Kids' fundraising for Haiti rebuilds more than buildings

July 20, 2010
A recent New York Times article struck me as a reminder that one of the things damaged by the January earthquake in Haiti was the direct connection that many Haitian-Americans are able to have with the country's vibrant culture and history. Tyler Lewis is an intern at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. This is her second post on Field Notes.

A recent New York Times article struck me as a reminder that one of the things damaged by the January earthquake in Haiti was the direct connection that many Haitian-Americans are able to have with the country's vibrant culture and history.

UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1364/Marta Ramoneda
Vendors sell food amid the rubble of destroyed buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince.

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF's own Cathiana Sylne was born in Roche-a-Bateau, Haiti, a small town 130 miles away from Port-au-Prince. She knows well the value of visiting her home country over the summer. Her fondest memories center around enjoying life in a bucolic setting: playing in a river, chasing goats in the street, and relaxing under a mango tree. "If you were born there, you have an intangible connection to it," she explains. Though plagued by corruption and poverty before the earthquake, Haiti is home to a unique and beloved culture. The Kreyòl language, Carnival, popular snacks like fresco (a syrupy ice treat) and Kompa music are among the many things that mean home to many.

Cathiana will return to Haiti this summer for a film project, but her younger brothers won't. Her mother isn't comfortable with letting the whole family return just yet. For many kids here in the U.S. with ties to Haiti, the unstable situation there has put treasured visits on hold.

Though the earthquake has robbed some young Americans of a tradition, the damage it has caused has motivated others to raise money for Haiti and support UNICEF's efforts to restore the country's stability. That will go a long way towards reopening connections between Haitian-Americans and their communities in Haiti.

Students at Appling County High School coordinated events to involve their entire community in fundraising for Haiti. They ultimately raised $6,157!

And at Texas A&M University, Archana Gawde decided to lead a fundraiser after being inspired by UNICEF's immediate response to the crisis. "The satisfaction of volunteering time to raise some money is remarkable," she says.

UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1312/Marta Ramoneda
Students receive UNICEF-provided school supplies at a temporary classroom in a park in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

In Haiti, young leaders will play an essential role in the country's redevelopment. Here, young people can have just as much of an impact on the world by getting involved in fundraising.

As a kid, it's easy to think that it's impossible to have much of an impact, but that's not true. Any effort is helpful when Haiti still needs both immediate emergency help and long-term recovery and reconstruction aid. Setting up a simple lemonade stand, organizing a fundraising barbeque, or holding a yard sale are a few ways to raise money during the summer while enjoying the weather--and there are plenty of other creative ideas out there. As a recent graduate from a high school that raised over a thousand dollars in the weeks after the earthquake, I know how awesome it feels to contribute to the cause and to know that you are helping kids your age.

It's especially comforting to know that a contribution to UNICEF can go very far, and mean a lot to both Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

UNICEF has been using the millions of dollars that donors have provided to help Haiti move beyond the emergency phase, and not just return to normal, but build back better.

According to the six-month report, UNICEF has been delivering clean water to 333,000 people each day, has immunized more than 275,000 against major diseases, and is providing food for more than half a million children under the age of five and women who are nursing. In terms of restoring stability--a key component of making Haiti safe for visitors again--UNICEF has been working closely with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, in addition to devoting millions of dollars to child protection.

UNICEF is also addressing the displacement of 660,000 people--half of whom are children--and is working to prevent temporary camps from becoming slums. Another important factor in Haiti's stability is a secure educational system, a goal that UNICEF is working toward ardently, having dedicated more than 56 million dollars to the cause. UNICEF has set up 1,300 school tents, and is involved in planning for permanent school construction.

A lot of the work that's been done already wouldn't have been possible without fundraising efforts, ranging from the Hope for Haiti Now multinational benefit concert, to the smallest school fundraiser. I hope that the work of Ms. Gawde, the students of Appling High, and that of other schools inspires many more youth fundraising initiatives--especially in light of how urgent it is, even for young people here in America, that we rebuild Haiti.