A Hopeful Note on Haiti

07/21/2010 07:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Haiti remains in critical condition despite all the good work by all the good people over the past six months. Over 1 million people remain displaced as they live in makeshift camps. Very little rubble form the earthquake damage has actually been cleared. Billions of dollars have been raised, but numerous governmental and non-governmental agencies are unable to put that cash to work. The government of Haiti is dysfunctional ahead of an election and has lost most of its infrastructure in the earthquake. Everyone is waiting for a central solution, a grand scheme for relief and reconstruction.

But the reality on the ground dictates otherwise. The most effective solutions to this national tragedy have been in the form of de-centralized entities, dealing with specific problems for which they provide a direct solution: small NGO's setting up camps for the homeless or field hospitals for the injured, individual donors providing food, water and medicine to those in need.

As the frustration with the pace of recovery escalates, it is important to recognize that Haiti has witnessed an unprecedented level of help and volunteerism. So many people have given their heart, time and money to help. The slow pace of recovery is not due to a lack of good will. The challenge has been in formulating the solution. Projects can become fantastically large and difficult to implement. Add the bureaucracy of a large project in the setting of a severely diminished infrastructure, and inaction ensues. Sentiments remain fragile in Haiti. Facing so much devastation can take a toll on relief workers and donors who can easily lose hope.

A complex problem needs to be addressed by analyzing it as an amalgam of smaller and simpler problems. A solution can be reached by focusing on simple answers. Each organization needs to focus its efforts on where it can be most effective. Some can provide food, some can provide medical relief. Some are better at providing shelter. Others may be more effective in helping with the long-term reconstruction.

A very successful model for relief and recovery efforts in Haiti has been the one implemented by community organizer, Father Rick Frechette, in Port-au-Prince. His organization, called NPH Haiti operates one the best equipped pediatric hospitals in Haiti. In the aftermath of the earthquake, thousands of the injured population received crucial medical and surgical care there. NPH provides food, water and shelter to thousands of people on a daily basis. It operates orphanages, rehabilitation centers, and mobile medical clinics. It also helps the reconstruction of Haiti through building and operating street schools in the slums of Haiti. Several organizations come together in order to implement these projects.

Our organization, Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ), has implemented its Haiti relief and recovery efforts to help Father Rick. Our focus has always been helping to provide a long term and sustainable solution by providing quality education for the children of the slums. Even as Haiti remains mired in a great need for relief, its long term success requires a long term solution for reconstruction.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, APJ helped support medical relief operations at St. Damien hospital. As a reconstructive surgeon, I was able to perform limb-salvage and reconstructive procedures at the hospital. I would like to share with you the story of a nine-year-old girl named Wildalina. She had lost her left eye and sustained severe facial trauma. I was able to fix some of her injuries but she needed more complex care. With the help of our board member Madeleine Stowe and through the generous support of an organization called Mending Kids International, I was able to bring Wildalina to Children's Hospital of Los Angeles for additional surgery. She is now doing well back in Haiti. Below is a small note I wrote to our team members which I believe captures our sentiments at that time:

"Wildalina, her mother and I are in Miami now, on our way to Los Angeles from PaP. As I reflect back on the joys of the past two weeks, the images of St Damiens are vivid and strong. Images of a human story that is being rewritten.

How does one reconcile small joys in the context of a great agony? We can never forget about the conditions that made this pain so great. But we must be steadfast in believing that the small joys will prevail and someday the agony will not be as palpable as it is now.

Wildelina will have her complex face and head injuries fixed thanks to you all. Although she will never have her left eye back, she will be able to see that life is about a simple experience of Love. And she will help us all rewrite the story of Haiti."

Please continue to help Haiti.