Little did they know when they selected this month’s organization that it would provide us with an opportunity to help with the world’s latest worst disaster. We went to Medical Teams International, a nonprofit organization with headquarters in the Portland metro area that provides medical disaster relief wherever it is needed around the world. Today, for example, it sent a group of doctors and nurses to Haiti to join the front line response to the crisis following the earthquake two days ago. (If you want to know more about MTI, you can watch a short video we made a while back, when it was called Northwest Medical Teams.)
MMT staff divided into two groups: the largest group sorted donated medical supplies and equipment diverted from Goodwill donations while
the rest of us worked the crisis phone bank. I was in the latter group. Four of us got a brief training session using the brand new phone bank system, scripts for answering the most anticipated calls, and we hit the ground running.
Lots and lots of calls. Grant Kruger‘s lightening reflexes meant he was first to answer, so he more than likely fielded more calls than anyone. Sally Yee was only slightly slower. Phoebe Owens and I covered the rear flank.
Some people called in tears. Caller after caller – from all over the country – had been watching television or listening to the radio and were so affected by the tragic state of affairs they needed to do something. Now. Anything. Just needed to help.
By far the most calls I took were from people who wanted to go directly to Haiti. Now. They wanted to help in the worst way. Many were more than qualified, lots of nurses, doctors and other health professionals. A fair number had years of experience working in Haiti. Several spoke French and Creole. And it wasn’t just medical professionals calling. One man who called said he had operated heavy equipment for 26 years and he figured there would be a need for people to help remove all that rubble… another man called who said he was just young and strong and could do a lot of heavy lifting.
A student nurse in Arizona wanted to organize a first aid drive among nursing students there, companies called wanting to send medical supplies, medicine, all sorts of emergency equipment. The calls kept coming.
While we directed callers to departments and hotlines at MTI when appropriate, unfortunately we had to tell many callers that organizations like MTI have to prepare far ahead of a disaster in order to effectively respond, so we wouldn’t be able to put them on the next plane and deliver them to the streets of Haiti, they would have to fill out a volunteer application and be screened and someone would get back to them. And while I know all that is true, and delivering people to the disaster zone would just clog things up and make things worse, I hated having to tell people to fill out a form and wait. Many callers had already heard the same message from many other organizations they had already called. But they didn’t want to take no for an answer. They needed to help.
And while I write this, I’m watching Anderson Cooper 360 and seeing all the people in pain and anguish, without food or water, needing medial care and someone to operate heavy equipment and do heavy lifting, and my heart is breaking.
The privilege of speaking to so many ordinary Americans today touched me deeply. Some gave monetary donations, but a fair number told me they were unemployed and were free to travel right now. They wanted to do something with this time on their hands.
I’m wondering if we can marshall our compassion and energy and wish to help into planning ahead, to filling out forms and figuring out a way to help before disaster strikes, when adrenalin isn’t flowing. So we can be ready when it is. There’s so much we could do before the next crisis comes. And one thing we know for sure, it will. We need to prepare for that one now.
I think we need an app for that.
Please do whatever you can to help Haiti now. What relief organizations need most is money, because it gives them flexibility to respond in the most helpful way. You can check nonprofit organizations out on Charity Navigator. You can help two world class organizations with headquarters in Portland provide on-the-ground help now: MTI and Mercy Corps. The Red Cross is also providing direct relief.
There are lots of ways to matter, even if you can’t get to Haiti.
Check out my co-workers’ great blog entries about this subject:
Grant Kruger’s blog post.