Hurricane Matthew’s catastrophic blow to Haiti left a devastating wake: a disastrous mix of rising cholera numbers and starvation from loss of crops and livestock. It can be difficult to know where to direct donations, especially after the Red Cross 2010 earthquake relief debacle—$500 million in donations was so poorly managed that aid wasn’t delivered where it was most needed (and where it was promised) in Haiti. This distrust leads to the questions: How can we best help Haiti? Who can we trust?
While schools might not be the first places you’d think of when it comes to aid distribution, it’s these trusted pillars of the community that can create the most direct and ongoing support for rebuilding. English in Mind Institute (EIM), a Haitian-led adult language school in Port-au-Prince, is acting as an on-ground aid distributor for its local community as well as other, smaller grassroots organizations on the front lines of relief efforts.
“In times like these, people instinctively give to large organizations they have heard of. But we’ve learned a lot from the 2010 earthquake, and now I strongly support people giving money to local, Haitian-led, grassroots organizations—your donations will have a far greater impact that way,” says Steph Price, international director of EIM, which aims to empower rising Haitian leaders through vocational training and job placement.
Because she has worked in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, Price is often asked about the best way outsiders can help the country. As the liaison between the Haitian-administered nonprofit and the international community, Price spends half her time in New York and half her time in Port-au-Prince leading fundraising efforts. She also organizes volunteer and tourism trips that are led by Haitian EIM students, providing them meaningful work while allowing foreigners to see Haiti through a local’s eyes. (As someone who has been on five EIM trips, I can vouch for the impact of seeing Haiti through a local’s perspective.)
Now that the country is again in a humanitarian crisis, EIM’s local school leaders are directing aid money to those in the most immediate need in the community by distributing supplies such as food, water, soap, and chlorine tablets. Price is also using EIM’s reach in the United States to get the word out about the nonprofit’s grassroots partner organizations (also Haitian-run), and then distributing aid to these smaller organizations, which are deeply rooted in the community.
One such partner organization is MIMSI International, a community-based, mobile prenatal clinic on the southern coast of Haiti—the most devastated area after the hurricane. MIMSI reaches underserved women through remote clinics run by local Haitians. MIMSI was severely impacted by the hurricane, so EIM is partnering with it to provide much-needed donations for medicine, clean water, and medical necessities.
Another grassroots partner is Haiti Communitere, a community-based, nonprofit organization connecting Haitian and international sustainable development efforts. In addition to providing a home base and accommodations for EIM trips and other visiting organizations, Haiti Communitere gives leaders from all over Port-au-Prince a space to use as meeting grounds and community center—and now as a base for those providing hurricane relief.
The “Konbit Bus” is one of the creative and collaborative ways Haiti Communitere is enabling the local community to help, rather than rely on international NGOs. Haitian leaders can use this mobile resource unit—a colorfully painted, refurbished school bus equipped with power tools, machetes, a lumber mill, phone charging stations, a sound system, and more—to provide labor and local knowledge to hurricane-impacted areas. Konbit is a Kreyol term for the Haitian tradition of community helping community—people working in solidarity through communal action.
“This is an unprecedented act. The formal process is almost entirely rooted in large international NGOs carrying out the relief efforts; the narrative needs to be more inclusive of Haitians,” says Jesse Baker, HC’s country director.
Before Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, EIM’s Steph Price would respond to people asking “How can I help Haiti?” by encouraging them to take a vacation in this Caribbean island nation. Yes, a vacation. In Price’s TEDx talk, “Rebranding Haiti” she suggested that instead of focusing on charity, Haiti needs a new narrative—one that’s collaborative and celebratory of the country—and implored more travelers “to experience Haiti for themselves in all its beautiful, complicated glory—to see Haiti not just as a place of sorrow, but a place of beauty.”
She still believes that, although EIM is taking a step back to reevaluate the trips it offers. “Yes, we are still bringing people to Haiti, but not to volunteer with Hurricane Matthew relief. We want to trust the Haitians’ communities to take the lead on that,” Price says. “Instead, our focus is to help travelers and Haitians connect and learn from one another in a dignified, mutually beneficial way.”
Want to donate? EIM is accepting tax-deductible donations through its website. Go to the DONATE tab, mark your donation as “Matthew” and it will distribute these funds to various partner organizations that it trusts on the front lines of the relief effort such as Haiti Communitere, MIMSI International, and others.
Kathleen Rellihan Kathleen Rellihan is a travel journalist and editor covering adventure, culture, climate, and sustainability. Formerly Newsweek‘s travel editor, she contributes to outlets such as AFAR, Outside, TIME, CNN Travel, and more.