When an 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January, it seemed like the entire world jumped up to help. As the media swerved its attention to the devastated country, donations poured into relief agencies via websites and text messages, volunteer medical teams and people wanting to help flew in, and stars like Wyclef, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys headlined high profile benefit concerts, all in support of Haiti.
The global response to last week’s earthquake in Chile, in contrast, has been rather muted. There have been no flashy benefit concerts and far fewer volunteers and donations funneling to the area. One tragedy captured the world’s heart, while the other seems to have fallen just below the radar screens.
Granted, the scales of destruction between the two quakes are not entirely equal. The 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile was one of the biggest earthquakes on record – so big, in fact, that it may have shifted the earth’s axis. But the overall damage to buildings and bridges seems to be less severe. Likewise, the death count in Chile hovers under 1,000 people, while the Haitian government has reported more than 200,000 earthquake-related deaths.
Still, the distress of the million-plus Chileans who have lost their homes or family members are no less real than those in Haiti. So why have we felt less compelled to give or help out in Chile? After giving so much attention, emotion and support to Haiti, are we hesitant to go through it all again? At what point do people start to feel tapped out emotionally or financially?
The questions remind me of something American Jewish World Service President, Ruth Messinger, once said at a presentation she gave about Darfur. She was in the middle of a presenting an epic laundry list of the tragedies in Darfur and at a certain point she paused, as if to recognize how overwhelming it all was. Then she said (forgive me for paraphrasing), “We don’t have the luxury of getting burned out.” In other words, it’s all too easy to throw up one’s hands and turn away from other people’s distress…but then nothing changes. The harder, but ultimately more rewarding thing to do is to keep giving. Because even if we feel fatigued, giving is always better than giving up.
The following organizations are accepting donations on behalf of relief efforts in Chile.