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Reports from the Scene in Haiti: NGOs Help Long Recovery

By Susan Carey Dempsey on February 16, 2010One Comment

The onPhilanthropy team has been in touch with numerous aid organizations on the ground in Haiti since the January 13 earthquake. As the trickle of aid came into the country, we heard from many of the staff and volunteers trying to deliver aid in the face of chaos and logistical challenges. One month out, as they move from trying to deliver urgently needed food, water and medical aid into the recovery phase, several of these organizations are helping to keep the world informed by blogging and updating their websites. The worldwide response to the catastrophe was immediate and generous. The long-term recovery and rebuilding of Haiti, however, will entail several phases, during which global attention will wane and focus will be diverted to crises yet to unfold. To the extent that onPhilanthropy can continue to inform our readers, most of whom are highly attuned to and engaged in the process of philanthropic development, we will make every effort to keep the story before you.

Some of these reports came through our CauseWired network of colleagues at NGOs, others through our affiliate Changing Our World’s client organizations. Our immediate response was to post initial reports from the field and to spread the word among our readers about nonprofits who could accept their support to assist the survivors. Amidst the terrible destruction that took over 100,000 lives and leveled massive numbers of structures, a secondary effect was being felt. The relief and development organizations based there – numbering some 9,000, by many estimates – were dealing with their own challenges: collapsed buildings, missing colleagues, lack of power and water, and suddenly, an overwhelming new set of urgent problems to address.

The massive relief effort unfolded in fits and starts, hampered by the severity and extent of destruction in a country with minimal infrastructure to begin with. There were inevitable frustrations and tales of looting and conflict. Nevertheless, aid continues to move through the pipeline, and organizations who have been on the ground are creating the systems they need to assist Haitian communities in starting life anew. Here are some reports from their websites and blogs offering a picture of the slow but determined process.

From the Irish-based international hunger relief and development organization Concern, which has been in Haiti since 1994, frequent updates have been blogged by Programme Officer Susan Finucane and Communications Officer Ed Kenney. From Finucane:

“I had to return to New York last week to ensure that our programmes in other countries were being looked after. It was a difficult decision to make nearly a month after the earthquake. I felt like I was abandoning our team and the country of Haiti. But unfortunately, time waits for no one.

I haven’t had time to sit still since my return. I have been trying to tell people what it was like in Haiti. I am now on the other side of the fence looking into Haiti and trying to keep abreast of what Concern and other like agencies are doing. I remember how laborious the days were and think how tired the team must be, nearly one month on.

The pace is rapid and unrelenting. The stories from the field are hard-hitting and it is with a heavy heart that I read them – Pierre the malnourished orphan brought me to tears. “He didn’t have the strength to grab my finger but his eyes grab my soul and seem to ask why,” my colleague tweeted.

But, the Haiti team don’t complain. They work tirelessly to get the information out to us. For Concern, the distributions continue: water, food, baby tents, latrines and more.

In New York, it is difficult to express just how bad it is in Haiti and how far apart these worlds are.”

From Kenney:

“In a place like this, the supply of food and clean water isn’t steady at the best of times. Add the earthquake, and the hurricane season, which is four months away and the difficulties are obvious.

The job is huge. It’s going to mean finding the displaced, making sure that their needs for water, food and shelter are taken care of, and making sure the host communities do not slide back, that we can preserve some of the development gains of the last several years. The situation is critical and the response begins today.

This has been a recurring source of amazement for me: despite losing almost everything, most of the staff were showing up for work within the first week.

And this is perhaps relatively trivial, but I think also deeply symbolic: they were all arriving sharply dressed. This is despite the fact that many spent the night under the stars or in a tent, commuting great distances.

And it’s not just our staff. Every morning we pass dozens of women and men, dressed in what we might call “business casual”, walking intently downtown. If there are jobs to be had, they are going to find them. This is one untold story. Yes, there are incalculable victims here, but donors and television audiences and recovery planners should be told: the people of Haiti want to go to work, now.”

BRAC USA is an arm of BRAC, the  development organization founded in Bangladesh in 1972  and dedicated to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change in their own lives,  is mobilizing resources to support the relief and rehabilitation efforts working with its two partners in Haiti. In September 2009, Fonkoze, BRAC, BRAC USA, Partners In Health/Zanmi Lasante with support from CGAP, CHF Partners in Rural Development and Linked Foundation launched a Partnership at the Clinton Global Initiative to break the cycle of disease and poverty in Haiti.  BRAC has been providing technical assistance to Fonkoze over the last several years to adapt its program for the ultra poor and has been planning to expand operations on the ground for long-term development.

Fonkoze is Haiti’s largest micro-finance organization with a mission to build the economic foundation for democracy in Haiti by providing the rural poor – mostly women – with the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Fonkoze is national in scope with more than 40 branches throughout Haiti offering a full range of financial services to the rural-based poor, currently reaching more than 225,000 savers and borrowers. To learn more about Fonkoze visit Here’s a brief update on one way they’ve adapted to the disaster conditions:

“We have a very creative and interesting note of interest to share with you today, as the Fonkoze Family continues to make progress on the many challenges facing us.

You may remember that the Bizoton Branch was totally devastated. We knew that early on.

Yesterday a grant of $25,000 was secured to launch an innovative pilot project that will get the branch operating almost immediately.  The plan is to operate Bizoton out of a van that is owned by Alternative Insurance Company (AIC).  It has speakers, it’s covered in advertisements about micro-insurance, and it’s well equipped. Within a few days we’ll be operating the branch out of the van.

In the relatively near term, there are plans to establish the branch in a building location some days of the week, and then, on the other days of the week, operate a “roving branch” in the van in nearby neighborhoods. It will be the first mobile bank branch in Haiti (this is being done in other countries as an actual methodology). The funder is an international Christian media network that will be documenting the mobile branch (van).”

Partners in Health

Zanmi Lasante, the Haitian sister organization of the U.S.-based NGO Partners In Health, is one of Haiti’s largest health care providers, serving a catchment area of 1.2 million in Central Haiti and the lower Artibonite Department. Zanmi Lasante has been working for more then two decades in Haiti to increase access to a full range of high-quality health services and to lift entire communities out of poverty through a range of social support and community development. To learn more about Partners in Health visit

“In the evening, the Zanmi Lasante medical team gathered for lengthy discussions about how we can prepare for the next big challenge — how we can approach discharging patients who have no homes or jobs to go back to, who may have lost most of their families, who have injuries that will require months or years of rehabilitation and physical therapy, who will have to cope with paralyzed or missing limbs and other disabilities.
The next morning we observed the discharge of one patient who is fortunate enough to have a home in this area. Zanmi Lasante had already assigned a community health worker who will visit her every day, had already worked out a plan for physical therapy, had already developed plans for psychological support services, had assessed her need for food and other economic assistance.

Before she was released from the hospital, a doctor, physical therapist, and ajan sante (community health agent) went to check out the home where she will be recuperating. With one leg and one arm badly injured, she will need a wheelchair to move around for several months at least. Her home could hardly be called accessible for the handicapped. It can only be reached by clambering up a steep hill on a narrow, dirt path.
But she is one of the lucky ones. She lives in the Zanmi Lasante catchment area, where she will get daily visits from the ajan sante, regular physical therapy appointments, and follow-up wound treatment at the Cange Hospital. That’s what we do and have been doing in Cange for almost 25 years. Now we have to figure out how to do it on a massive scale for tens of thousands of people who have fled to the areas where we work. And we also have to help the Haitian Ministry of Health obtain the resources and develop and implement plans to provide similar services in Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country.”

From CBM-US, an international organization serving people with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries:

“The Haitian Government raised the confirmed earthquake death toll to 150,000, and fears it could double as reports from outside the capital arrive. And as injury statistics climb toward 200,000, CBM’s mission of near-term emergency relief and long term care for the disabled has never been so critical.

Casualties among our partners on the ground are mounting. Devastation of roads, communications and program site infrastructure abounds. We have learned that:
• CBM Partner Grace Children’s Hospital has suffered significant damanges, but its eye clinic building stands and remains operational.
• The Center for Special Education (Centre d’Education Speciale), which experienced 2 staff casualties, is in desperate need of a new facility to house its students and workers.
• More than 235,000 people have left Port-au-Prince using the free transportation provided by the Government.
• Ready-to-eat meals are needed for the short term to cover food needs.
• The number of people living in temporary shelter sites in Port-au-Prince could be as high as 800,000, according to partners on the ground.
• Water continues to be distributed daily at 115 sites in Port-au-Prince reaching an estimated 235,000 people.
• The number of injured people that need surgical interventions is diminishing, according to the World Health Organization.
• Haiti’s Ministry of Health is revising its emergency response strategy and will gradually shift focus from emergency surgical cases to primary health care. Thousands of amputees will require physical therapy. “


Founded over 70 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest international development agencies in the world, working in 48 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas:

“Jo-Ann leads a group of 30 Plan-trained volunteers to help distribute aid and provide emotional support to children affected by the earthquake.

She leads 30 volunteers who have all been trained in child protection. They assess the children in tent communities, which have sprung up everywhere after the quake, to identify ones that may be vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.

The group, the first of many that Plan Haiti will train, is made up of students who suddenly have no university to attend, and teachers who no longer have a classroom. Many of them have lost everything too, but despite the difficulty of their own situations, they are dedicated to helping children survive the disaster.

When asked how she manages to lead a group that includes men, even men a few years older than her, she is quick to answer. She has been involved with Plan’s youth programs for years and says: “It is not easy but we were all taught as youths that girls have the same rights as boys. I tell them that we are equals.”

The young men may be twice her size, but that doesn’t stop her from hauling around large bags of emergency rations. “I feel like I have the same strength,” she says.

Once life returns to normal she will continue her studies, with the aim of earning a degree in communications. While Haiti has made some progress for girls’ and women’s rights in the last few years, Jo-Ann worries that some of these gains may be lost as life becomes more difficult.

The earthquake has set the development of Haiti back, and Jo-Ann worries that people may begin to rationalize the need to cut back on things like educating their daughters and not sending them to college. However, Jo-Ann knows that if these issues are to be tackled, they must be highlighted.

“Communication is a key to a changing a society,” she says.”

SOS Children’s Villages  Since its founding in 1949, SOS Children’s Villages has expanded to 500 villages in 132 countries. SOS is currently raising over 80,000 children in its villages and providing many education, family strengthening, medical, and outreach programs.
“February 9, 2009: SOS Children’s Villages, a global organization dedicated to the long-term care and prevention of orphaned and abandoned children, today welcomed UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie to its Village in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Ms. Jolie was on-site this afternoon to visit with the Village’s 300 children and families and continued to express her support for SOS’ humanitarian relief efforts in the devastated country.

During her stay, Ms. Jolie took the time to visit two SOS families who have each taken in four children (all brothers and sisters in both cases) who were amongst the 33 children involved in last week’s detainee crisis. Ms. Jolie also showed great interest in learning about SOS Children’s Villages’ emergency relief program to provide 30,000 Haitian children with food, medical supplies and treatment as well as trauma therapy through its network of community centers. “

Catholic Relief Services, the official humanitarian aid agency of the American Catholic community:

“Orphans Lives Shaken by Haiti Quake

The orphans at Foye Ti Zanmi Jezi (Little Friends of Jesus) were crammed in the TV room watching a documentary on the lives of children in France when the earthquake struck. On the first violent shake the older children grabbed the younger ones and carried them down the flight of stairs that led to the open courtyard below. Huddled together the children, ages 3-19, watched as the two-story structure bucked under the pressure of the 7.0 magnitude temblor.

In less than a minute the orphans lost everything. Their bedrooms—gone. Their schoolhouse—gone. Their indoor kitchen—gone. Yet the group’s quick-thinking teenagers assured all 52 children survived.

These days they are sheltered by the shade of a large Lilac tree as they play on the concrete courtyard that remains. Small two-piece puzzles, cards, a Monopoly set, and a plastic xylophone, on which they repeatedly pluck out the same refrain of Frere Jacques, “are you sleeping, are you sleeping? Brother John.” are the toys with which they idle away the hours.

The four Missionary Servants of the Sacred Heart sisters try to keep the children occupied: they sing songs and play games to distract them from memories of the earthquake. But when night falls, the chatter begins.

They sleep in two large canvas tents or under the cover of a starlit sky. Their numbers have swelled to 90. Concerned neighbors and parents with no homes or prospects of work have left an additional 38 children for safekeeping. This improvised camp is no YMCA slumber party. Each night the sisters spray the air with clouds of mosquito repellent to ward off malaria.

After evening prayers, those who are able, find a spot in the tents, while the others make their beds on the trampled lawn. During the day there are no tears, no stories of life pre- and post-quake, but when it comes time to sleep the answer to “are you sleeping, are you sleeping?” would be a resounding no.

The children talk late into the night, whispering softly from makeshift bed to makeshift bed, perhaps recounting how life has changed in just a few weeks.

CRS partnered with the Little Friends of Jesus orphanage long before the quake and will continue to care for the orphans in the months and years to come. On a sultry Saturday afternoon CRS arrived with 100 food kits—enough to feed the orphans a 2,000 calorie diet for 10 days.
Sister Elizabeth set up tables and wooden desks etched with the names of former students. She gathered the children underneath the cooling breeze of the lilac tree for an impromptu picnic. The dislodged corrugated tin roof flapped loudly on its walls as the sisters and CRS driver Rubens Dervilus handed out boxes of juice, crackers, granola bars, and chocolate.

Temporary shelter is next on the list for the orphans, followed by the re-opening of the school. CRS will continue to walk with the sisters as we help to rebuild the Little Friends of Jesus. The hope is that in time the children will once again sleep soundly and resume the childhood that was taken from them by three violent shakes of the earth.”

Susan Carey Dempsey, Editor-in-Chief of onPhilanthropy, is Managing Partner of CauseWired Communications, a consulting firm advising nonprofits on effective communications, strategy and development. She can be reached at

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