How not to help in Haiti

A friend came to me yesterday and told me that her son-in-law was about to get on a plane to Haiti to help out earthquake victims. She wanted to know what I thought about that. (Truth be told, she wanted ammunition to help talk him out of it.)  I asked her if her son-in-law, who I know is an actor, had any experience in disaster relief.  He didn't.

It brought to mind an experience I had in Somalia many years ago. We were in the middle of a humanitarian crisis caused by the civil war in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.  One of the NGOs, (Save the Children, I think) sent over a dozen college students to help out.  I remember that the NGO staff on the ground were furious.  The volunteers showed up and had to be trained, fed, housed and generally kept out of harms way. It drained valuable resources from the ongoing relief effort and accomplished very little in the end.

My advice to my friend was to tell her son-in-law to wait six months.  The country will still be in devastating condition. It will be out of the news.  Donations will have slowed to a trickle, and volunteers will be harder to come by. She passed the information along, and he took my advice.

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