Tuesday, January 12, 2010 was an average day — or so I thought. As I sat drinking my afternoon coffee, a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, more than three thousand miles away from where I was in Washington state.
The news didn’t sink in until the following day. I was one of millions of people around the world who tuned in to the aftermath, saddened and horrified by the state of unthinkable disaster. For many of us, it brought to mind Hurricane Katrina and the mega-tsunami of 2004, among other tragedies from our collective past. These disasters had all touched me in some way, but the earthquake in Haiti truly broke my heart.
Just six months before the earthquake hit, I'd spent time in Haiti and the Dominican Republic studying Environmental Justice, Health and Human Rights. I experienced firsthand the daily hardships the people on that island were facing: polluted slums, deteriorating natural resources and a lack of access to medical care, fair education and clean water. I knew the earthquake had hit an already incredibly-impoverished nation, bringing the devastation and desperation to a whole new level.
The day after the earthquake, I called my sister, a former employee with Mercy Corps. I trust my sister more than anyone in the world, so I believed her when she assured me that a donation to Mercy Corps would be used quickly, efficiently and with steadfast integrity to help Haiti. I went online and donated $50 to Mercy Corps. But I wondered — would my small donation make a difference in such an overwhelming disaster? Surely there had to be something more I could do.
I didn’t want my time abroad and my passion for Haiti to be in vain, so I made a quick decision: I created a Personal Fundraising Page through Mercy Corps’ website. It only took a few minutes to get up and running and I was even able to add a photo from my time in Haiti and a personalized note to encourage giving. I linked my page to my Facebook account, as well as emailing it to 150 of my friends, family and co-workers.
“Please give!” I wrote. “Your gift, however small, could save a life! Please donate to Mercy Corps to help Haitians in need!”
I set a goal to raise $500 in seven days. We blew past that goal in just one day! It was incredible to track the progress on my page. Mercy Corps even sent me an email every time a donation came in so I would know who to thank. People I hadn’t talked to in months — gave! People I never expected to — gave! People I’d never even met — gave (apparently my link on Facebook spread further than I knew). Many of those who donated also wrote notes of support on my page. I was so touched, I was speechless.
In just two weeks, my friends and family helped me raise nearly $4,000! In those same two weeks, everyday Americans across the country raised $528 million. Looking back, I am struck by the force and speed of modern-day technology and the power of selfless giving. My $50 couldn’t undo what happened in Haiti — but millions of small donations like mine collectively made a difference in the lives of so many Haitians.
I see all this generosity as a beacon of hope on the edge of a disaster, helping groups like Mercy Corps light the way for others when their worlds go dark. Alone, we are but flickers in the wind; but together, we can blaze a trail toward hope.