Helping Haiti: Do I Have To?

Helping Haiti: Do I Have To?

We’ve all seen it. We’ve all heard about the earthquake and we’ve heard about how much it sucks to have experienced the tragedy that is the Republic of Haiti. We’ve all been asked to donate, and we’ve all been asked to mourn. But what if we don’t want to?

These days, you can’t even sit through an entire episode of anything on TV without being forced to witness Haitian children die under broken buildings and fallen concrete. The images on the commercials beg for attention and the music is slow and somber. The camera zooms – a face is covered in dust and blood and bandages and debris, and tears clear paths down the poor kid’s cheeks.

Thirty seconds and you can’t help but feel bad. You can’t help but wonder how to help the child survive, how to help him maybe find his family. Then come the numbers, and all you have to do is call the one at the bottom of your screen.

Now, I’m all for charity – don’t get me wrong. And I have nothing against helping the not-so-fortunate. What I don’t like is feeling obligated to do so. I don’t want to be manipulated, be forced to feel pity or be solicited by images of innocent kids holding on to life by the thread of the gauze wrapped around their forehead. I don’t want to feel like a horrible and immoral person if I don’t agree to send water bottles for only a dollar a day.

But perhaps as a member of a relatively wealthy and well-off society, I am, in fact, obligated to send my money to Haiti. I don’t really need that new sweater from the Bookstore, and I don’t really need that four dollar coffee from the library cafe. But I also don’t need some so-called not-for-profit organization showing me and telling me just how bad the situation really is. If I wanted to hear about death and destruction I would choose to watch the news. At least that way I’m not obliged to call the numbers and send in the cash.

And it’s not only on TV. It happens on Facebook, too – six notifications and four of them are “Help Haiti Now!” posts, complete with the morbid pictures and little cartoon hearts. Sure, I can remove the posts from my wall. But the imagery’s stuck in my head forever, and I’m never going to forget that ashen face. It isn’t fair that poor little Haiti had to endure the shock and aftermath of such a devastating natural disaster, but why send the trauma further around the world? Raise awareness, and maybe show the public a couple of pictures, but eventually everyone will already be somewhat aware. We don’t need the constant reminders.

Though in the end, success of a charity comes down to whether or not people will make the decision to donate. If a person was going to hand over their money because they truly wanted to save the orphans or rebuild schools, they would have done it already.

People know that the situation in Haiti is dire. The organizations know that no humane and moral being could ever deny the face of a little boy or girl in pain; they will keep showing us pictures until enough people decide they feel bad.

And sitting in front of the doors at Frank, yelling at people as they pass in and out – of what is, for many, both a kitchen and a dining room – is not charity. I don’t want to donate if I’m doing it because the people at the table made me feel guilty. If people are going to donate, shouldn’t it be because they have a real desire to make change?

In a sense, charity then becomes more like a marketing scheme than a campaign for collecting goodness. No matter the intention of the person donating their five bucks towards creating hope for Haiti, their five bucks is still five bucks. And in the end, that’s all the organizations want: your money.

So if the people in Haiti are actually being aided by what is being weaseled out of us, then charity must ultimately be good. Yet as much as we like to think that charity is based upon decency and integrity, organizations know that the pictures will eventually force us to sacrifice our Starbucks latté.

They know that human nature will eventually force us to call the numbers and click the buttons, and they know that no human being could ever entirely turn away.