Manitobans open their hearts and wallets for Haitian relief

Earthquake sheds light on problems in impoverished country

Through efforts like these collection jars, the Manitoba chapter of Mennonite Central Committee has raised more than $1 million for relief efforts in Haiti. Jill Brown

With an estimated 200,000 dead and up to 1.5 million homeless and hungry after Haiti’s devastating 7.0 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, Manitobans have stepped up to help in a big way.

Provincial, national and international organizations have been collecting donations for emergency crews working on the ground in the decimated country in an effort to save and shelter survivors. One of the groups is the provincial chapter of the internationally active Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which has raised more than $1 million for relief efforts so far.

“It’s at these moments that as an organization, we are just humbled,” resource generation and constituency relations leader Brad Reimer said.

Donations of all sizes have been mailed, dropped off and taken in by collection jars all over the city, including all three Diversity Food Services locations on the University of Winnipeg campus.

MCC, which has been participating in relief efforts in Haiti since 1968, has announced the need for 20,000 relief kits and 10,000 heavy comforters and bed sheets.

“Cash is always appreciated, but I think that a lot of people make this a family venture. A university group might make it an event or a social gathering to try and make as many [relief kits] as they can,” said Reimer. His group will be accepting donations until Sunday, Feb. 28.

Local businesses around Winnipeg are pitching in their profits to help Haitians as well.

Vertical Adventures, an indoor rock climbing facility, held “Climb for Haiti” on Jan. 21 at their 77 Paramount Rd. location. Organizer Brittney Jones drummed up around 100 people to climb in support of the Canadian Red Cross’s relief efforts, giving every $10 admission fee collected between 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. to the organization, raising $1,130.

“It’s not like you’re just donating money, which a lot of people do, but you actually get something out of it,” said the Grade 12 student from Garden City Collegiate.

While emergency relief is critical, those who have seen the horrors in Haiti know that a long-term plan for the country is desperately needed. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Karen Jones, an environmental activist and a technologist in the U of W’s biology department, visited the country in 1996. More than a decade after her three-week trip to preserve a tract of land with environmental groups, Jones is still shaken by what she experienced.

From having her life threatened by a militia, to having a voodoo curse placed on her, to meeting a 12-year-old boy whose life goal was to learn math, Jones stresses the need for help existed before the recent natural disaster.

“Now it’s an earthquake, so it’s front page news. What if there was no earthquake? There’s tremendous environmental degradation. Illiteracy like crazy,” she said. “These people are condemned to die young and to live a really hard life in the time that they’re alive.”

Jones knows that after emergency relief has been completed, Haiti may fall off our radar because of its deeply embedded issues.

“This is an opportunity to look at the problems that Haiti has,” she said. “After it’s not on our front page, it’s still going to be there in Haiti. It’s just not going to be in our face, so we can forget about it.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 28, 2010)

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