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Whitestone group lends help to Haiti

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Patricia Brintle (c.), founder of From Here to Haiti, presents Ordea (l.) and Eddy Leveque with a fund-raising award at the Whitestone-based organization's walk-a-thon in Little Bay Park. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Whitestone resident Dr. Stephen Simonetti (r.) walks with his daughter Cassie. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Michele Guerrier collects balloons at the entrance of Little Bay Park. Photo by Christina Santucci
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From Here to Haiti founder Patricia Brintle (r.) thanks Ellen Rhatigan for participating in the walk. Photo by Christina Santucci
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From Here to Haiti founder Patricia Brintle (r.) presents Joseph Brintle with a prize after Girish Kirpalani selected his ticket during a raffle. Photo by Christina Santucci

A Whitestone nonprofit held a fund-raiser last weekend to promote its practice of doing quick repair projects in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, which nearly three years after a devastating earthquake is still flooded with a disconnected array of philanthropic organizations, some of questionable merit.

From Here to Haiti was founded by Haitian-born artist Patricia Brintle, who immigrated to New York in the late 1960s.

The organization is made up of a handful of volunteers and raises money for micro-projects that can be completed in days.

The nonprofit has only been in existence for two years, but already has an impressive number of successes under its belt.

Before the formation of From Here to Haiti, Brintle and a group raised enough money to repair the roof of a church and the structural beams that supported it in the Haitian town of Les Abricots.

“That project was so successful that people heard about it and they wanted to have us do their projects, too,” Brintle said Saturday outside Fort Totten, where about 30 supporters clad in red T-shirts finished their walk along the Joe Michaels Mile to raise money for other projects in the offing, including a $30,000 church renovation for which the nonprofit already has more than two-thirds of the funding.

Brintle, along with her husband and about eight other volunteers, then officially formed a nonprofit and have repaired other churches and built latrines for schools, two institutions that are essential to life in Haiti.

The issue of non-governmental organizations in Haiti is a touchy one, according to numerous published reports. The number of philanthropic organizations working in the impoverished country swelled from 3,000 before the earthquake to 10,000 after, according to a report from the Washington, D.C., think tank The Brookings Institution, although estimates vary widely from different sources.

These groups often have a singular agenda, do not coordinate with each other and invariably end up duplicating their efforts.

For example, a few months ago an NGO called Meds and Food for Kids opened a peanut butter factory on the island to combat malnutrition, professing that the operation would be large enough to supply the entire country with the nutrition-rich paste, according to an October report from National Public Radio.

Yet shortly afterward another NGO announced it planned to open an even larger facility, a move that may further the notion of self-promotion that tinges modern philanthropy rather than the good of the Haitian people, according to NPR.

But Brintle makes an effort to avoid some of the pitfalls that lead some NGOs on the island to having a questionable impact.

First, her band of do-gooders is all-volunteer, paying their own way to and from the country. Second, they buy all their products on the local market and recruit Haitian locals to volunteer. In order to attract those who care about the community, Brintle does not divulge that the volunteers will be paid until the job is done.

And most importantly, the nonprofit chooses feasible projects both in scope and funding. The charity raises between a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for a project they can typically finish in about a week or less and then return to America, leaving a tangible piece of work behind.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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