Sunday, January 17, 2010

Love thy neighbor

When I heard about the earthquake in Haiti last week, one of the first things I thought was: of all the places this could happen, why Haiti? Haiti has enough problems already. It's known as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Unemployment is high, about half the population lives in poverty conditions, and there are even reports of people living in slavery there. The literacy rate is only about 50%, and fewer than that have access to basic healthcare. Rates for diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria are way higher than average. And I haven't even mentioned the lack of infrastructure or environmental problems. In short, the people of Haiti were suffering already, long before the earthquake.

Seeing these images of broken people and buildings just tears me up inside. I'm grateful for the news updates, but I can't help but wonder . . . how is it possible that we can get journalists and photographers and camera crew down there so quickly, but not water and food and medicine, or medical and rescue workers. Why does it always take so long to respond to a natural disaster? Didn't we learn anything from Katrina?

This earthquake should be a wake-up call for all of us. We need to be more prepared for disasters no matter where they occur. But we also need to be helping our neighbors more on a regular basis. We're supposed to love our neighbors. Port-au-Prince is 1,680 miles from Indianapolis - that makes it closer to us than Los Angeles or Seattle, and only about twenty miles further than Las Vegas. Haiti is our neighbor and they need our help. How can we continue to look the other way?

Call me Pollyanna, but I think it's time to take a closer look at how we might be able to help Haiti. Everyone has something they can do, whether it's sending donations to a reputable organization, sponsoring a child or organization there who needs assistance, or working with a group that's doing something. Let's put those things that separate us aside for a while, roll up our sleeves, and come together to get this done. If ex-Presidents Clinton and Bush can step up and work together on this effort, then we can, too.