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Gay charity continues Haiti relief efforts

by Shaun Knittel
Contributor
Wednesday Jan 12, 2011
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As Haiti-and the world-marks the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and devastated the country’s capital and surrounding areas, a San Francisco-based gay charity remains on the ground in the impoverished nation.

The Rainbow World Fund established its Haiti Earthquake Relief Campaign after the Jan. 12, 2010, tremor with a $50,000 donation. In addition, the organization partnered with CARE to provide food, potable water, tarps, blankets, medicine and other items to earthquake survivors.

"An estimated 1.3 million people remain displaced," Jeff Cotter, the fund’s executive director, said. "There are numerous challenges to recovery from infrastructure problems, poor road conditions, the slow removal of rubble, a lack of up-to-date information about the camps, slow procurement, to ongoing health and distribution challenges."

Cotter also pointed to the survivors’ psychological recovery. "The Haitian people have ongoing grief and trauma resulting from such catastrophic losses," he said.

Cotter said his organization has found success on a macro level but the remaining challenges are enormous.

"It’s easy to look at Haiti and feel overwhelmed," he said. "On a micro level, of one looks deeper, progress is being made in all areas - that is where you will find hope. Students are back in school, homes are being built, hospitals are being built, and shelters in many camps are being upgraded. The foundation for change and long term recovery begins on the micro level, one to one, community to community."

The Rainbow World Fund is fighting a new cause: cholera. The outbreak has claimed more than 2,000 lives in Haiti, and another 90,000 people are sick.

"It is expected to continue spreading for months," said Cotter. "Families who survived the earthquake are now threatened by a rapidly spreading disease."

Cholera is an infection in the small intestine; it is highly infectious and spreads through contact with contaminated water or food. Symptoms can be severe-profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting, causing rapid loss of body fluids and leading to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Oral rehydration solutions; intravenous fluids and antibiotics are among the treatments for cholera, but a child or an elderly person can die within hours if left untreated.

The Rainbow World Fund continues to support public awareness and prevention campaigns, efforts to increase access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, distribute soap and water purification tablets and train medical professionals to properly manage, diagnose and refer cholera cases.

"People often ask me why is it important for LGBT people to help others beyond our own community," said Cotter. "I have often been told ’charity begins at home.’ That may be true but I believe that we are living in a time when we need to expand our definition of what ’home’ is and realize that the entire planet is our home and that everyone is our family. The AIDS epidemic taught us to be involved with the problems of others before they affect us locally."

Cotter said his organization continues to seek donations to support Rainbow World Fund’s work in Haiti "Hundreds of thousands of people are living at a survival level," he said. "Besides helping with the cholera outbreak, RWF helps families living in the poorest slums of Gona├»ves fight against poverty and malnutrition by establishing and nurturing vegetable gardens."

RWF has also been asked to help raise funds for SEROvie, a grassroots Haitian organization focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention and the only Haitian institution serving sexual minorities. (Donations can be made at http://rainbowfund.org/donate.)

"Our commitment to Haiti is steadfast, RWF has been supporting aid projects in Haiti for over six years," said Cotter.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.

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