In the midst of great tragedy and suffering caused by the 7.0 earthquake last year, which killed an estimated 230,000 men, women and children in Haiti, it seems impossible that one year later progress has been made. The American Red Cross employees, volunteers and generous donors are meeting the needs of communities and lifting spirits of the Haitian people. Gail McGovern, American Red Cross CEO, has traveled to Haiti many times since the devastating earthquake. On her most recent visit to Port-au-Prince, she describes seeing “people who are hopeful, optimistic and resilient.”
Typically, the Red Cross focuses solely on providing immediate relief when disasters like the earthquake in Haiti occur. Immediate relief comes in the form of Disaster Services workers distributing food, clothing, medication and supplies to victims and coordinating shelter for people affected by the tragedy. In this circumstance, the Red Cross has established a long term relationship with communities and organizations in Haiti for the benefit of the people.
The American Red Cross has worked in Haiti since 2004 responding to disasters ranging from major hurricanes to small floods, and following the earthquake worked to build on the foundation of programs that existed. In the past year, an incredible amount of work has been done to improve the disaster management strategies in place and the health of Haitians.
The Red Cross mission statement discusses the importance of relieving the suffering of individuals, focuses on guiding response actions by the needs of the people and specifies giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress. Gail McGovern saw firsthand the plethora of opportunities for the American Red Cross to truly embody the mission statement of the national organization. She insists that “building permanent communities will be harder, and it will take longer. It will involve not just the homes themselves, but a whole series of interconnected services, from water and sanitation to roads. We’re talking about a massive urban renewal program that’s going to take years to complete.” The process will be lengthy, but focusing on five key facets of rebuilding will empower the people of Haiti (emergency & long term housing, health, water & sanitation, disaster preparation, disaster risk reduction & livelihood).
Many Haitians found themselves either displaced or hosting displaced relatives or friends, which put enormous stress on already scarce resources. To maximize the impact of donations, the American Red Cross partnered with Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institute, to expand their existing programs to support over 220,000 people mostly women heads of households like Odette Mednard. She is a dressmaker and the owner of a small food shop attached to her home. Odette’s house was damaged and she lost much of her store’s inventory in the quake, but this partnership allowed Odette and others to restart their small businesses. Thanks to the American Red Cross, Odette and thousands of other Fonkoze clients have received financial assistance. Odette’s house was damaged and she lost much of her store’s inventory in the quake, but today her business is growing.