Fighting disaster fatigue

Yukon Friends of Haiti have launched a fundraising campaign to help amputees and children with disabilities in the disaster-torn country. Rubber wristbands that bear the blue and red colours of the Haitian flag will soon be available in stores around Whitehorse.

Yukon Friends of Haiti have launched a fundraising campaign to help amputees and children with disabilities in the disaster-torn country.

Rubber wristbands that bear the blue and red colours of the Haitian flag will soon be available in stores around Whitehorse, including Alpine Bakery, Baked Cafe, Chocolate Claim, Starbucks, Superstore and Walmart. The suggested donation is $5.

Proceeds will go to two reputable non-profits staffed by Haitians: Handicap International Canada and the Canadian Foundation for the Children of Haiti.

Tears well up in the eyes of Alysha McFadden, 27, when she recalls learning on January 12 that an earthquake registering seven points on the Richter scale had hit Haiti, killing more than 230,000 people and leaving 300,000 injured. “I was devastated,” she said.

McFadden spent nine months in Haiti in 2002. The experience left many indelible memories: of the indomitable spirit of Haitians, and of unbelievable poverty that resulted in so many preventable deaths.

The trip settled McFadden’s career path. Today, she’s a public health nurse at Whitehorse Health Centre.

McFadden travelled to Haiti with the Canadian Foundation for the Children of Haiti. She spent much of her time working with children at the orphanage, school and hospital ran by the group. These facilities have taken on new importance since the earthquake. The group has also undertaken to sponsor tents and supplies for homeless families.

The other non-profit to receive funds from the Yukon, Handicap International Canada, has worked in Haiti since the earthquake to fit amputees with prosthetics. The group has been designated by the World Health Organization to co-ordinate all medical rehabilitation efforts in the country.

The earthquake collapsed many shoddy concrete buildings. This, in turn, shattered many limbs.

Without proper medical aid, these arms and legs became infected in the days that followed the earthquake and had to be amputated.

“They had to either lose the limb or lose the life,” said McFadden.

Helping amputees is an ongoing project: a child with a missing limb will eventually outgrow the prosthetic, requiring a new one. “It’s going to be a long-term effort that requires long-term funding,” said McFadden.

Unfortunately, the public’s fixation with natural disasters usually subsides in several months. People become numb to televised images of misery and tune out.

Yet the damage done to Haiti will take many years to repair. That’s one reason why Yukon Friends of Haiti is launching its fundraising campaign now, more than five months after the earthquake.

It’s hoped that the wristbands will prevent Haiti’s plight from being forgotten. The idea for using wristbands was borrowed from Lance Armstrong’s campaign to raise awareness about cancer.

Another Whitehorse resident is preparing to visit Haiti this summer. Morgan Weinberg, 18, is a Grade 12 student at FH Collins who will visit the Caribbean country for two months this summer, starting in July.

She’s travelling with The Mission to Haiti Canada. The group helped build orphanages before the earthquake and has been involved with disaster recovery efforts since then.

Weinberg expects to spend most of her time working with kids. She’s still trying to wrap her head around the magnitude of the damage: in Port-au-Prince, the capital, more than half of the buildings collapsed. Across Haiti, the earthquake left more than 1.5 million homeless.

Weinberg’s collecting basic goods to bring over: basic hygiene items, school supplies, tarps, mosquito nets, peanut butter and first aid kids.

Even Crocks, the ubiquitous rubber garden clog, are being collected: many Haitians have developed health problems for lack of footwear.

Yukon Friends of Haiti’s wristbands are designed by Aasman Design. Local unions, businesses and all three political parties have thrown their support behind the campaign.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.