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Haiti: crisis vs long-term poverty
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 01.14.2010Share

A friend told me a story at dog park this morning that on its face sounds painfully callous. A year or so back, he recalled, another friend of his was working in a medical clinic in Haiti; the conditions were horrible, the population painfully poor. As my friend related this morning, his doctor buddy said these words: "I hate to say it, but maybe what this country needs is a huge natural disaster. That way, the rest of the world might wake up to how bad things are here."

The doctor's point, of course, wasn't that he wanted a major loss of life or property. Instead, he was pointing to the desperate conditions in a country in which the literacy rate is sub-50% and the vast majority of citizens live below the poverty line; a place right in America's backyard where millions of people wake up each morning with no hope of a better future.

So, what to do. The images from Haiti are indelible and we, as caring people, are pouring millions in relief aid to the needy there. CNN will be covering the crisis wall-to-wall and we'll be watching as good news slowly emerges and the relief efforts and rebuilding start to take hold. Crisis relief will, in fits and starts, work.

But as our attention turns elsewhere, as it inevitably does, will we miss the real issue? That long-term, systemic poverty is a chronic condition, not a crisis-triggered one. Six months or a year from now, will most of the world again turn its attention away from the chance to help those in dire need of opportunity?

The people of Haiti need immediate relief, but then they need business loans, education, a better medical system and more. I'm hoping this crisis helps us see that.

Kevin - I saw with joy that they were listed in the paper today along with other terrific charities.
Posted by MV at 09:48am on 01.20.2010

MV, My buddy Jen Soong points out over on Facebook that the group Farmer created "Partners in Health" is working on emergency relief as well: http://www.standwithhaiti.org
Posted by Kevin at 10:29am on 01.15.2010

One of the most powerful books I've read is "Mountains Beyond Mountains," about Paul Farmer by Tracy Kidder. It is the story of a young man who decides to start a medical clinic for Haitians in an area where doctors don't exist. He does this even as he becomes a doctor via Harvard Medical School and serves his time as a resident. Through this one entry point, Dr. Farmer ultimately has created one of the simplest, least expensive, and best medical techniques to prevent and cure TB and to address HIV transmission. It is used internationally in poor and incarcerated populations with great success. Good health is a necessary step toward relieving poverty. Another profoundly powerful organization is Heifer International. It is so much more than providing a cow to an impoverished third world family. It is an organization that is consistently positive, kind, and thoughtful. They approach each population they serve with a humble attitude that allows them to learn what will best contribute to sustained improvement. Best of all, while knowledgeable and intelligent, they are also good-humored and open minded. A message and method that links these two is the way both Dr. Farmer and Heifer reach out to one person at a time. In doing so they learn more about what connects us as humans, and they inspire each individual into a ripple effect of hope and success. I feel that the attitude and hands-on commitment they bring to their work is the best possible way to address the long-term, systemic poverty that you address, Kevin. Both are in Haiti, and I feel confident that they are even now providing hope and service in the midst of extreme and heart wrenching crisis. Organizations such as these don't hesitate to keep the issues of extreme poverty in the forefront, and they create the understanding that the situation is neither hopeless nor too overwhelming to improve.
Posted by MV at 07:59am on 01.14.2010