organisation we visited, Rebuild Globally, is a not-for-profit making sandals out of car tyres in Port-Au-Prince, and which subsidises an educational programme on the premises. You should check out the sandals by the way, they’re really great and you can order online, which I’m planning to do when I’m next settled in one place.
Hopefully, by helping these organisations better understand the power they already have in all of their stories – of the children at the orphanage, the students at the English school – they will be able to build up an even larger international donor base, through Global Giving as well as through the use of social media. Since my time there I’ve already seen Carlo doubling his social media posts, giving colourful details about the children at the orphanage, posting pictures of their visit to the museum and generally giving day-to-day updates on what’s happening in Port-Au-Prince.
This is what Global Giving is all about: helping donors to give directly to projects in the field and putting money into the hands of people like Carlo and Brunel who know the needs of their community and how to go about addressing them.
>> More on the English in Mind Institute
Both of these projects are supported by the International Disaster Volunteers, who helped coordinate our visits. They help charities around the world in areas that have suffered from major disasters and provide volunteers. You can find out more about them here.