In a March 14 editorial “Aid Japan, responsibly,” The Flat Hat compared student responses to the recent tsunami in Japan with those to last January’s Haitian earthquake, suggesting a more efficient direction for aspiring aid. We at William and Mary Supports Haiti also believe students should actively engage with global events through their local philanthropic efforts. Unfortunately, the article made a couple errors of assumption.
First, Japan and Haiti are two distinct nations with wildly dissimilar disaster responses. While Japan is a prosperous G8 country with an established capacity for relief, Haiti was — and remains — the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with political instability crippling any semblance of effective governance. Every life lost is a tragedy in itself, but Haiti suffered 12 times current casualty estimates in Japan: 230,000 (11.5 percent of population) to 18,000 (.0014 percent of population). Together, the record earthquake and thin response created a catastrophe unlike anything in our generation. That’s why the student network of WMSH has remained committed to Haitian reconstruction, even as the American media moves on.
Since Haiti’s government lacks sufficient relief resources, a surfeit of global NGO’s have swamped the region, arguably robbing the Haitian people of their rightful democratic participation. Seeing this occur last spring, WMSH channeled all campus donations to two rural Haitian-run institutions, with $3,000 to reconstructing the University of Fondwa, and $668.11 to Sonje Ayiti (a community organization teaching ESL and cholera prevention). What’s more, we have continued to fundraise this year, reconstituting as an official on-campus organization to raise over $300 for our Haitian partners.
WMSH has not disbanded, and certainly we hope to be more than “rarely heard from” as we follow through on our long-term commitment. In fact, through WMSH (along with Haiti Compact and Catholic Campus Ministries mission trips), we hope students will continue to eagerly learn about the country, for both its plight and its rich cultural history. We encourage similar student efforts for Japan to look past the photos and into the unique underlying situation of its people, thus enabling an adaptive, educated, sustained and compassionate approach to all relief.