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Haiti Earthquake Orphan update: How charities work together

The SOS School in Haiti
The SOS School in Haiti

This is a report explaining the different roles of charities in a crisis and how they work together

A common question we get asked is how we co-operate with other charities on the ground and who decides who does what. Why do we always follow the same pattern of running emergency shelters for thousands of children, running trauma therapy and ending up a couple of years later with the several hundred orphaned children without family living in our homes?

When a catastrophe like the Haiti Earthquake strikes, a huge number of different things need to be done and most of the critical work is done by charities which are specialised. Sometimes, there is a mismatch between the speciality of the charities with most to do versus to whom the public has given money. At worst charities people operating outside their competence, at best the wiser charities declare when they have enough funds for their role or pass funds to each other in the aftermath of such a disaster. After the Asian tsunami, where unprecedented amounts were raised for short term relief via the DEC in the UK and others, the charitable sector did not always act in a way to make us proud. However the official UN review of tsunami charities did award top marks to 12 of the 35 NGOs on the ground, including SOS Children.

Some charities (such as DEC member Merlin) are specialised in very rapid response. They have a disadvantage of distance from disasters compared to SOS Children but they are often on the scene nearly as quickly and their expertise in very short term aid is greater than ours. Other charities are specialised in search and rescue (we have some experience but not as good experience or equipment as others). Some charities are good at sorting sanitation, others emergency medical aid and short term hospitals. Others, like a "roof for my country" build temporary housing very quick and very cheap. The ones who you see in the field are not necessarily the same ones you always hear about on the news.

Already in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake we are talking to other NGOs and working out roles. We have special consultative status with UNICEF but as well as working with them we are already talking to others about use of our village football pitch for an emergency hospital, working with a roof for my country with emergency shelters and sharing facilities with others. With the government co-operation has been very good. We already have in place permits for our staff, convoys and civilian security staff to travel freely between our coordination centre in the Dominican Republic and Haiti without visas or other constraints. The constrast with the Asian tsunami when it took some of the short term NGOs with no base in the country weeks to get their Toyota Land Cruisers through customers could not be sharper: no one plays games here, people are desperate.

But to return to why we will end up again running emergency care for thousands of children, doing trauma therapy and ending up with the several hundred orphaned children in our permenant care, and why we ask for longer term earthquake sponsorships and direct debits more than one off gifts, a lot of it is trust. As in Kasmir and as in all the tsunami countries, we have been caring for orphans in Haiti for thirty years, we are registered and local, people on the ground recognise and trust us. Some of the children in our emergency shelters will be left there by a parents while they search for other siblings; either way people know us as a place where children are safe. Deep local rooting means we can spot if a child is being placed somewhere with trafficking risks or with a "relative" they do not know. Of course we are good neighbours and will help with anything where we can improve things. But caring for the orphans and lone children will be where we shine.