I've Got One Week - How Can I Help? (Volunteering in Haiti)
We get quite a few emails from young people with a week or two off of school who would like to volunteer in Haiti. Without knowing Kreyol or having special skills, opportunities are somewhat limited but they are out there. Through volunteering you can learn about the country, its culture, and develop an awareness of the developmental challenges, and just as important, how to addresss them. When you come back, that's when the hard work starts. You may well find that you can do more for Haiti stateside.
There are a large number of non profits based in the United States that operate in Haiti. Consider being involved in one of them. Even if not in the same geographic area, you could help raise awareness for them, hold fundraisers, etc.
Any number of civil society organization are involved with Haiti. Rotary Clubs, through Rotary International, support projects throughout Haiti. So does Kiwanis International. Being involved with either of this organizations provides numerous opportunities for staying connected to Haiti.
There are also a great number of faith based organizations involved in Haiti. Some are very professional, recognize that they are guests in the country, roll up their sleeves and do real work for the time they are there. There are others that cause more harm than good. Do the research first.
There are orphanages throughout Haiti which could use assistance, even for a short period of time. An official list is available from the State Department. I won't copy them here as there are hundreds throughout the country. In addition to orphanages, there are a number of faith based organizations involved in health, education, etc. You can find a few of them under the 'Charitable" section of this link. A simple internet search will reveal many others.
It can be a bit overwhelming going through these lists. I can vouch for two organizations. First is the Saint Joseph's Orphanage in Port au Prince. For 30.00 (or so) each night, you can stay at the orpanage, spend time with kids, learn about Haitian Culture, and get started on your Kreyol. The Norwich Mission House may also be able to set up up with a place to stay and some short term work. Both organizations are reputable and doing good work.
Plenty of other organizations operating in Haiti. Here is a short list of volunteer opportunities with different organizations, mostly in teaching. In his blog, Brian McElroy notes that Fondwa University (Haiti's first and only rural university) is always looking for volunteers.
Hands Together has a page for volunteers. Volunteers for Peace also accepts volunteers for a nominal free. If you are interested in reforestation, there is Foundasyon Mapou. UMCOR is a solid development organization which takes volunteers and interns. FATEM takes volunteers in Mirebalais. Outreach International also accepts volunteers.
If you have specialized skills you will surely find opportunities to assist. Konbit Sante needs volunteers both stateside for fundraising and awarenes building and in Cap Haitian for construction, engineering, etc. If you are a medical or public health student, you could help form a partnership with Project Medishare or another health oriented NGO. Of course, Habitat for Humanity would love to have volunteers with a construction background. Got a background in finance? Think about linking up with Fonkoze or FINCA.
Of course, you can always get started working with Haitians in the United States. New York City, Miami, Boston (and to a certain extent Chicago and Washington DC) have large Haitian populations. The Haitian Coalition operates outside of Boston. The Center for Haitian Studies is in Miami. Church World Service has programs for Haitian immigrants as well. Latin American Youth Center in Washington DC has some Haitian youth who are enrolled in activities.
Sadly, Peace Corps is not active in Haiti right now. We all hope that, when the time is right, the program can resume once more. If/When this happens, we will let you know.
Of course, you can always reach out to any of the organizations we've written about on the blog and inquire as to what opportunities are available. Organizations are not so much interested in having a volunteer for a week as they are having someone who will be involved over the long term. Spending time in Haiti will make you a better advocate and help you build bridges between organizations. The problem with Haiti has never been a lack of interest so much as a lack of coordination among the interested.
This was not meant to be an exhaustive list of opportunities. However, we hope that we have given you a place to get started from. And, of course, if you know of any opportunities which we have not covered here then please post them in the comment section. Thanks!