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February 17, 2010
Column #1,486
Use Caution in Donating to Haiti
By Mike McManus

       The grim plight of Haiti has moved Americans to generously donate $456 million so far. That is about equal to the $500 million given from the UN World Food Programme stockpiles and $500 million from the United States (including $200 million for the military to provide security and transportation).

       An immense amount of good work has been the result. Two examples:

      1. World Vision, a Protestant relief effort, has fed 631,000 people, 35,000 people a day.  It has raised $89 million, $34 million of which came from the U.S. It has been in Haiti for 31 years, and is cooperating with the World Food Programme (WFP). It provided four mobile health clinics and plastic sheeting and tarps for 14,000 homes, 30,000 people.

      2. Catholic Relief Service has been in Haiti since 1955 and has 313 employees, most of whom are Haitian.  It could provide immediate help because of its local staff and food in its warehouses. It has raised $40 million so far, and more is in the pipeline due to a special U.S. collection.  It is running a camp for 85,000 displaced people, while the 82nd Airborne is providing security. It has fed 500,000 people with WFP's rice, lentils and flour.

      By February 1, nearly five million tablets to counter dehydration had been distributed, and six million more were on the way. More than $100 million has been raised privately to invest in reconstruction of clinics, schools, community centers and replanting crops. There are 48 operational hospitals with surgical capacity in Port-au-Prince and 12 field hospitals. More than 120 water distribution sites were set up, helping 106,000 people.

      However, these commendable activities are not what has generated headlines. Sadly, the  most publicized Haitian relief efforts are the most questionable.

       A Haitian-born singer, Wycef Jean, held a U.S. concert and gave an easy way to earmark $5 or $10 gifts to his personal charity, that has raised millions.  However, since it was incorporated 12 years ago, the Wyclef Jean Foundation, only filed its first tax returns last August, and then only for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007.

       According to the foundation's tax returns for 2006 and 2007, it paid $31,200 in rent to a studio owned by Jean and Jerry Duplessis, foundation board members.  The recording studio was also paid $100,000 in 2006 for the "musical performance services of Wyclef Jean at a benefit concert."  The foundation said this was "substantially less than market value."

       Why was the performer paid anything? His "benefit" concert benefited himself!

      Another 2006 payment was a whopping $250,000 to Telemax, S.A., a for-profit Haiti company in which the Duplessis and Jean "own a controlling interest."  The foundation also paid "consultant" services of $300,000 from 2005-2007 plus $225,000 in "promotion and PR costs."

       Hello, IRS!  What are you doing to oversee such questionable foundations?

       Another big recipient of funds was the Red Cross, thanks to a Super Bowl-publicized $10 scheme that only involved a few keystrokes on one's phone.  According to the Miami Herald, $255 million was raised, but Red Cross "has plans for some $80 million of that so far." 

      What about the other $175 million? That is unclear.

      Dr. Michaele Amedee Gedeon, President of the Haitian Red Cross, acknowledged in Montreal that there was a "lack of coordination in the beginning. Yes, it is true." It has sent in 600 workers to coordinate thousands of Haitian Red Cross volunteers.

      However, interviews with other relief organizations who have invested decades in Haiti reveal that "The Red Cross does not have that a big presence in Haiti," said one observer. "I don't see them around.  There are several Red Cross clinics.  It is not a huge player."

Sam Worthington, who runs InterAction, an association of 80 humanitarian organizations working in the United States and abroad, urges donors to give to organizations which "had a large footprint on the ground" before the earthquake. InterAction does not even list the Wyclef Jean Foundation.

      Therefore, consider sending your money to organizations such as World Vision (888 511-6463) or Catholic Relief Services ((800 736-3467).

      Or consider smaller, less well-known organizations which are making a difference in Haiti such as CARE, Save the Children, or Habitat for Humanity which has built 1,794 homes in Haiti over the past 26 years.  Its goal is to build 5,000 more, which can be built for $4,000 each (www.habitathaiti.org).

      Some 1.2 million people are homeless, and the rains are coming in April.

      Please contribute, but use caution in donating.

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