The Uncomfortable Truth: Haiti was robbed

Port au Prince, Haiti 2014

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author, Eric Klein. Klein is the CEO of CAN-DO.ORG, a disaster relief and community revitalization 501c3 organization.

(CAN-DO.ORG) – Those who know me know that I’m not one to keep my mouth shut or give people a pass. Not when it comes to this.

Fourteen. That is the amount of newsletters I received this week from groups begging for more money to help the people in Haiti. Timely, as you know, because Monday marked the 5th anniversary since the Haiti earthquake.

Every time one of these newsletters popped up in my inbox or Facebook feed, my stomach turned.

It’s not only irresponsible, but I believe criminal, for any non-profit organization to continue to solicit money for a country if they failed to show results the first time around.

More than 13 billion dollars — billion with a B — was donated 5 years ago for Haiti and the overwhelming majority of that money was not used to better the people since the earthquake. It did not provide a better life for them. It was not used efficiently.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth that no one likes to talk about: most of the money donated was wasted or remains unaccounted for. That is an undisputed fact.

Before I go on, I want you to understand that my words today are coming from years of frustration watching a lot of charities take in ridiculous amounts of money while tugging on the heartstrings of donors, yet fail to be transparent about how they use the money, or publicly document their results. This frustration is the very reason I got into this line of work more than 10 years ago. And not much has changed.

Now, back to the 5th anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, and the gross negligence by some of the people in my industry who use smoke-and-mirrors to convince the public that they use donor money efficiently. Shame on you. All of you.

Shame on every single organization — big or small — who has been on the ground in Haiti anytime over the past 5 years yet continue to remain silent about the lack of aid that the Haitians actually received. Worse, shame on every group who solicited more money during this anniversary week if they don’t have a specific plan on how to use it.

Do the people in Haiti still need your help? You bet your ass they do.

And if you work in this arena, yet fail to speak up for the very people you claim to be there to help, you need to reevaluate your mission. If this is you, you should not call yourself a non-profit or a relief worker. If this is you, then it is your responsibility to speak up — speak loudly — about how badly Haiti was robbed after a disaster that shattered their already frail environment.

More than 13 billion dollars was donated to help a country that is smaller than the state of Maryland. There are highly educated people in this industry and government. We know right from wrong. It’s betrayal for any of us that have been there and seen the truth to not speak up.

It would be brutally dishonest to pretend that 13 billion dollars was spent efficiently or that it even made a dent to help the people there.

Is the rubble removed? Yes. Are there still tent cities? Only a few. But let’s not pretend that the Haitians homes and lives were rebuilt. They weren’t. Most of the people left the tent cities and were forced to go back to their homes still damaged from the earthquake.

Thirteen billion dollars would go a long way anywhere in the world, but it clearly did not in Haiti.

The truth is, the majority of large-scale organizations have turned into a fundraising business instead of providing a better life for the very people they’re throwing that fancy gala to help in the first place. Too many others that get into this industry just consider it a hobby or a self-fulfilling way to pat themselves on the back instead of the responsibility and privilege that it is. You’re a voice for those people. Use it.

That may sound harsh to some of you, but it won’t if you think of it just like this: if it was your family or community that was wiped out, and then strangers from all over the world donated billions to rebuild your home, your business, your livelihood — and 5 years later, virtually nothing came out of all that money…. trust me: you’d be speaking up. You’d alert the press, you’d be shouting from the rooftops. Why stay silent now?

I’m not the guy that typically goes around quoting people, but this Martin Luther King Jr. quote couldn’t be more spot on: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

He’s right. Every organization that has failed to provide results or use donation money efficiently to help the people in Haiti, you’ve betrayed them. You betrayed your mission. You betrayed your donors. Shame on you. Stop hiding behind buzz words like “red-tape” and “government bureaucracy.” They don’t mean anything. You use those words to deceive the public and excuse your actions, or lack there of.

And to the other organizations that have provided sustainable relief, yet fail to speak out on the lies fed to the public and the crisis that remains in Haiti, you’ve betrayed them as well.

In fairness, not all non-profits and relief groups have failed Haiti – but the majority has. This is not my opinion; it’s a fact. If you don’t believe me, book a flight to Port-au-Prince and see for yourself. There is no grey area.

Bottom line: the progress seen, versus the total amount of money raised, does not match up. Not even close.

People have become so fearful about standing up for what is right. I have never been one to mince my words or remain silent. And while today, I’m speaking out for Haiti; this issue goes far beyond this one country or disaster. This is a chronic problem in the non-profit industry and no one should be afraid of retaliation or being blacklisted for speaking out for what is right.

It’s okay to get a little angry sometimes. Speak up. Take action. To those of you in the non-profit industry who are already doing this: thank you. Keep it up.

And to consumers out there: continue to donate to the organization of your choice. But ask for more than fancy press releases and pie charts — demand accountability, transparency and to see the results. This should not be a hard ask to any person or group you’re trusting your money with.

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