Haiti's logistical hurdles are thwarting small nonprofits

This gallery collects all of our photos of the crisis in Haiti, starting with the most recent images and going back to the first photos that emerged after an earthquake hit the impoverished nation Jan. 12.
By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 22, 2010

The school is gone, its teachers scattered. With no way into Haiti and communications still spotty, Clodette Mompoint isn't sure how her small, faith-based nonprofit group will go on.

"We have to start back from scratch," said the Haitian immigrant. "But it's hard. First, I have to find a way to go there and see with my own eyes what's going on."

For days, from her home and church in Silver Spring, Mompoint has tried to keep up with each new development among the small staff she funds through her organization FaiBien ("do good"), which runs a school for 145 children on the outskirts of Jacmel. But what was once fruitful work has become a daily exercise in frustration.

"I have to work harder to do something," she said. "Our people cannot stay in the street."

Throughout the Washington area and across the nation, hundreds of small nonprofit groups are confronting the same problem she faces. They are small operations, mostly church-run or faith-based, that have worked for years in Haiti running schools, orphanages or clinics. But unlike bigger entities such as the Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services, they cannot afford to charter planes. Most do not have fast-response teams on standby or backup plans for dealing with such emergencies.

"All you can do is keep thinking of different things to try," Mompoint said. "How to find a ride there. What the immediate need is for your people there, which right now is food and shelter."

It is a problem that often surfaces during disasters, experts say. Although smaller organizations often play a huge role in the long-term recovery and rebuilding of a country, they are often overlooked in the immediate response, fundraising efforts and media coverage.

"There's often this rush initially with first responders, which usually means the largest national and international groups," said Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "That's when most of the media attention descends on the disaster, when the majority of fundraising transpires. What can happen is the big groups suck the wind out of the situation, and when they eventually pack up to leave, the smaller nonprofits are left to deal with the structural issues."

Alan Abramson studies nonprofit groups at George Mason University. "When we looked at the relief effort after Katrina, we found a bit of a disconnect," Abramson said. "By far, the largest amount of money was going to the big nonprofits -- Red Cross, Salvation Army -- who were certainly doing a large amount of work. But you also had smaller groups doing tremendous work but getting very little support."

Compounding the problem are logistical challenges that are especially difficult for smaller operations to overcome.

Pastor Ron Qualley has spent his days since the earthquake trying to troubleshoot such details from thousands of miles away. His church, Lord of Life Lutheran in Fairfax County, is one of several churches that since 1994 have run the Lazarus Project, which has three church-affiliated schools and orphanages serving nearly 700 children in Haiti.

Since the earthquake, Qualley's staff workers in Haiti have reported that the schools are mostly intact but that many of the teachers have lost their homes.

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