By Lizzie Widdicombe, The New Yorker, January 2010
On January 12, 2010 Haiti was hit by a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake. An estimated 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and 1,000,000 were made homeless. As in other mega-disasters, the global community reached out to help by giving large amounts of money and also by volunteering, including by people from other countries. In contrast to the title in the article “helpless” people strive to volunteer in such events in order to feel helpful and empowered in times of uncertainty.
Widdicombe describes the spontaneous offers of help by people in New York. As one of the volunteers explained: “I came here because I can’t sit and watch CNN anymore”. However, as often is the case in mega-events, there was none of the infrastructure required for volunteering. In Haiti, as Widdicombe explains, there were no hotels for the volunteers, no place for tents, no communication framework etc. A member of the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad also explained that “Washington doesn’t want any civilian help.”
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