By Joe Shansky
As the extent of the destruction in Haiti becomes clearer, so do the priorities on the ground. The majority of Haitians affected by the earthquake are now homeless, and the need for shelter is urgent. There are many ways to help for those who cannot afford to donate money, and innovation has become a major theme in many of the smaller grassroots efforts.
One example is a US-based initiative whose mission lies in the name, “One Thousand Tents for Haiti”. Created by Seattle activist Johnny Fernandes, the beauty of the project is that it is both simple and practical. Anyone can participate. The initial goal is to collect 1000 extra tents from around the US by the end of February to send to Haiti.
“I felt compelled to act on a purely humanitarian level,” says Fernandes. “The re-building of the affected areas will take years. The vast majority of the people have no shelter, no homes to go back to—men, women and children are all sleeping outside, exposed to the elements. This is for those who want to help but don’t necessarily have money to donate, but may be able to give a used tent they have in their garage.”
His goal cuts right to the most immediate needs of Haitians, as there have been numerous reports out of Port-au-Prince from aid groups stating that tents are a top priority right now.
Fernandes has already received a massive a show of support through a growing Facebook group, where most communication is done. The tents are being directed to one location in Florida, where they will be then shipped to Haiti.
“We are working with Haitians in America and in Haiti to ensure full transparency and accountability in the distribution of the tents. I expect at least one member of the group to be present for the distribution,” he says.
While both used and new tents (and donations for tents) are welcome, Fernandes prefers if people don’t spend money on new tents, and instead “let ingenuity, determination and community prevail.”
I wanted people to come together and use their creativity instead of their wallets. As individuals, the task may seem monumental, but as a group the goal is more achievable. Most people want to help, but sometimes need a catalyst.”