(l to r: RPCVs Bryan Schaaf of Haiti Innovation and Lenny Teh, President of Friends of Haiti, speak at last night's RPCV Happy Hour/Haiti Fundraiser in Washington DC)
In his remarks to an overflow crowd at the monthly Happy Hour hosted by the RPCVs of Washington DC, Bryan Schaaf (Haiti 00-02) referred to a proverb he learned as a volunteer: “Haiti has teeth. It bites onto you. It doesn’t let you go.”
That connection and commitment to the country was in evidence as numerous Haiti RPCVs, including Leslie Koo (00-02), Josh Kunin-Goldsmith (01-04), Christine Fontecchio (03-04) and Lenny Teh (97-00) turned out as the Happy Hour was quickly transformed into a Haiti relief fundraiser that collected $1,023 for the Red Cross.
Teh, who serves as President of the Friends of Haiti RPCV Group, fought back tears as he told the audience one-third of the country’s population was impacted by the massive earthquake that struck on Tuesday. Those affected included Teh's sponsor family in Port-au-Prince. While all are safe, children in Teh's family were in a house that collapsed during the quake. “They are now living in the street, and they are scared.”
The Haiti RPCVs we spoke with shared common thoughts and reactions to the crisis. There is worry as they seek to learn the fate of friends. There is frustration over the distance and limits they face in responding to the crisis. There is unanimity in the need for an infusion of cash donations to support established organizations moving in to offer relief. And they say there will be the need over the long term for skilled RPCVs to stay engaged and volunteer for Haiti after the immediate crisis has stabilized.
There is also a belief in the resilience of the Haitian people. Schaaf is one of the founders of Haiti Innovation, an organization created by RPCVs to bring attention to the many positive initiatives and developments in Haiti. Saddened because the earthquake is a massive setback after a year of positive economic and social development, Schaaf noted there is tremendous suffering. But, he added, “I worry that the (media) footage makes Haitians look helpless. They are not.” As is the case with citizens elsewhere, “It is the local communities and local people that are first in responding to the crisis.”