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One Year After: Haiti Aid Is not Rocket Science nor a Spectator Sport

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As the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti is upon us, Los Angeles-based International relief agency, Operation USA, is hard at work on recovery in Haiti, and specifically in the City of Jacmel. Construction continues at the site of Operation USA's largest project, the rebuilding of Ecole Nationale Jacob Martin Henriquez in Jacmel. This public elementary school is scheduled to be completed in February and will provide an opportunity for a free education for over 400 students, grades K-7. Operation USA has focused a good portion of its second stage relief and recovery efforts in Jacmel -- knowing it can make a significant impact in this smaller well-governed community as opposed to chaotic Port au Prince.

Our initial post quake relief included sending eight plane loads of both emergency supplies and personnel, many of whom came from other relief agencies in need of transport. In addition, eight 40-foot sea containers of supplies were sent both through the Dominican Republic or directly to Port-au-Prince. Companies like Honeywell, United Airlines, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Cascade Designs and a multitude of pharmaceutical companies joined Operation USA and many other NGOs in a real private/nonprofit-private/for-profit partnership which benefited a number of hospitals, clinics, schools and camp residents. Operation USA did not use government, the UN or the Clinton Initiative for anything other than an occasional assist to ensure our planes could land in Haiti or in trying to free inbound cargo from light-fingered or heavy-handed customs officials who are legion in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The construction of the Jacmel school project has been funded by Honeywell Hometown Solutions, Honeywell's Corporate Citizenship initiative, and built with cooperation from the City of Jacmel, whose Mayor, Ed Zenny, is one of Haiti's exceptional public servants -- a private businessman-turned-populist Mayor (and just elected Senator) who spends his own considerable money on public works. Architectural designs for the school were donated by global design and planning firm Gensler, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif. Seismic specialists Miyamoto International, also headquartered in California, provided structural engineering services, and have also been serving as on-site supervisors for the construction process, bringing high performance earthquake engineering expertise that is so clearly in short supply in Haiti. Throughout the construction process, workshops have been held for the Haitian masons and laborers working on the project in numerous facets of safe building reconstruction -- providing an unprecedented opportunity to educate the local workforce in seismic safety and building methods at the highest level.

In addition to the school's construction, a scholarship fund has been developed by Operation USA to help support expenses the students may incur during the school year, including mandatory school uniforms, books and supplies. A nutrition program that will provide a hot meal every day for each student and community development programs are also being planned.

Last year's disaster phase (still going due to the cholera epidemic and disruptions from election-related violence) consisted in getting essential pharmaceuticals, medical, emergency and shelter supplies, generators and light towers, as well as medical personnel to partner agencies on the ground in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. Emergency items including food and cooking supplies were purchased for a number of orphanages, schools and hospitals from suppliers in the Dominican Republic. Relief efforts were greatly helped by support, products and services from many donors including Honeywell Hometown Solutions, United Airlines, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, Inc., Ball Corporation, The Lincy Foundation, Cardinal Health, Cascade Designs and many others.

None of the above is rocket science. In general,most NGOs find skilled local people or train those who live there. Needs are assessed, plans to address those needs are made and resources are brought to bear on the solution. That just over 50 percent of private nonprofit donations have so far been spent is not necessarily a bad thing given a near-impossible climate in which few things are available for purchase in Haiti, long delays occurring at its ports and wariness among NGOs and donor governments of Haiti's yet-to-be-seen competence and capacity in governing is prevalent. On the other hand, many reports from NGOs are clearly inflated either by overvaluing supplies having been sent or by counting as money spent things which are planned for later on.

HuffPost's reporters picked up a very incomplete accounting of income and expenses of many relief agencies active in Haiti off an incomplete list in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Left out, for example, was Operation USA's widely reported $7.9 million in cash and supply income for Haiti and $6.8 million spent there to date.

Of great concern is the mystery of how much televangelists have collected and spent in Haiti as they have been manipulating their TV and radio audiences for decades using the bloated bellies of Haitian children as a come-on for donations. Sarah Palin's recent trip with Samaritan's Purse, run by Billy Graham's son, Franklin, highlighted a massive delivery of shoe boxes containing religious paraphrenalia, candy, toys, hygiene supplies and other things via chartered jet. They used Fox News' Greta Von Susteran as a shill for the intrinsic value of a shoe box full of stuff for hungry and homeless children who were preached at by Rev. Graham, who has a history of evangelizing in disaster situations. (If this was Sarah Palin's chosen introduction to foreign assistance, that's another reason to be wary of her assuming public responsibilities)

HOW TO HELP IN YEAR TWO: Governments' defaults or delays on pledges made last March 31 at the United Nations, skepticism about Haitian officials, despair about widespread cholera and corruption do not negate the necessity to provide "Smart Aid". For every failed or incomplete project, there is one which works and tangibly benefits Haiti's people. Operation USA's Jacmel school project has been planned to be replicated elsewhere and also expanded by adding a clinic, a micro-credit program for parents of students, enriched academic studies after school, and using the very modern school campus as a community center... So many logical things which can be done inexpensively and to the benefit of the community in Jacmel.

Take a look at Operation USA at www.opusa.org or call in 1-800-678-7255 or text 50555 then "Haiti"