When Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti last week, Haitian-American writer France Francois posted on her social media page:
“In the coming days, many of you are going to write and ask me how you can “help Haiti”. Here are my suggestions: 1. Don’t give to the American Red Cross.”
Her post led me on a internet search that uncovered the many legitimate complaints Haitians have towards the organization, and data that shows they have every right to lose trust in the American Red Cross.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley launched a year-long investigation on the American Red Cross’ work in the country. NPR reported these findings from that investigation:
“The Red Cross repeatedly has told the public that all but 9 percent of donations spent go to humanitarian programs. But Grassley’s office found that 25 percent of donations sent to Haiti — or nearly $125 million — were spent on fundraising and management, a contingency fund and the catchall category the Red Cross calls “program expenses…The charity insisted to congressional investigators that $70 million spent on “program expenses” included funds to oversee and evaluate its Haiti programs. But Grassley’s office found that the charity “is unable to provide any financial evidence that oversight activities in fact occurred.”
Several other reports found that the Red Cross had given millions to outside organizations without ever evaluating their results. Money switched hands among these organizations instead of directly helping Haitian people. Other reports found that instead of the 13,000 permanent homes the organization promised to build, it built only six.
Last year, The Guardian reported that the American Red Cross had also “faced accusations of mismanagement before, including withholding funds after 9/11, delays of emergency supplies after hurricane Katrina, and disarrayed and selective relief after hurricane Sandy.”
Haitian activists and development workers also criticized the way American Red Cross employees have treated locals. Haitian-American Judith St. Fort, the director of the Red Cross Haiti Program, wrote a memo arguing that American Red Cross managers had disparaged Haitian employees. Another report by ProPublica found that the American Red Cross consistently favored hiring expats who sometimes received huge salaries in comparison to Haitian employees. Meanwhile, few Haitians ever got promoted. The report stated:
“According to an internal Red Cross budgeting document for the project in Campeche, the project manager — a position reserved for an expatriate — was entitled to allowances for housing, food, and other expenses, home leave trips, R&R four times a year, and relocation expenses. In all, it added up to $140,000. Compensation for a senior Haitian engineer — the top local position — was less than one-third of that, $42,000 a year.’”
All of these reports follow troubling patterns we’ve seen before with development work: inefficiently managing money so that it never directly reaches locals, and replicating a “white savior” dynamic that assumes that those from abroad know more than those on the ground.
To be clear, both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator — two organizations dedicated to tracking the results of nonprofit organizations and holding them accountable — still rank the American Red Cross somewhat highly. But much of that rating comes from the organization’s largely successful blood donation programs, and not specifically from their work in disaster relief in Haiti.
The point is not to get so disillusioned with humanitarian aid that we stop giving all together. The point is to become more and more aware of which organizations help others most effectively and hold the others accountable for what they do wrong.
So how can we still help? The first step is to never assume that we know more about a country’s situation than its citizens do. As Francois mentioned, “If you’ve never spent a minimum of 9 months in Haiti (gestation period counts), answer any questions about it with “I’m not an expert in this matter but I can refer you to someone who may be able to help you.”
With that framework in mind, it may be better to donate money to organizations led by locals, who understand the historical and personal context of their country, and therefore have a better idea of what it needs in times of crisis. Here’s a list of Haitian-led organizations to send your money to:
Volontariat pour le Développement d’Haïti
Konbit Solèy Leve
Haitian American Caucus
FONHEP (Fondation Haitienne de l’Education Privée)
Award-winning Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat also suggested organizations on her Facebook page, saying “These are primarily organizations that have been working in the most affected areas for years and are, for the most part, Haitian-led.”
Gaskov Clerge Foundation
Fondation Aquin Solidarité
The Three Little Flowers Center
Paradis des Indiens
Project Saint Anne
The Lambi Fund of Haiti
Flying High for Haiti
Saint Boniface Foundation
It’s also important to mention that not all Red Cross organizations have this reputation either. For example, some reports have argued that the Canadian Red Cross may have had better results than the American Red Cross at helping in Haiti’s recovery.
And, not all non-Haitian organizations have histories of wasted aid and a lack of accountability. Below are a few of these organizations that have better track records in the country:
Doctors without Borders
Roots of Development
Partners in Health
Border of Lights
Nova Hope for Haiti