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Haiti Volunteer Project Update: Afternoon 1/20/10

by Julie Schwietert Jan 20, 2010
A lot can happen in a week. And some things can stay frustratingly the same.

The tone of email messages from people who want to help in Haiti echoes the tone of those already on the ground in Haiti: Why are we still in a holding pattern? Why does everything take so long to get moving? People need us!

It’s a tone tinged with equal parts urgency and exasperation, as well, I think, of a sense of hopelessness or uselessness. “I have skills!” people write me, attaching their resumes and enumerating the experiences they have that make them qualified to volunteer in Haiti. “But I have half a warehouse full of water! And people are dying of thirst!” writes another, asking how we can help him get pallets of bottled water to Haiti.

The answer is: We can’t. Not right now.

For anyone who continues to watch or listen to the news out of Port-au-Prince, rescue and relief efforts there continue to move at a pace that no one finds satisfactory. From a distance, it’s easy to criticize the organization (or lack thereof, it seems to us) of whoever’s in charge (Is anyone in charge?).

But among the many lessons I’ve learned in the past week of organizing Matador’s relief effort, it’s that the coordination of many people for a complex project with acute needs is a task that requires input and action from many different people and agencies. While the bureaucracy of this all just seems unbearable, we have to deal with the system we have right now… and work damn hard to fix it once Haiti has some real relief.

So what do all these observations mean for our efforts? A lot. Here’s the latest:

1. Volunteers ARE needed, though often under strict conditions.

Over the weekend and early this week, we have been in touch with on the ground partners who continue to screen potential volunteers to serve in Haiti. Partners in Health has already received a list of volunteers with medical credentials who contacted Matador last week. If they are in need of your assistance, Partners in Health will contact you directly.

If you are a medical professional who did NOT sign up with Matador last week, please visit Partners in Health’s website to fill out this online volunteer form.

For other volunteer opportunities, please complete this online form, and Matador’s partner organizations will contact you directly if they need you. Please do not contact Matador about volunteer requests or submissions, as these are currently being handled by the partner organizations.

2. Donation sites need volunteers for sorting and packing.

Some aid organizations are calling for an end to material donations, as it is difficult to ship them at this time. However, sites that have been accepting donations do need assistance sorting and packing donated items. If you are in the New York City area and would like information about sorting and packing, please email me at julie[at]matadornetwork[dot]com for a list of sites. Please put SORTING AND PACKING NYC in the subject line.

3. NYC area volunteers are needed for an event tomorrow.

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs is hosting a panel discussion of humanitarian disaster relief experts on the Haiti earthquake. Panelists will speak on the state of the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, the progress on the ground and how individuals can get involved in the relief efforts. The IIHA is looking for volunteers to staff the event, which is Thursday afternoon. If you are interested in volunteering for this very important and timely event, please email Jenna Felz TODAY at

4. Decide if you’re in this for the long haul.

I said this the other day, but the message bears repeating: Haiti will need help for a long time to come. If you’re not able to play a direct role now, please be patient; the opportunity will arise for you to do so at a time when many people will have moved on. Your help will be even more valuable then.

Community Connection:

Matador Life editor Leigh Shulman examines our response to the Haiti earthquake in her article Five Elements of Running a Successful Social Media Campaign for Emergency Relief.

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