Posted by: mkirschmd | January 25, 2010

Don’t Volunteer to Help Haiti!

Haiti is crying out for help. The world is shocked and saddened by the suffering and devastation from an earthquake that struck the island without mercy. Governments and ordinary citizens from the four corners of the globe have sent armed forces, medical personnel, blankets and supplies, volunteers, disaster relief experts, cash and prayers.

Americans have responded with abounding generosity to help ease the unimaginable suffering in our impoverished southern neighbor.

We Want to Help

Many folks have offered to put their personal lives aside to travel to Port-au-Prince to volunteer. They are examples of America at its best, and we all admire them.

They want to help with relief efforts, delivering supplies, unloading medical equipment, feeding the hungry and trying to bring some measure of hope into a very dark country. Many are ready to travel there, but are not sure what their task will be. They assume that an extra pair of arm and legs will be put to good use.

What Help Do the Experts Need?

Relief experts are urging ordinary people not to book plane tickets to Haiti. Good intentions are not enough to make traveling to Haiti a good idea. Those who are determined to volunteer should do so only as part of an organized relief effort. Volunteers may not be adequately prepared and trained for:

  • A harsh environment with a destroyed infrastructure
  • Questionable security
  • Inadequate resources
  • Health risks

Haiti needs personnel who are trained in disaster relief. Governments and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have a roster of medical and technical experts that were quickly mobilized and dispatched. These professionals have done this before and know what they are doing.

James J. James, a physician and public health expert, recently expressed to a physician audience a caveat to those who want to volunteer in Haiti.

“Volunteers must be part of the solution, not the problem.”

What Should We Do?

For most of us, making a cash donation to a reputable organization is what we should do. These organizations are professionals and know where the funds are best needed. They would rather have us send cash than ship flashlights and shoes, which may not be a priority need at the moment. For those of us who simply must make a personal trip to Haiti, first contact a relief organization who can decide how you can best contribute to their team. Your next phone call should be to a travel doctor because you may need travel vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and typhoid, and other important travel safety advice.

Here are 3 suggestions of organizations that would welcome your generous donations.

American Red Cross

Doctors Without Borders

Mercy Corps

This is not amateur-hour. Leave it to the professionals.



  1. Thanks for the advice. I think you are the first to say this. And it makes so much sense.

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