At the end of this month, the day after Thanksgiving, I will be traveling to Haiti with Habitat for Humanity. Every year, former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn organize a week-long build in an area of need somewhere in the world, and bring a few hundred volunteers along. I was fortunate enough to go along last year, and feel very fortunate to be returning again. This year, as we have all been witness to, the tri-state area was hit with something that cast my trip in a new light for me.
I'm still tremendously excited to be going on this trip, and very grateful for the emotional and financial support I've received from friends and family that has allowed it. But Sandy has cast the trip in a new light - what does it mean to be expending so much effort on aid in a foreign county when there is so much immediate need here?
It's an age old question, of course. In my case, at least part of the answer is that this trip was planned months ago, before Sandy was even a rain cloud off the coast of Venezuela. And really, the scale, devastation, and need in Haiti is on a level that is almost unimaginable until you see it first hand. The need for the kind of service Habitat is providing in Haiti is prolonged and dire. In Leogane, for example, where the Carter Work Project is taking place, 90% of the structures were leveled by the 2010 Earthquake. Water, shelter, and disease control present continuing problems. Sandy herself caused a wide swath of destruction in Haiti, to add to an already very tentative situation.
Still, thinking about this question has made me wonder why I haven't been more active in local philanthropic organizations, despite always "meaning to". I used to volunteer quite frequently - Habitat when I was in college, and through my twenties with the outstanding organization New York Cares. Then, as is often is the case, life got too hectic as I got older and the drive to participate in those activities ebbed (at least until I had the chance to go to Haiti last year). The aftermath of Sandy has me rethinking that.
I'm certainly not one to tell anyone how they should be spending their time, but I strongly encourage volunteering if you are able. It can be heartbreaking, exhausting, frustrating, or even fun, but one thing it will always be is enriching. You will always come away with a better understanding of someone else's perspective or situation, even if you don't feel like you made a big impact or don't like what you see. And that is valuable in itself.
I will be posting a few more times in the weeks before my trip, and I welcome any questions or comments. For more information in the Carter Work Project, please see the following: http://www.habitat.org/cwp/2012
I know these are tough times for a lot of people in the area, but if you would like to support my trip with a donation, it would be greatly appreciated. Here is the link to my fundraising page: http://share.habitat.org/cwp2012participants161