The recent earthquake in Haiti, or whenever there is a natural disaster, I remember my year in AmeriCorps in the mid-1990s. Instead of the international Peace Corps, the domestic version known as AmeriCorps assists local communities with volunteer projects to help tutor students, clean up neighborhoods, fix up and paint houses, and participate in other volunteer opportunities.
AmeriCorps was also a great place for me to receive training in disaster relief. We had experts from Emergency Management teams explain to us what they do in case of a disaster that befalls our community. We also had a member of the local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) show us and train us what to do when we go out on a mission to pull someone from the rubble of a destroyed house. Whether it was an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane, we would be prepared to assist and/or lead a CERT in disaster response mode.
The training was invaluable to me as I sit and watch the video coming from Haiti’s monster earthquake that leveled an entire capital city. What would I do if a disaster like that befell my city or town? How many Peace Corps volunteers are in Haiti right now who have been mobilized to help the residents of Port-au-Prince rebuild their lives?
Christian missions are common to Haiti as the Peace Corps has had a limited presence there due to many military coups over the years. Entire companies specialize in sending mission trips to Haiti to aid the local population get a hold on a better life and to help build houses. Short and long term opportunities are available for missions.
Unfortunately, this earthquake has brought attention back to Haiti. How were the Haitians forgotten amongst the extreme poverty of the world? Who spoke up for the people of Haiti when no one else would? Perhaps it is time to add Haiti back to the list of countries needing humanitarian aid just as much as African and Asian nations. Tucked away amogst the Caribbean nations is a once proud island, discovered by Columbus and called San Salvador, that has been forgotten for too long. Much like the invisibles of poverty we see in America, Haiti was quietly dormant on the world stage for over ten years with relative peace. Now it is time for the world to help again.
Whether you send money, band aids, antibiotics, or even send your expertise as a doctor or concrete construction foreman, there will always be a need for volunteers to help the needy no matter what part of the world you go. Give your time to your cause even if it is just an hour a week. Every little bit helps.