Saturday, January 16, 2010

Order And Aid In Haiti

There is a side to helping out the poor and needy that doesn't get talked about much, and that is the practicalities. It's one thing to want to help, one thing to send aid, one thing to volunteer. It's quite another to get it done.

My heart goes out to those devastated by the earthquake in Haiti. Many groups have mobilized to rush to their aid, whether with money, supplies, or manpower. The effort is hamstrung because the roads and the infrastructure are in shambles; supplies can't get off the dock or runway.

As in any desperate situation, lawlessness abounds. People who are normally mild may claw and scratch to get what they need to survive. Others may take more than what they need with the strong taking advantage of the weak. Bands of roving people wielding machetes.

Even those who come with material aid may be putting their own life and limb in danger, much like a drowning man may sink his rescuer with his wild flailing. On the news, I watched a truck in Haiti drive slowly down the street distributing water bottles. Crowds of people ran alongside, jumping on it, snatching anything inside the truck bed. Angry, violent, desperate. The truck did not dare stop for fear of being overwhelmed.

I was reminded of a time as a child in Turkey, when our Church gathered food and clothing for the poor and distributed it at Easter to families living at the community dump. Once word got out, our vehicles were swarmed with people trying to get at it. Our priest was knocking on doors and handing out tickets for the bags of food, two per household.
"No ticket, no food! Go back to your house and bring your ticket. Everyone will get some.", the people swarming the cars were told.
Some angry young men threatened us: "Give us the bags or we will kill you!". We stood our ground and things ended peacefully -- especially after the police came. There were a few tense moments when we thought we would be arrested for creating a disturbance, but it ended peaceably.

Another time in Washington, D.C., I had food snatched from my hands as I tried to distribute it from one of the regular runs that Martha's Table makes downtown. Trying to ration it so that everybody got some was challenging as some people threatened there as well.

I realize that I'm no St. Francis, but it seems to me that one of the ways that Haitians will be helped best and quickest is if someone can stem the anarchy by establishing some kind of order. After that the food and medical aid can begin to heal the people. Right now, they have our love, our money, and our prayers.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Sadly, we have spent 50 years unable to stem the anarchy without being in the middle of a natural disaster. I am wondering how they plan to do it now.

On the "bright" side, perhaps the international aid that comes in response to the earthquake can be used as a springboard for real social change in Haiti.


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