Where every pair of hands can count
Konbit links groups in Haiti aid coalition
Marlon Hill serves on the board of directors of Konbit for Haiti.
A Miami attorney who has worked in the Caribbean community for many years, Hill believes that every South Floridian can help Haiti recover from the “extraordinary tragedy” it suffered on Jan. 12.
“Every voice, every person, every pair of hands can make a difference in a huge goal or effort,” said Hill, a partner at delancyhill. “Doing nothing is not an option.”
Hill is making a difference by participating in Konbit for Haiti, an organization that was formed immediately following the earthquake.
The organization encourages activities relating to relief and rebuilding efforts to take place in its own “community-based hub” located in a shopping mall off of Biscayne Boulevard on the outskirts of Little Haiti.
Hill said business leaders, elected officials and community-based organizations from all over South Florida “came together to form a coalition to provide help for Haiti. We got called on to help wherever we could.”
Konbit uses volunteers and teams up with other organizations to provide logistics assistance for immediate response, stress management and other efforts.
Konbit, for example, works on counseling with Green Cross Health Systems, a company that helps individuals suffering from mental or emotional disorders.
“We have provided training on how to do counseling with the earthquake victims,” said Marie Etienne, a member of the Konbit for Haiti board of directors and a professor of nursing at Miami Dade College. “One group works with another group to help a common cause.”
Maggie Austin, Konbit’s executive director, said the group recruits health care volunteers and sends them to Haiti. When Konbit for Haiti deploys health care professionals, Austin said, the group covers all costs while the volunteers donate their time and work.
“There are so few doctors in Haiti, the health care system is completely decimated,” she said. “Although within a few weeks there were a lot of volunteers that came from all over the world, now the doctors have left.”
Konbit’s mission is long term and divided into three phases, Austin said.
Phase 1 is devoted to short-term rescue and relief, as well as long-term planning.
Phase 2 is about keeping the population safe from violence and illness.
Phase 3 is about future rebuilding and redevelopment.
“Right now we’re trying to help in the immediate aftermath,” Austin said. “We envision that in the intermediate step we’ll probably start deploying other professionals,’’ including construction workers, engineers and teachers.
Later on, the group would like to help constructing houses and rebuild hospitals.
“We really want to focus on building capacity in Haiti,” Austin said.
“The big picture is reconstruction and rebuilding in Haiti,” Etienne said. “We want to do sustainable projects, projects that will have long-term meaning.”
Although there are many other organizations that work in Haiti, Austin said she does not intend for Konbit to be redundant.
The word “Konbit” means gathering, collaborating and cooperating in Creole, Haiti’s primary language. Hill said the concept of collaboration is a major part of Konbit’s message.
“Konbit means to put in all resources into the basket, to meet a similar challenge,” Hill said.
Just days after the earthquake, which killed nearly 300,000 people and injured hundreds of thousands, Konbit for Haiti opened offices in South Florida and created phone banks with donated phones and computers. The goal was to open communication between South Florida and Haiti.
“We were getting phone calls from people who had things to donate,” Austin said, “and our role was to find a place to a send the donations.
“We were serving as an intermediate.”
Earlier this year, Haitian American hip hop musician Wyclef Jean attended a community meeting at the Konbit for Haiti center to remind participants that support was still needed in Haiti.
“He really was impressed with the concept [of Konbit for Haiti],” Austin said. “He knew that it was a community center and he wanted to meet with the community so he thought this was the natural place to hold the meeting. I thought it was great because people like Wyclef Jean are the kind of people we need to bring the light to what’s going on with Haiti.”
The organization is spending the six-month milestone working on strengthening the efforts they have made so far.
The Service Employees International Union is closely involved with Konbit for Haiti. The organizations share a similar message of bringing hope, opportunity and help to as many people as possible.
“We’re similar in that both organizations believe that everybody should have access to a great quality of life,” Austin said.
“SEIU has been just incredibly supportive and they’re one of the organizations that have been there for us.”