It's difficult to wrap one's mind around the horrific damage caused by Haiti's recent earthquake, and it's a challenge compounded by the fact that most of us consume news of the destruction thousands of miles away, in the comfort and safety of our homes and workplaces. But that distance needn't render us passive or apathetic, with the networked world making it easier than ever to become active participants in supporting rescue efforts. Here are a few of the more prominent ways we've found to help out.
AT&T -- AT&T cell phone users - including nearly all U.S. iPhone users - can make $10 donations to the Red Cross International Relief Fund simply by sending a text message. To donate, text the word "HAITI" to the number 90999, and respond with the word "Yes" to the confirmation message to finalize your donation.
As of the writing of this article, this method has raised more than $10 million. Jenifer Snyder, director of the mGive Foundation (the company working with Red Cross and AT&T to route the donations), says, "It's the largest mobile donation event that we have ever seen." And no, mGive isn't taking a cut; 100 percent of all donations is passed on to the Red Cross. Just think of the relief funds that would be generated if every iPhone user participated.
Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon also support the text donation campaign (and donations from their customers are included in that $10 million number), so you can still get involved even if you aren't an AT&T customer (use the same approach, sending "HAITI" to 90999).
Yele Haiti Foundation -- In 2005 the musician Wyclef Jean, himself born in Haiti, created the Yele Haiti Foundation to provide student scholarships. In response to the earthquake, the foundation has set up a text-message donation program similar to the one run by the Red Cross. To make a $5 donation, text the word "Yele" to 501501. Yele Haiti also provides an online donations page for those wishing to make larger contributions.
Doctors Without Borders -- Directing all donations to "support[ing] emergency medical care for the men, women, and children affected by the earthquake in Haiti," Doctors Without Borders has an easy online donation page accepting amounts between $35 and $10,000.
Amazon -- Amazon, working with Mercy Corps, has set up an easy donation page on its site. Donations will help provide the most basic necessities needed on the ground now: "The greatest priority for Mercy Corps and its humanitarian partners is providing survivors with food, shelter and other supplies." Donations over $250 will be provided with a receipt for deducting the donation on your taxes.
Google -- In the wake of this disaster many news organizations have developed people-finder systems, enabling those with loved ones in Haiti to find information, and giving those with information about individuals a means of distributing it. Despite the best of intentions on the part of these organizations, the proliferation of these sites is actually making it more difficult to find or release information. Since the sites aren't connected in any way, if you're looking for information on a contact in Haiti you'd have to check numerous systems - and even doing so wouldn't guarantee that you had tried all possible avenues.
A team of engineers at Google, working under the project name Google Crisis Response, is attempting to address this problem by collecting and connecting all the available information on persons in Haiti in an embedded Web app. The streamlined page invites you to either provide or inquire about information on a specific individual. Hopefully, as other IT groups and news organizations add to the data set, the Google app will become a centralized clearinghouse for information and simplify a particularly difficult aspect of the search and rescue process.
Google has also created a great one-stop donations and information page for those interested in assisting earthquake relief efforts. The page enables users to make easy donations to UNICEF and Care (via Google Checkout), provides information regarding the text-message donation plans, and links to a slew of other aid organizations that are also accepting donations.
iTunes -- While Apple hasn't, as far as we're aware, made a donation itself to relief efforts in Haiti, the company has gotten involved by creating a page in the iTunes Store where users can contribute (in amounts ranging from $5 to $200) to the American Red Cross. As one would expect, Apple takes no commission on the donations, so the entire amount goes straight to relief efforts.
Mac Developers -- Through the end of January 2010, Mike Piatek-Jimenez, the developer behind Gaucho Software, is donating 100 percent of sales of Seasonality (an excellent weather application) to Haiti relief efforts. Purchasing a copy of the program means you'll essentially be donating to the aid organization Partners In Health.
Inspired by such Gaucho Software's actions, Justin Williams of Second Gear Software is coordinating a day of indie Mac developer sales devoted to support relief efforts. With the sale tentatively scheduled for 20 January 2010, Williams hopes to offer companies a financially feasible way of participating in sales donations, and to give Mac consumers an event that makes donating a no-brainer. If you're interested, more information about how to participate is available on Williams's blog. A placeholder Web site has been set up until the companies and sale date are finalized.
Thanks, and Beware -- As our thoughts go out to the millions of people affected by this devastating natural disaster, we encourage you to considering donating to one of these relief funds, and to spread the word to others about how they can help. Also, sad as it is, scammers do take advantage of such waves of charity, so avoid following donation links received in email, read URLs carefully, and be careful if donating through unfamiliar organizations.