501(c)3 Non-Profit | Empowering Haitian Families

Is “AID” a Four Letter Word?

Obviously not from a numerical sense.   But then you know that wasn’t what I was talking about.

Is AID a bad thing?  Is there such a thing as good AID?   Or does all of it have long term ramifications that cause more problems than it is worth?

Let’s look at four ways that AID is a good thing and then three things to watch out for in terms of AID.

AID is a good thing in times of natural or even man made disasters.  A recent Washington Post article quoted people “on the ground” in Haiti as saying that it could be the end of November before everyone who was hit by Hurricane Matthew gets the AID they need.   Let me make something perfectly clear, that doesn’t mean that by the end of November all will be well.   That means that there have been people without food, clean water, shelter and adequate medical care since October 4.

What sort of AID is it that disaster victims need?   First and foremost, they need:

  1. Food
  2. Water – clean water.10-2-13-tasha-jug
  3. Medical care.
  4. Shelter.  There is a possibility of another tropical storm yet this month.   Can you imagine being stuck under a tarp in a tropical storm?

AID for people in situations like that is not only good, it is mandatory.   We must, as God calls us to, respond to the call and help those whoa re in grave need due to events like that.

AID is a good thing when it brings people together.   When people in the first world see their world expanded due to their efforts to help those in the third world, it brings people together.   When people in Haiti realize that a church in the United States paid for a new house for them, it changes their perspective on the people in the United States.   Is that in and of itself a good reason to support organizations who are providing emergency AID?   No, it’s not.   But  it is a side benefit.

AID keeps families together.   It is pretty much a proven fact that if a family is “stuck” in a hurricane zone with no food, no clean water, no shelter and the chances of that changing on their own efforts are very slim, many of them are going to take the drastic step and bring their child(ren) to an orphanage because at least they won’t die there.   They actually believe they will have a better life in an orphanage – but that’s a topic for another day.

AID saves lives.   There is no question that man of the people who are receiving the AID in southern Haiti would be dead if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of people like my friend who flies for Mission Aviation Fellowship.   He has spent the last month flying people and supplies to places in southern Haiti that aren’t reachable by land at this point.

Now if AID does all of those things, of course, it isn’t a four-letter word, right?  Well, not so fast.  Here are three questions to ask about an AID program as you try to figure out who to support and how they are doing at it.

Are they supporting the local economy?  Are they hiring local workers as much as possible to do the work?   Are they buying as much of the supplies needed locally as they can?   There shouldn’t be anyone flying in to help if they are doing a job that someone local could do.  So, trained medical personnel?  Absolutely, the disaster zone needs way more doctors and nurses than Haiti has available.  Trained heavy equipment operators?  Do they have enough people and machines to be able to clear away the flood damage?  If not, then they need to bring more in.   What about tarps for temporary shelter?   There shouldn’t be a store or warehouse in all of Haiti that is sitting on a surplus of tarps while people are flying in donated tarps.   If you see an organization saying,  “Come down and help us rebuild our facilities!” you should be very concerned.

Instead, they should be saying,  “We need three construction experts who are willing to come down and help a team of Haitians repair our facility in 1 week’s time.  Oh and we were able to locate all of the supplies we need down in Port Au Prince.   It’s going to cost just under $8000 to hire the team of Haitians, purchase the supplies and fly three construction chiefs in from the US who can train and supervise the Haitians.   Oh and that includes a week’s worth of relatively well-paying work for the Haitian construction crew.   Will you donate funds to help us complete this project?

Does it provide a hand up or a handout?  That’s a hard one to know because there are cultural differences and so many nuances in situations. As a general rule, does the help meet the needs spelled out above?  (Food, water, medical care and shelter?)  If it does, then the next question to ask is “does it create a situation where the person receiving the help  sees it as an opportunity to get more the “next time?”  Or do they see it as truly a way to help them bridge the gap during a horrible disaster?

hurricane-matthew-pictureAnd that is one of the extremely challenging parts of Hurricane Matthew.   I was talking to a friend Saturday who works with an organization that works in parts of Southern Haiti.   He said the reports he is getting are that even under the best of situations (which rarely happen in Haiti) it will be 3 to 5 years at a minimum before any substantial amount of agricultural production will be able to resumed.   Why?  Because the tree damage, the crop damage and the livestock damage are so extensive.   Oh and also, did you know that there are no fish in many areas where fishermen used to work in the ocean?

How do you help someone who not only lost everything they own but also lost their source of income for the next number of years?   And how do you do it without making them dependent on that aid when in reality they will need to be for a long time?

Tough questions, tough situations, no easy answers.

Are they being transparent about where the money goes?  One of the things that became evident after the earthquake is that many big NGOs and governments used a bit of fancy accounting to make it look better than it was.    Let me explain, let’s say that a particular country stood up after the earthquake and said,  “these are our neighbors, we feel awful, we are going to pledge $150,000,000 in aid to help them out.”  Sounds great, right?

Well, if it actually happened that way, it would be.   But that country contracts with its own rice farmers – not the ones in Haiti – and buys their rice and hires shipping companies to ship the rice to Haiti and pays for all of that cost out of the $150,000,000.  They then hire a complete staff (of which the majority are not Haitians) and pay them rather large salaries and rent them the nicest places possible so they can administer the program.   Eventually, the rice does get out in the country but a couple of things have happened in that process:

  • A substantial portion of that AID ended up back in the hands of US farmers and US shipping companies and salaries and housing and really nice vehicles for their staff to “administer” the programthe-gm-foundation-se_800x0w.   No Haitian ever saw it.
  • Once the rice hit the “market” in Haiti, it came in at such a low price (if it was even sold rather than given away) that it wiped out the Haitian rice businesses.   This put a substantial number of Haitians out of work.   These are people who needed the income.   They needed it more than ever because their family who lived in Port Au Prince lost everything in the quake and came to live with them.
  • A substantial portion of the money can not be accounted for or at a minimum was never received.

So when you are considering supporting an organization that is working in Southern Haiti, and I urge you to support the needs there, ask yourself these questions.   Ask them these questions.    If they don’t know the answers, that’s okay.   But are they willing to get you the answers?   If they aren’t, be afraid, and look for other organizations to support.

So, is AID a four letter word?   It doesn’t have to be.   But it quite often is.

More coming soon on how you can help and avoid all of the AID risks……

Or at least most of them.




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