**I’m tired, so this is a bit stream of consciousness. You’ve been warned.**
I’m just sitting down at my old host family’s house after a really long day. Yesterday, after a meeting about girls groups, my boss asked if I would stay in the capital this weekend to help out at USAID (the United States Agency for International Development). They are swamped with disaster relief tasks, and needed a few extra bilingual bodies. I agreed, and spent the day (8 am to 6:30 pm) in the USAID office, doing whatever possible.
Whatever possible turned out to be compiling a list of non-food items that OFDA (Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance) and USAID’s NGO partners needed for the relief effort. After assembling the list (exactly what you would think–hygiene supplies, diapers, blankets, sleeping bags…) I called retailers to get prices. Tomorrow, assuming our funding comes through, I am going to help purchase the items.
It wasn’t the image I have in my head of what disaster relief looks like. I didn’t see a single victim. I used e-mail and google, rather than shovels and megaphones. Still, it felt really good to be doing something. Really good. I kept pausing and realizing that the research, phone calls, faxes, and e-mail would add up to something pretty big: thousands of dollars worth of supplies on a truck bound for the border.
I loved it. It was a series of simple tasks that I completed as part of a team effort. I looked up at the 4 o’clock and realized I wasn’t tired at all. This sort of work, going out looking for puzzle pieces and forming the picture, doesn’t tire me out like tracking down community members, facilitating youth groups, and all the other stuff that I do on a daily basis in Batey 8. The task of rounding up the supplies isn’t any easier than planning a workshop, but each little piece is so much easier. I hit fewer dead ends than I’m used to, and when I wanted to print, I printed. When I had a question or needed help, I walked down the hall and asked. If they didn’t know, they found me somebody who did. As a result, I accomplished more in ten hours than I usually accomplish in several days.
I’m not saying that I like office work and don’t like grassroots work. Obviously, a lot of grassroots work will have to happen to make my office work worthwhile (distributing all those diapers is not going to be easy). And I love facilitating youth groups and talking to community leaders. I did really love that industrial printer. And working with a team of people with established goals was really sweet.
The whole thing was an interesting learning experience. I saw how people with lots of money to spend attempt to figure out how to turn that money into tangible disaster relief. It is hard, and complicated. And it involves a little of tools that those on the ground/grassroots folks don’t have. It’s a different something to do, but at least it’s doing something.
If you feel like you need to do something, check out the links I’ve posted here for more information about experienced relief organizations working in Haiti.