Va. Beach woman knows a little money goes a long way to help in Haiti

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Sara Smiley’s Facebook feed is full of pictures of destruction. She has been receiving photos from her friend Jean Admas Aurelien, who moved away from Haiti after college. Still, his family is there.

Now their homes are decimated. Many are missing roofs, or have completely collapsed. The roads in some areas of the country are gone. Reports estimate the death toll has surpassed 800.

“They’ve been so poor for so long, they don’t have infrastructure. They don’t have good roads, good building material to build buildings,” Smiley said.

Other pictures show survivors. Smiley showed 10 On Your Side one image that shows two sisters, just four and seven-years-old. Their dad took them to church during the flooding to get to higher ground. Smiley says he then went home to dig up their garden — it was the only food they had.

“While he went to the garden, the church flooded, and when he went back, no one was there. For a day, his children were missing,” Smiley said.

But miraculously, the girls survived.

“The two girls had gotten inside drums in the church, and they floated, and they came back ashore, and they were alive.”

Smiley wanted to help. She’s been to Haiti to volunteer as a physical therapist seven times in about five years. She’s seen the destruction still left from the earthquake, and knows that the people now dealing with Hurricane Matthew’s destruction need all the help they can get.

“I wasn’t sure how could I even help, because there’s not really a good mail service and there’s a lot of corruption. So you send money through organizations and you’re worried it’s never going to get there,” Smiley explained.

How to give wisely to hurricane victims

Smiley says she’s seen people steal and then sell on the street goods sent from other countries intended for earthquake victims. She also knows that while aid is on the way from organizations like the U.S. Navy and the American Red Cross, aid workers have not yet reached the poor island nation.

So, she simply wired $500 to her friend Jean, who was able to wire it directly to his sister.

“They took a boat with the money I sent them and went and got water for 50 people in the village,” she explained.

Smiley says the people in the hardest hit areas can’t get to Port-au-Prince or other cities with less damage. So they can’t receive any donations, and the infrastructure out of their villages is wiped out.

She saw firsthand on her many trips that the Haitian people have found ways to shop at small local stores and to trade, and barter with their neighbors. They just need the money to be able to do it.

“$100 could buy somebody a new mattress, change of clothes for their whole family, and at least a couple of weeks worth a meals. you can get a lot for your money in Haiti,” she explained.

Smiley recommends reaching out to these organizations if you’d like to send money:

You can also call Sara Smiley for more more information at 757-748-1727.

A joint assessment team from the 689th Rapid Port Opening Element, headquartered at Fort Eustis, arrived in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. There, they will help to provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid.