The Global Aid Network is a Christian humanitarian organization which sponsors mission trips and provides aid to impoverished countries around the world. The group has worked in Haiti extensively prior to Tuesday’s earthquake.
Global Aid CEO Duane Zook is on his way to Haiti. He spoke with Everyday Christian from Florida en route.
Like some other aid organizations, Global Aid has a stockpile of basic necessities in Haiti to address potential needs in the summer and fall during hurricane season. The island of Hispaniola, which is split by Haiti on the west and the Dominican Republic on the east, is frequently in the path of hurricanes. That pre-positioning of supplies has led to some initial relief to be distributed.
“Typically we are responding to the current and urgent needs,” Zook said. “However, we also recognize that disasters happen periodically especially in certain geographic areas, especially where hurricanes frequent. So in the case of Haiti, we shipped some product in for them to use right away. However, we asked them to save half of it for a “just in case an emergency happens” with the condition that if it isn’t used in the first 6 months, then they can go ahead and distribute it. And then the next hurricane season is upon us, if we are able, we send product in again.
“In this case, the earthquake happened even before the first half was distributed. Our intent is to never ‘hoard’ product but to use the Joseph model of ‘storehousing’. We also frequently try to collect disaster type products like blankets, tents, tarps, hygiene items and keep a limited supply in our PA Distribution Center for disasters. So that when a disaster happens, we are ready to respond immediately.”
Haiti’s infrastructure to begin with was poor. The earthquake has magnified the shortcomings, including the ability to get supplies to the sick and injured. It takes time to coordinate distribution efforts and relief, time which is running out quickly.
“When an event is as catastrophic as this one happens, the task is so big it is difficult sometimes to know where to start,” Zook said. “One comes into this type of situation and the need is so big, the first step is to recognize that it is going to take a lot of people and a lot of organizations working together over a period of time.
“Initial efforts are to really dig out and save those who are still living, and at the same time treat the injured. Part of the initial assessment needs to involve an evaluation of what resources are needed, what resources are available and the determine how to be a part of providing resources (food, medicines and supplies, basic shelter, clean water, etc.). The initial step basically is a survival mode.
“Another step is to recognize that certain groups and certain agencies have specific ways they can help. For example, some need to have big earth moving equipment. These are part of the first-responders. Often times these are provided by governments and the United Nations. Others can help with search and rescue. Then others can begin to treat people medically. Then others can help provide the basic survival items like food, shelter and clean water. Eventually groups can come in with the rebuilding phase of homes, schools, hospitals, and of livelihood.
But all this requires assessment, coordination and a lot of cooperation. One of the other steps in the process that I think is important is to make sure trustworthy partners who are nationals since they know the local areas and the local customs.”
For people who have never been to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince before, Zook said analogies to the overall poverty of American inner cities and the devastation wrought on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina are uneven.
“I certainly understand that there are some similarities (between Port-au-Prince and New Orleans), for example great devastation, loss of life, homes destroyed, and a long road to recovery which needs tremendous resources.
“However, the differences between Katrina and Haiti are:
1. The immensity of the destruction. The number of people who died. I have heard anywhere from 50,000 to several hundred thousand. The number of people displaced: reports are indicating up to 3 million in Haiti.
2. The basic quality of life and basic infrastructure in Haiti was much worse prior to the earthquake compared to the areas prior to Katrina.
3. Access to resources. Across the board there were a lot more resources readily available after Katrina. Now some of the delivery systems certainly may have needed some improvement. But it was far superior to access of resources in a country like Haiti. “
As for poverty, “Eighty percent of the population (of Haiti) lives in poverty with most people surviving on $2 or less a day. Whereas I am very sympathetic and I hurt for and with those caught in the cycle of poverty in an inner city in the U.S. , the citizens of Haiti are much worse off and so when a disaster like an earthquake hits, it accentuates an already horrible situation.
“On top of that many have built homes that are not very sturdy due to not having building codes like we do and so when the earthquake struck, the buildings literally collapsed. And unfortunately they don’t have the support systems and basic infrastructure in place that most of our inner cities have. Let me reiterate that this doesn’t diminish the plight of the poor in the inner city.”
The reports Zook has heard from staffers on the ground in Haiti is terrifying. Like many, he is relying on his own faith to confront the devastation and provide help.
“I have heard of many horror stories; of people roaming the streets and sounds of moaning and screaming,” he said. “I’ve heard of piles of bodies and the associated smells. Frankly, I don’t know of any way to totally prepare yourself for this other than to pray for God’s grace and to ask people to pray for you. And I have done that. However I know that once you have experienced the smell of decaying bodies, and seen the sights, and heard the cries – it never leaves you. My prayer though is that God will give me strength, and help me see, hear and feel with His heart of compassion and care so that I and we as GAiN can respond as He would in a disaster like this.”
He urged prayer for Haitians and relief workers alike, and stressed the need for strong continued financial support from individual donors and organizations. The long-term key will be keeping the money and aid flowing once the initial attention and focus on Haiti naturally dissipates.
“(It will take) a long time for a task this big,” Zook said. “Initially people get involved with great gusto. But that energy wears thin over time – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That is why it is necessary to make sure that a team leader is in touch with how the rest of the team is doing and that periodic times of rest and recuperation happens. Jesus modeled very appropriately the importance of getting away to pray and rest.
“And in the process it of course is important to rely on God’s strength moment by moment.”