Rebuilding Haiti with Ideas

To many of us, it was just an ordinary day. But to the 10 million Haitians basking in the warm afternoon sun, what happened on that eventful day was a nightmare that they could never wake up from.

January 12th, 2010.
16:53:10 local time.
Magnitude-7.0 earthquake.
Epicenter 25 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince.
Focus 10 kilometers underground.
33 aftershocks recorded.
200,000 estimated dead.

But numbers can’t measure the sorrow of this poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Words can’t describe the pain of those buried in the rubble, waiting to be rescued. Relatives dialed frantically at a number that could no longer be reached. Children stared hopelessly into a future that is gloomy and bleak. It’s a story about the vulnerability and fragility of human beings as a race when facing the wrath of Mother Nature. It’s a story about the suffering and death of our fellow brothers and sisters.

But more than that, it is also a story about love. News coverage of the earthquake and the rescue efforts continues 24/7. #Haiti and various charity organizations remain as the trending topics on Twitter throughout the week. In less than a week’s time, text message donations have already surpassed 10 million dollars in the United States. What happened in Haiti was a natural catastrophe, but we didn’t allow it to turn into a human tragedy. In the midst of collapsed buildings and floating dust, we see the goodness of human heart, the collective strength of human community and our persistent hope for a better tomorrow.

TEDtoChina has also been trying to do our part by providing our readers with the latest updates regarding the earthquake, relevant information from as well as various ways to help the victims. During the first week since the earthquake, we have already published three articles related to the earthquake. They are (following articles are in simplified Chinese):

[粉丝行动] 海地大地震,参与援助的45种方式!
([Fans in Action] Haiti Mega-quake: 45 ways to offer your help.)

On January 14th (China local time), one day after the earthquake, TEDtoChina co-founder Oliver Ding published an article informing our TEDtoChina readers of the dire conditions in Haiti and the various ways that we can lend an helping hand. Haiti earthquake touched the heart of many Chinese people, because it was less than two years ago when millions of Chinese people had to grapple with the same kind of grievous situation when a magnitude-7.9 earthquake struck Sichuan, China.

In the article, Oliver recommends our readers pay a visit to the “Medicine without Borders” theme page at, an issue that is especially pertinent to the disaster relief effort at Haiti. At the same time, Oliver gives an update on the current situation in Haiti by republishing a CC licensed post from Global Voices Online (Original by Georgia Popplewell, translated into Chinese by Leonard). Most importantly, Oliver offers our readers a list of 45 charity organizations that are involved in the relief and rebuilding process, allowing our readers to extend their help even when they are thousands of miles away.

(Lalitesh Katragadda: Making maps to fight disaster, build economies)

On January 15th (China local time), we introduced our readers to a talk given by Googler Lalitesh Katragadda during last year’s TEDIndia conference. In this short talk, Katragadda gave an overview on the power of using Internet maps to fight disasters and build economies. Shortly after the earthquake, Google Maps started to provide its users with post-earthquake satellite images of Haiti ( – a true testament to the relevance of Katragadda’s talk and the potential of using new technologies in humanitarian efforts. A Chinese translation of the talk is kindly provided by our team member Yu Kai (余恺).

[TED大奖] 以人为本,用建筑抚平伤痛
([TED Prize] A people-oriented approach: Build to heal.)

One of the most important questions to ask about the relief effort in Haiti is what will happen when the cameras go away, when Haiti is no longer in the news 24/7, when this disaster merely becomes part of our collective memory. Who will help Haitians rebuild their own country and more importantly, how should Haitians do it? To address at least part of the problem, on January 17th our team member Yvette Wang (王烨) wrote a wonderful article on the use of open-source architecture to provide long-term sustainable help to disaster-stricken regions and to heal the emotional and psychological wounds of disaster victims.

Open-source Architecture Network (OAN) is a concept introduced by 2006 TED Prize winner Cameron Sinclair. According to Sinclair, the objective of OAN is “to develop a community that actively embraces innovative and sustainable design to improve the living conditions for everyone”. In fact, as Yvette pointed out in the article, the concept of OAN has been successfully adopted in the post-disaster construction effort across different regions such as China, Nepal, India and Pakistan. We definitely hope to see the blossoming of OAN in the Haiti reconstruction process as well.

These are just three Haiti-related articles published on TEDtoChina over the past couple of days. It is, however, not the end, but merely an beginning. Every member at TEDtoChina will stay committed to the relief effort at Haiti by continuing to spread ideas that are instrumental in helping Haitians rebuild their country. The power of individuals may be limited, but the power of ideas is not.

About the Author

赵林(Zachary Lin Zhao)
Senior Coordinator at Translators Service Group

Zachary Zhao was born in China, attended high school in Singapore and is currently studying at Colgate University in the United States. His first encounter with TED was an accident, an accident that he will never regret. Working as a volunteer for TED and TEDtoChina has transformed his life. He hopes to bring the ideas of TED not only to the Chinese people but also to everybody around him.

Email: OTP at TEDtoChina dot com

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Twitter: @TEDtoChina_en

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