My 3 big concerns about helping Haiti (and other disaster areas)

Am I the only one who gets a little uncomfortable when a certain type of relief becomes popular? It’s not easy to talk about, because it can make you sound so insensitive. And I’ll confess to having waited a few weeks so as not to distract from the task at hand. But now I want to point out three main concerns I’ve had over the last few weeks, not just about Haiti, but about knee-jerk emergency relief in general.

  1. Everybody and their dog starts raising money. The relief bandwagon gets pretty crowded. Any agency that is remotely connected to relief or the area in question begins collecting funds. Questions about distribution structure, contacts on the ground, etc. get overlooked. We want to help and are willing to give to anyone who says they are going to help.
  2. Inefficiency is permitted in the name of haste. Planning falls by the wayside. We want something done NOW. There is a need for quick response, but does that excuse spending twice as much to get the same thing done?
  3. Good projects lose funding as money is funneled into the emergency bottleneck. Some of these projects are feeding people who will be in dire straits without the aid being provided. They are well-organized, efficient projects, but because they aren’t the latest big thing, they just aren’t as interesting.

Places like Haiti need our help. They need it quickly. But we need to think carefully about the best ways to make our donations do the most good.

11 thoughts on “My 3 big concerns about helping Haiti (and other disaster areas)

  1. laymond

    That is exactly why I don’t see giving at church is the best way to give, not even the way in which Jesus asks us to give, if we see a person hungry, help that person, if we see someone sick, help how you can, if someone is cold give them a coat. We should not care if we are seen giving 20 bucks at church, and others know we can afford more, if you are giving to be seen by others , you give nothing.
    Mt:25:35: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

  2. K. Rex Butts

    For giving to charitable causes, especially in a time of emergency need such as the Haitian earthquake, it is probably wiser to have a charitable agency already in mind…one that the person(s) making the donation already know can be trusted as a reputable agency.

    Grace and peace,


  3. John Dobbs

    Well done, Tim. I also have wanted to write about this but like you, found it potentially offensive. I speak from experience when I say that some will go into a disaster area, come out and tell and few stories in order to raise money. There is no centralized source of reliable information – in a large scale disaster there is too much to process. I personally was appalled at the number of people who actually went to Port Au Prince in behalf of relief organizations who have no ongoing presence there. I know that those people were simply in the way. How much money was spent to “go down there and see what they need”? Longterm established missions that are already in place know more about what is needed than any visitor. Sometimes organizations can be wonderful means of helping. But the overhead absorbs a good bit of the donation. Like you, i do not want to discourage any help offered … but … for those disaster chasers who went to Haiti to be able to say they were there … could have stayed home and watched CNN. There are some who are able to help, bring supplies, etc. Good. I probably said too much.

  4. H Clay McCool

    Bro Lamond

    I second your comments 100%

    We have removed the warmth and love from that “sharing” with
    those who are in need.

    Most of “US” have a benevolent Deacon,fund or committee and
    the needy are treated as if they are just another individual on
    the take and when the “budget” is reached, “sorry” we are out
    of funds.

    Funny how the biggest reason we are to give of our means
    and share with the needy becomes the least importance for “the church” and it’s mechanical budget.

    We have a lot of work to do to “restore” the church we read
    about in the bible.

    May God have mercy on our institutionalizing our hearts.

    Grace and peace, Clay

  5. Jeff morris

    Well said Tim also another problem is People wanting to go to the country to help. It sounds good in theory to have people go to help but, to only be there for a week and then leave. Is it really worth the effort.The real problem is that there isn’t people or contacts to receive just anyone that wants to go.I was in logistics for the military for over 28years and a large amount of single people cause to much confusion and distractions for them to be effective for the cause. Unfortunately some of the people that want to go have no idea what hardships await them in a third world country if they haven’t been there before and they will or could be a casualty them self.I have been to Mexico many times to do mission work and the Philippines twice so I have had to deal with the issues first hand. I am however very glad that people are supporting the countries with the dollar supporting people.

  6. Royce Ogle

    Most of us have no relationship with people in Haiti. As an individual I wouldn’t have a clue where to send a few bucks. Thankfully, our congregation has a 40 plus year relationship in the country. And, through our World Radio ministry we are closely associated with 3 fine preachers there and WR speakers.

    I know that WFR Relief Ministries will carefully handle every dollar donated and has an almost 30 year track record of doing it well. We have a brother on the ground and will be there for 3 to 6 more months.

    Thanks Tim for bringing abuses to our attention.

  7. Tim Archer Post author

    I actually had WFR in mind as an exception to much of what I’ve seen. Your people had the contacts to make the relief effort function. 2010 wasn’t WFR’s first trip to Haiti.
    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  8. Andy Pratt

    Tim, We believe at the Princeton church that waiting usually is the best way to get the most from the resources we can contribute after a disaster strikes. Six months after the earth quake, Haiti will still be in terrible shape, but the volunteer groups in the country will be much better organized and their leaders will know exactly what kinds of aid are most needed, and how they can make the best use of volunteers who come. Moveover, organizations serving Haiti are likely to start running short on funds after interest starts to wane. Unfortunately, over the next six months there is likely to be another well-publicized disaster somewhere else in the world, and the funding for Haiti most likely will plummet as resources are diverted to the victims of the next catastrophe.
    So we will take up our Haiti collection between April 1 and June30, most likely, if the need is strong and the resources can be used productively. And we’ll start organizing a mission trip for the fall. In the meantime, there will always be people at church who want to give now, because their hearts are so moved by the suffering. (What great souls!) We have let people know they can give to White’s Ferry church efforts if needed, and that if someone sees a great relief project, we will do what we can to help them participate.

  9. Greg England

    Couldn’t agree more. We sent our contribution through my son’s in laws. They have had a medical mission ministry going over there for nearly 30 years. They know the people … have a very honest reputation … feed about 5,000 children every day … and every aspect of the administrative cost is volunteered. 100% of the monies given go directly toward helping the people. They have doctors who have been over there numerous times … so much they are all cleared by the Haitian government to come and go. Earlier in the month, they sent over a team of 14 doctors who helped hundreds of people who were getting no other medical help at all due to the overwhelming nature of the disaster. And this ministry has established numerous self-sufficient churches all through the “bushes” of interior Haiti, as well as having a self-sufficient (water, power) compound from which they work.

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  11. nick gill

    Haiti has had, for years before this earthquake, more aid organizations per capita working there than any place on earth, and yet it is far behind even places like Barbados and the DR, which are hardly bastions of wealth and privilege. It is far too easy to throw money, and even short-term relief work, at the problem and go away feeling satisfied. The Jesus Way, of Spirit-led incarnational ministry, requires much more of us. I found a pretty good op-ed piece at the Times about reconsidering how we “help Haiti.”

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