In early October, many countries were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Of the countries ravaged by the hurricane, Haiti recorded the highest number of deaths and loss to properties.
Haiti is no stranger to disaster. In 2008, the country was rocked by an earthquake, and while still recovering from its devastating effects, the country was again swept by an outbreak of cholera which caused the deaths of hundreds of Haitians.
Haiti, which means “mountainous country”, is located in the Caribbean. With a population that is mostly black, many elements Haitian culture originate from Africa, the Continent from which many Haitians trace their roots.
In many historical accounting, Haiti is considered the first Black Republic. The country gained its independence after successfully revolting against their slave masters.
Although Liberia did not gain independence from slave masters, I could not help but observe some similarities between the two black nations of Liberia and Haiti, with Haiti being the first free Black Republic to gain their independence from slave masters, and Liberia being the first African Country to become independent.
Both nations have also been plagued with mismanagement and poor governance by their leaders, with both countries still being considered amongst “the poorest countries in the world”. Dismal health care, low education, lack of basic infrastructures and social services, to name a few, stand out as unwanted features of the two nations.
So here is Haiti once again, devastated by another natural disaster. And the world either shrugs with indifference, or move into action to support.
In 2014 when Liberia was hit by the deadly Ebola Virus disease, Haiti, a “poor” country like Liberia, looked to her sister country and came to our aid albeit in a small way. Still, they came.
In solidarity with Liberia, Haiti joined ActionAid member counties to raise funds in support ActionAid-Liberia’s Ebola Response which was mainly focused on support to vulnerable women and children in affected areas. This money was timely and needed. Along with its local partners, ActionAid-Liberia was prompt in providing support to several Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs), quarantined families, and provided several needy communities with support “kits”. Again, the support from Haiti (and other ActionAid Federation countries) proved to be timely, needed and impactful.
Today, Haiti has recorded over 800 deaths, with of course, women and children being most affected. Thousands have lost their homes, leaving them homeless and their livelihood affected.
Liberia can never forget. We remembered that in our time of need, Haiti, also a “poor nation” responded as best as they could. They answered our call for help.
True to the nation’s character of never abandoning a friend, a number of national organizations that participated in ActionAid-Liberia’s Ebola Response efforts which Haiti supported have decided to join ActionAid-Liberia in fundraising efforts to support women and children recently affected by the deadly Hurricane Matthew.
AAL sounded the urgent call to action! It was a call to raise funds to assist and support Haiti. Mrs. Naomi Tulay-Solanke, founder of the Community Health Initiative (CHI) decided to lead the initiative on behalf of AAL’s local partner organizations.
The organizations included CHI, COSEO, NEP and the Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP) along with some ActionAid Liberia staff and other well-meaning Liberian women who also heard and responded to the call for action. They, too, decided to support.
The women organized 3 days of car wash at various traffic light stops around Monrovia and offered to wash the windscreens of cars and serve passengers and passersby hot tea to raise funds. For 2 days the women set aside personal pride and made time for up to 4 hours in the early hours of the morning to undertake the exercise. They washed cars. They served tea, often to passengers and passersby who took them because the women insisted.
Some of the women explained that at the beginning, passers-by were curious to know why they were doing what they were doing. Once explained, they would receive small additional donations. For these Liberians, it seems to be the right thing to do.
And yet, it was not to be unexpected that a few passersby were rude and abrasive while others were very supportive expressing how sad they felt for what was happening to the people of Haiti. Many of these people would donate what little cash they had to support.
The women noted that a majority of the contributions came from taxi drivers and passengers in commercial vehicles while drivers of private vehicles mostly refused to support and threw out insulting words.
The fundraising team also went into the local markets where they got a lot of support from the market women who willingly give L$10-20 each. Each woman in the market contacted said they could relate to having lost everything in a heartbeat during the civil war and knew what the mothers of Haiti were experiencing.
On the 3rd day of their fundraising activity, the women went to various offices of private companies, government ministries and agencies.
At the end of the exercise, they were able to raise US$1425 and L$62,000 (Liberian currency).
The takeover of sorts of this activity by local organizations led by women is profound and admirable. It also reinforces a campaign championed earlier this year by many organizations calling for more localization of aid and the empowerment of local/national organizationsas well as the recognition of women as capable First Responders in times of crisis and natural disasters.
Naomi of CHI explained “When I saw what was happening in Haiti, my heart broke for the suffering and it reminded me of the various trials we have faced here in Liberia. I was pondering what we as Liberians could do to help, and just in that time, I saw an email from ActionAid-Liberia reaching out to its local implementing partners to contribute to funds being raised to support the people of Haiti. Recognizing what my organization – CHI- had started doing to raise funds in Liberia to support our work during Ebola, I thought it would be a good strategy to use to support the cause for Haiti.”
The initiative was led by women who currently run local charity organizations in Liberia. Many worked as First Responders during the Ebola Virus outbreak in areas ranging from community awareness on Ebola preventive measures, providing psycho social counseling support, or ensuring that thousands of Liberian school children remained engaged academically during the compulsory closure of schools.
Other Liberian women who heard about the work on social media also volunteered their time during the car wash fundraising drive to help support the effort. Mrs. Souriah Haider Dennis, a young mother and entrepreneur said:
“As a concerned Liberian, I saw this as an extremely important initiative and I
immediately cleared my schedule to assist. This fundraising act of good will and kindness felt like the right thing to do. While it is true that our challenges as a nation seem to never end, it doesn’t mean we can’t help others in their time of need especially when they did the same for Liberia. The fundraising effort was a very fulfilling experience for me personally and I would like to extend my gratitude to the People of Liberia who contributed to this cause, especially the Market Women and Commercial Drivers. As a Liberian, it felt good to see the reaction of fellow Liberians when they were told about the devastation in Haiti as a result of the Hurricane”
For me, as a “young” Liberian woman who is personally committed to seeing positive changes in Liberia, this collective support from a cross range of Liberians – old, young, male, female, the haves and the have-nots – has warmed my heart and shown me that Liberians are caring people, and will continue to give to humanitarian causes. This is contrary to the common belief that Liberians do not give or care about what is happening globally.
I am even more motivated and touched to see Liberian women stepping up and moving into unchartered territories proving that women can indeed be First Responders – that we can lead and show the efficacy of localization even in times of crisis.