High-tech, creative humanitarian aid benefits Haiti

By Lauren Kelly

During the past few weeks there has been a frenzy of media coverage and endless discussion about the earthquake that occurred in Haiti on Jan. 12, and in the aftermath there has been an enormous philanthropic response to help aid the country in its time of dire need.

As expected, dozens of celebrities have given sizeable donations and set up charity funds. Although many of these efforts by the rich and famous have no doubt benefited Haiti, some reactions have a distinct reek of inauthenticity. As with every charitable cause, celebrities sometimes get involved to impress their fans. However, at this point, questions of intent don’t matter regarding charity for the quake in Haiti. Any and all aid is needed, and having celebrities voice their concerns and take action is a good way to inspire others to do so.

Besides celebrities, many organizations, businesses and everyday citizens have donated money, supplies, service and other forms of aid to the region.

Many have donated money to the American Red Cross and other humanitarian aid agencies, but what’s truly astounding are the new channels available for average citizens to contribute to the relief effort. Never before has it been possible to offer aid so quickly, effectively and through so many creative venues. Modern technology has taken philanthropy to a new level.

The best example of how technology is being used to benefit the victims of the quake is seen in the American Red Cross text message campaign. People with cell phones are able to send text messages containing the word “Haiti” addressed to the number “90999” to donate $10 to the relief effort, which will be charged to the contributor’s phone bill. The fact that most of the world knew about the disaster within mere hours of its occurrence is amazing in itself, but being able to send a simple text message to donate money to help aid the region is mind-blowing. According to the American Red Cross, text donations have contributed more than $25 million to the relief fund as of Jan. 26.

The success of texting small donations to the Red Cross may signal a shift in how people approach giving to humanitarian causes in the future. Digital contributions may become the norm for many movements including political campaigns and medical research, in addition to humanitarian aid.

However, not all of the creative efforts contributing to the relief movement are high-tech. Some local Chicagoans have come up with simple, creative ways to allow the general public to contribute to the effort. As mentioned in last week’s issue of The Chronicle, some Chicago restaurants are getting involved in the effort by donating a percentage of their revenue to an aid agency.

Also, local clothing company Threadless will donate all of the proceeds it makes from one of its latest T-shirt designs to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund. The shirt reads “Men anpil chay pa lou,” which translates to “Many hands make the load lighter.” According to Threadless, 7,000 shirts have been sold as of Jan. 25, amounting to $70,000 worth of donations.

Furthermore, Chicago-based rock group Wilco is giving away downloads of two live shows recorded in 2009 in exchange for monetary contributions to Doctors Without Borders.

These creative strategies are funding humanitarian aid projects in revolutionary ways that will no doubt steer the course for how average people can get involved in charitable giving in the future.

But despite the powerful initial responses from many people, there is much more that people can do to help rebuild the nation of Haiti. Even though the global economy is still sluggish and is technically in a recession, Americans should try to contribute to the relief in any way they can.