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A place to contemplate Haiti

Haiti, January 19, 2010

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The Oregonian Editorial Board

The Oregonian
January, 2010

Free exhibit by Mercy Corps in Portland makes acts of grace and rebuilding come alive.

A modest exhibit inside Mercy Corps' new Portland headquarters, near the western end of the Burnside Bridge, is one of the better places to contemplate two questions arising from the devastating crisis in Haiti:

What does it take to lift up an entire country?

How do you get food, water and shelter to people in need?

An earthquake in Haiti has devastated the Caribbean republic and left thousands dead and millions injured or homeless. The photographs from the tragedy are almost too much to bear. Aid organizations and military forces are struggling simply to reach people, let alone provide sufficient help.

This phase of finding the missing, burying the dead and providing emergency care for survivors will take weeks, if not months. But at some point, the operation will move toward rebuilding.

"Right now, it's about tarps and tents," said Caitlin Carlson, a Mercy Corps communications officer, who stressed that relief efforts are still in very early stages of coordination. "Down the road, you establish longer-term solutions."

One place to consider what these longer-term solutions might look like is Mercy Corps' "Design for the Other 90 Percent" exhibit, which runs through April and features low-cost, grass-roots ways for people in poorer countries to have sturdy shelter, clean water and clean energy -- and also generate income. Some of the featured projects are in prototype stages, while others are up and running in countries from Uganda and Kenya to Pakistan.

Obviously, Haiti is a different country with a unique political history. But the same issues of helping people build their lives and find independence hold true.

Also, Mercy Corps says that similar or identical shelters and other featured innovations from the exhibit will likely be used in Haiti.

People in Oregon already have donated millions to relief efforts in Haiti. Mercy Corps has raised roughly $4 million so far, mostly from individual donors online. That exceeds early giving for both Hurricane Katrina and the China earthquake.

But often, giving money doesn't feel like enough when the needs are so great.

Learning more about what to do next might help.