Matthew's Lesson: How we help mattersRich Stigall
By Joe Knittig, CEO of The Global Orphan Project ——
On Friday, October 7, we loaded two planes of food and supplies for Jeremie, Haiti. That food was destined for vulnerable children who ordinarily cannot access aid in crisis. We limited bodies on the planes to maximize food capacity.
When we landed, hundreds of Haitian young men lined the dirt landing strip of the small airport. A gaggle of reporters and cameramen gathered separately, in their own huddle, with armed security, to see which dignitaries were arriving now. Turns out, several foodless planes landed that day in the heart of destruction full of folks with cameras wearing safari gear.
When a greater urgency exists for journalists and photographers to deliver headlines than exists for aid organizations to deliver food, there is a problem.
No famous reporter or dignitary emerged from our plane. Just us, a couple of unadorned ragamuffins with food. We landed and started offloading. When the young men saw the food, they rushed the plane to take it. Not because they are mean, but because they were hungry. And desperate. With the prospect of a couple of guys getting mauled over food, the reporters came running. They stuck cameras in the faces of the young men, like they were zoo animals, hoping to get the money shot.
But, to their disappointment, there was no mauling.
You see, the person in charge of getting this food to the children most in need was not me or a Big Aid worker with an entourage. It was a local Haitian pastor who does life with these young men, a local leader they’ve known and respected for years. His Haitian leadership team arrived in an old, beat-up water truck. When they heard from the local pastor that the food was intended for local children, several of the men who initially rushed the plane began helping load the truck. Then they explained their anger. This was the first food delivery they had seen since the hurricane. Plenty of journalists. No food.
An hour later, 100% of the food and supplies intended for children at the end-of-the-line reached the local Haitians who stepped up to protect and care for those children.
Local Haitians deliver food and water to children in the care of local churches after Hurricane Matthew.
That we help is important. How we help is vital.
As Hurricane Matthew approached Haiti, France Francois, a Haitian American writer, posted on Facebook about how to help. Her first instruction: “Don’t give to the American Red Cross.” Her post hammering Big Aid and promoting local approaches to help went viral.
Last Thursday, the Washington Post published this article about her statement: Haitians are desperate for help. But they don’t want it from the Red Cross.
I do not wish to wade into an attack on the Red Cross. But I do want to affirm the positive: expanding the capacity of local communities through local partnerships works. And I want to do so through a specific example of more than 500 of the most vulnerable Haitian children.
When disaster strikes, the weakest suffer most. When relief comes, the weakest are last in line. If someone can quickly and safely reach and stabilize those who are typically last in line, that is proof positive of an effective way to touch lives.
Let’s take a look at what’s happened with our sample group over the last two weeks, and what is on track to happen over the next 30 days. Specifically, we are talking about 544 children from the hardest hit areas of Les Cayes and Jeremie — children who had suffered catastrophic family breakdown well before Matthew hit.
- Were secured in local safe zones the day before the hurricane, with an emergency food supply to sustain them all for the first 3-5 days.
- Received – within three days – food, clean water, and other necessary supplies to keep them stable for 30 days.
- Will be resettled in culturally relevant homes and schools in their home communities, with local champions caring for them in a local family way.
To boot, all of these children — and many thousands more — will have clean, new, locally made clothing to start the post-Matthew season of their important little lives.
All of this is happening without a single penny of donations going to pay for general administrative or fundraising expenses, so all of it can be delivered to help kids in the most vulnerable impact zones.
This has been our focus at The Global Orphan Project.
How this is happening is the point of this post.
This is not happening because of our leadership. These results are being delivered by local Haitian leaders through the distribution network of local Haitian churches. These local leaders work, take risks, and rally their own communities like no large aid organization could. They are the best people to serve their own communities. They are best positioned to orchestrate local help for local children and families in crisis.
Pastor Bertin of La Hatte, a village in southwest Haiti severely damaged and isolated by Hurricane Matthew, stands ready to care for local children and families.
At GO Project, we back strong local churches with strong leadership who use their lives to champion the weak. Rather than undercut these leaders by planting our own flag in their communities, we expand their capacity to do what they do every single day. And they deliver.
And what about clothing?
Matthew stripped children bare, leaving them with nothing but the clothing on their backs. Soon, these children will wear brand new, locally made clothing. How? Because rather than invest in shipping containers full of discarded U.S. clothing to deliver to children in Haiti, we’ve invested in a Haitian apparel enterprise that creates local living wage jobs to keep families together. Instead of discarded stuff, we sent them purchase orders. We call this “orphan prevention”.
Within days after Matthew, we were able to have Haitians immediately start sewing new clothes for Haitian children in need. Haitians who are perennially cast as “the helped” have become the helpers. Walk among them as they sew and pack clothing for kids, and you can viscerally feel the atmospheric change. They are the heroes.
Employees at LIFE S.A., our partner apparel manufacturing facility in Haiti, are producing clothing for children displaced by Matthew.
But none of this can happen by waiting for crisis to hit and then trying to figure out mass distribution. It requires a complete change in approach, intentionality implemented day-by-day in the building of relationships and local community over a long period of time, through good times and bad. So, when crisis hits, we’re all just doing what we do, in our respective roles, every day.
There is no distribution network in a moment without local partnership for years. There are no new locally made clothes in a moment without investing in a new way of social enterprise for years.
A shift to a “glocal” approach
As we see another catastrophe unfold, we desperately need a global community of helpers, and we have the technology and travel means to connect like never before. Yet the verdict is in: a centralized Big Aid approach does not work best.
We need a tectonic shift to a “glocal” approach: global partners who champion local ownership. This approach works in Haiti. It works in East Africa. It works in India. And it works right here in our own country, in our own cities.
Whether we are willing to do this comes down to motive. Are we raising money to help children? Or are we helping children to raise money? The former calls for a glocal approach that trusts local communities to address local challenges, not the building of a juggernaut that undercuts them.
In this family of The Global Orphan Project, we have picked our path. We support local churches, local communities, local jobs, and local ways to care for local children and families. While this doesn’t raise millions of aid dollars when crisis does hit, it quietly works for kids and families. A little, faithfully given, goes a long way.
This is not an intellectual debate. A powerful word at the very heart of poverty is at stake. It is not “relief”. The word is “dignity”.
For more information about redevelopment efforts through the local Haitian church, please email Ryan Hudnall at [email protected]. To help increase the capacity of local Haitians to respond, please direct your gifts to the Haiti Relief Fund.