Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti... and thoughts on relief and development

I know that I said my next posting would be on my personal millennium development goals - and I've been pondering how to do that exactly (it's not as easy as you might think!)- but I'm going to defer that until "next time".

Like most of you, I can't help thinking about the unimaginable horrors in Haiti following the massive earthquake on January 10/10 and numerous serious aftershocks. I'm receiving emails - a dozen or more every day - from agencies who are gathering money to help finance the emergency relief efforts in Haiti. I stopped to pick up a few bananas at an Irving gas station yesterday and was asked if I would donate a dollar for the Haiti emergency relief fund and Irving will match that dollar. Our Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is also offering matching grants, up to $50 million, for Haiti. Other groups are organizing fund raising events - from bake sales to benefit concerts - all to help this country which has been touted as the poorest country in the western hemisphere - and that was BEFORE this latest crisis!

So all this fundraising sounds well and good and it really is encouraging to see people respond to the very obvious and critical needs of this battered country. But I can't help wondering if massive injections of money to Haiti at this point is the best response we can give. Yes - Haitians need food and water and medical care, NOW. But there are obviously going to be longer term needs too. And how many points of entry can there be for funds to be used effectively? How can funds be most strategically administered in a country with a severely crippled infrastructure? Will emergency aid, literally dropped into Haiti, cause more problems than it solves? These are not rhetorical questions. And, given persistent and growing concerns about climate change, is there going to come a point when some places in the world are deemed to be "uninhabitable" and rather than rebuilding, efforts will be on relocating survivors to other places? Are we prepared to even think about that?

If we have money to give - and I seriously hope that you do - is this the best option? The best way to give?

PLEASE - before I write another word and before you read the rest of this posting - I want you to promise that you will NOT use this posting as a justification for holding onto any cash that you have thought about donating to Haiti or some other aid or development fund. Seriously. I'm in no way suggesting that Haiti is not a worthy cause. But the fact is, Haiti was a worthy cause BEFORE the earthquake and Haiti is but one of hundreds of worthy causes if we want to invest in initiatives aimed at reducing misery.

The fact is, charitable giving is taking a hit with the current economic uncertainties (as if there are ever "certainties" when it comes to the economy!). At Canadian Baptist Ministries, for example, giving to The Sharing Way (our relief and development fund) is down and sadly, innovative and successful programs that we've supported for years are in danger of being abandoned for lack of funding. These are the programs that rely on consistent, monthly - often small - donations. You won't hear about them in the news and most of them don't get matching grants. They rely on our faithfulness month in and month out. And the sad news is that every time an individual or church decides that they can no longer afford to support these programs, the ball rolls back. Hope - for real people - may dim or even be extinguished. As I've written before, hope is an amazing thing and it's often incredibly resilient, but it's a tragedy when hope is kindled through some innovative program and then funding for that program is cut before the program has had a chance to bear fruit.

I guess the bottom line is this: if we have the ability and desire to give, we need to give consistently and strategically and collaboratively - and my hope is that we will also learn to give sacrificially. That is - we will develop a habit of putting the survival needs of other people ahead of things that we might like to have that would make our comfortable lives even more comfortable. Mahatma Gandhi said it well when he said: Live simply so that others may simply live. We need to give for the long haul. And we need to give for BOTH emergency relief AND ongoing development.

1 comment:

John and Jane Weiler said...

Thanks Lois I have been thinking the same way. Giving is an ongoing need. Like Jesus said "the poor will always be with you" We need to take care of the poor all the time.