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Our Views: Open hearts for Haiti
Toll of quakes suffering touches Americas instinct to provide relief in a human crisis
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Even the most jaded among us must be heartbroken to see the images from Haiti.

The earthquake that all but destroyed Port-au-Prince, capital of the poorest nation in the hemisphere, left a toll of human suffering that staggers the mind.

Bodies are stacked in the streets. Victims are trapped under rubble for days awaiting help that may never come. Children are wandering the streets, hungry, injured and without parents or caregivers. The pictures are hard to watch, but we can’t make the pain go away by putting down the newspaper or changing channels.

Like the Asian tsunami and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the scope of the devastation takes our breaths away. It’s hard enough to imagine being the victim of such a national disaster. Picture yourself hit by an earthquake and the walls of your house falling down on top of you. Now picture that same scene but with the knowledge that there is no one to come to your assistance — you’re on your own.

This is the case in Haiti, a nation with an unstable government, weak economy, little infrastructure for fire, police and rescue services and limited health care. The hospitals available in the area have crumbled to the ground, and the doctors and public safety officials who might be available are themselves homeless and hungry.

So as always happens in such a disaster, the United States and the world is coming to Haiti’s aid. Food, water, doctors and medicine are on the way to try and save as many of the injured and homeless as possible, even as the death toll climbs.

And there should be no hesitation to do so. When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t stop to consider how much help you can afford to give; you just go help.

Yes, our economy is struggling and our budget deficit is growing, but this is no time to play it cheap. People in Haiti, a few hundred miles beyond our southern border, are suffering and dying. We need to help now and worry about paying the bills later.

Fortunately, one of the characteristics of our great nation is its willingness to help people in need anywhere around the world for any reason. Whatever some may think of the United States and its people, there can be no denying the size of America’s heart when fellow humans are in trouble. We provide more aid, more relief and more helping hands around the globe than any nation in history, and we should continue to live up to that.

President Barack Obama has ordered an expansive effort to provide relief to the troubled nation, beginning with the coordination of relief efforts by the U.S. military and other agencies.

Such work is not partisan or political at such a crucial time. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are joining the White House in its efforts to gather public and private relief for the victims of the tragedy.

And a group of House leaders from both parties plans to introduce a bill allowing donations for Haitian earthquake victims to be written off on 2009 tax returns.

Much of our generosity goes beyond government aid and extends to private charitable contributions, from our citizens, churches and private relief organizations. Within hours of the news in Haiti, local churches began mobilizing to provide relief. Many have sponsored missions to Haiti in the past, and now are working to provide what those poor victims need to stay alive and help them rebuild their country and their lives.

Private businesses are doing their part by gathering money and supplies to be donated. Local Red Cross workers and other agencies are pitching in where needed. There is nothing more important right now. Getting help to those in need is job No. 1, and we all should do our part.

As our nation marks the birthday celebration of one of our spiritual and social leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it is the perfect time to open our hearts and checkbooks to help our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean.

King’s lifelong effort was to break down the racial divide that kept us apart in our schools, on buses, at lunch counters and restaurants, and in our neighborhoods. We have made great progress, and we have much further to go, yet his legacy is deeply entrenched in our nation’s soul, and his dream of a colorblind world has not faded in the 42 years since his death.

Now a nation of poor people is suffering and dying, and the rest of the world is coming to help, unconcerned with the skin color of those who are starving, bleeding and trapped beneath buildings. Churches and other institutions that closed their doors to black residents a generation ago are gathering aid for a nation composed entirely of such people who once were unwelcome in our daily lives.

Our country isn’t colorblind yet, but each time we take even a small step in that direction, we leave behind part of the segregated past that King worked so hard to overcome. This is one such opportunity to show we have learned the lessons he sought to teach us.

Please take time to offer your prayers, your concerns and your help to the people of Haiti during this horrific crisis. They cannot help themselves right now, and we should not hesitate to rush to their aid.

Some day, that fallen roof might be on our heads and we’ll want to know that help is on the way.

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