Haiti: What Can I Do to Help?

What can I do to help? It is a question countless people are asking in the days following the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Rosalinda, the American Airlines agent who checked me in at the Miami airport yesterday, summarized many people's distrust of emergency relief efforts since Hurricane Katrina. She said, "With these big disasters, you just do not know who trust. So I am giving money with the rest of the staff here to Haitian co-workers so they can send it to their families."

I agree. It is important that we stick with what we know. At the MAC AIDS Fund, the foundation I oversee, we have spoken to the organizations that we fund in Haiti over the past several days and have decided to give $500,000 to those groups - the Clinton Foundation, Partners in Health, and GHEISKO - for their disaster relief work because we know them and we are familiar with their high quality work. The organizations are all are working to deliver emergency medical care, food and supplies to countless victims. They are organizing logistics to get the medical staff and supplies needed for setting up field hospital sites in Port-au-Prince, where they can triage patients, provide emergency care, and send those who need surgery or more complex treatment to hospitals and surgical facilities in the Central Plateau and Artibonite regions of Haiti. They are also arranging for private planes of medical supplies, tents, blankets, water and other essential items, as well as experienced medical volunteers, to be brought into Port-au-Prince and the Dominican Republic in the next several days.

During the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, I was on the 18th floor of the Federal Courthouse Building and have vivid memories of the disaster. Frankly, I thought I was going to die as the building swayed (it was on rollers, which this New Yorker had never heard of) as the filing draws flew out of the cabinets and clamored to the floor. I also remember having to slowly walk down 18 flights as the building -- which was visibly cracked in the stairwell -- continued to sway with aftershocks. After we got out of the building, I walked up Market Street and someone who had a radio told me the Bay Bridge had fallen down and the Marina was on fire. I will never forget the sense of disarray and fear I felt that day and for a good time thereafter.

Unlike Haiti, we had few lives lost in the San Francisco earthquake and we had healthcare, transport and other public works systems intact to help the citizens cope. We also had fairly quake-resistant buildings and since then, the local government has poured billions into rebuilding the city so it can weather whatever quakes await in the future. Sadly, until we are able to close the vast wealth gaps all over the globe, natural disasters will continue to have a profoundly disproportionate impact on the people who have the least resources to cope with their aftermath - the world's poor.

What can you do? You can give money to a group you trust. You can volunteer with a local Haitian American group or other groups through houses of worship and humanitarian groups to aid Haitian families and communities in need. You can also start to think about how to truly eradicate global poverty. Those of us fortunate enough to share in the world's wealth are the only ones who can determine how to justly spread it. For, just like donations, the dialogue that moves us toward true change starts small and can add up to something far bigger.