“Experience may be hard, but we claim its gifts because they are real, even though our feet bleed on its stones.” woman
Can We Really Help Haiti?
– Mary Parker Follett
50 | Microfinance - Small Investment, Big Returns? 57
WRITTEN BY Darci Hansen | PHOTOS BY Darci Hansen
PART 1 OF A 3 PART SERIES
Can We Really Help Haiti?
The date 9/11 needs no explanation in America. For Haitian’s, the date is January 12th. 1/12 will long be synonymous with destruction and ruin. The massive 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti left an estimated 200,000 dead and almost equal to that homeless. But my guess is you already know that. You don’t need me to inform you that hospitals, houses, schools and markets throughout the western hemisphere’s poorest country were transformed into piles of rubble. Or that the roads, most of which were already considered primitive by American standards, became impassable. Unless you have no access to media, chances are you’ve seen the photos of the homeless, injured and the hungry. Americans are quick to lend a hand to those in need. Haiti was no exception. Thousands scurried to find transportation into the broken country while yet thousands more would wait in line for inoculations, flights, and some sense of order before making the trip. There will continue to be no shortage of individuals willing “to make a difference.” Which speared this question for me: In the big scheme of things, can we really help Haiti? An incredible job has been done in reporting the misery, the despair, the bleeding, and the dying. Let this three part series by Élan Woman not reflect that journalistic style but rather celebrate what is being done and the contributions of those committed to supporting a new Haiti. SEPTEMBER thru OCTOBER 2010
e was moved to action by the devastating images that make one’s heart hurt. Seeing the horrific photographs of maimed children was enough for him to shut his television off and get to work. His name is Jeremy Johnson, a Santa Clara, Utah native; a husband, father, pilot, adventure-seeker, oh, and an exceptionally successful businessman. He’s also a humanitarian who had the capability of assisting like no other. He mounted his own relief mission. Within three days he was in the air - transporting food, doctors and medicine into Haiti from the Dominican Republic with the use of his own jets and helicopters. Associated Press Writer, Istra Pacheco, was on the ground with Johnson at the time and reported the following account: “He set up camp on a dusty soccer field in Jimani, a town just across the border from Haiti. Inside a tent, a table is covered by a large map of Hispianola, the island that is home to the two countries. Giant boxes of diapers, powdered milk, oatmeal, water and sleeping bags are everywhere...
I headed to Haiti on a mission of sorts. Not only to share Jeremy’s story but to also connect him with Willa Shalit. Willa is the founder of Fair Winds Trading, whose guidence and support of women artisans in recovering nations have received global attention. I had traveled with Willa to Rwanda and experienced first hand the extraordinary results of FWT’s efforts. She was needed in Haiti. Enroute to Port au Prince I was seated next to a beautiful Haitian woman named Carine (her name has been changed to protect her identy). Carine is a young mother, married to a European man whose company is based in Haiti. She is the daughter of an affluent family who all reside in Pétionville, a suburb of Port au Prince in the hills east of the city. For just under two hours Carine provided the rare insight of being raised in the wealthy 1% of Haiti’s total population. She was articulate and well educated (including two years at UCLA). “We have the world’s eye upon us...we can make changes for the good when the world is watching,” Carine passionately states.
“An electrical generator hums in the background as a dozen volunteers take inventory, haul boxes to waiting helicopters and exchange emails with donors in Utah. It’s a barebones operation: A few fans provide the only relief from the 90-degree heat, and a small refrigerator cools the energy drinks he is constantly downing. Four colleagues flew down with him. The only sign that they get any rest is a few inflatable mattresses and pillows piled in a corner under the tarp... “At 34, Jeremy Johnson, an Internet entrepreneur...funded the bulk of his aid effort which included buying two more helicopters in the Dominican Republic after realizing he needed more distribution power. ‘I am a person who has been blessed...To sit back and relax and send a little money or whatever, it just made me feel ungrateful.’ “Sweat trickles down Johnson’s freckled face as he talks about being a problematic kid who barely graduated from high school. Clad in worn jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, a baseball cap pulled over his red hair, he looks more like a kid than a successful businessman. Barbara Johnson, his mother, said he started a stucco business at 21 and quickly moved into Internet endeavors. She said the success of those businesses have left him with the means to help many... “While he distributes aid in Haiti, 100 people -- including his wife -- coordinate, raise money and collect goods back home. Many of them are from a Mormon congregation and have created a Web page called Utah Haiti Relief to collect money. As the father of two daughters, ages 2 and 6, the hardest thing for him is to see all the orphans. ‘I’m not an emotional person at all...and I cried more in the last two days than in my whole life...’”
Pétionville is a wealthier part of Haiti in which many multiracial Haitians live. The gated and privately guarded neighborhoods resemble a Haitian version of Beverly Hills, but with razor wire. Carine is accustomed to having two maids, a nanny, a body guard and a full time driver. Body guards and all still are not enough to keep her family safe. “My mother has been kidnapped twice. One time she was held for months - she refuses to speak of it.” With a husband who holds citizenship in England, and whose father is Swiss, one may wonder why she and her family have not left the country? “We believe we can help Haiti. We want to see our people, the people who work hard, who struggle to survive against a corrupt government...we want to see them succeed. It would be easy for us to leave, but easy isn’t rewarding. I want to live a life of accomplishment through my deeds, not my wealth.”
It is hot and humid - everyone shares a similar glow. Baggage claim is in disarray. Erik Sorenson, a friend of Jeremy’s from southern Utah, assists in finding my bags while Jer is focused on his PDA...texting, emails, and phone calls. Exiting Haiti’s airport is a challenge. Carine watches from afar to make sure I get through the hoards of beggars and peddlers that await Americans arriving to their country.
Carine has a clear opinion on the millions of dollars that have been committed by other countries to rebuild Haiti. While dining with one of Europe’s Ambassador’s, Carine asked, “We appreciate your country’s generosity to Haiti. Can you tell me where the money has gone?” The Ambassador replied, “It is not our business to tell your government where aid assistance should be spent.” Carine states that accountability is crucial if aid is to be effective.
Jeremy operates like a bullet train. He is multi-tasking at the speed of light on a one way track. He drops people off at one location, picks up others along the way; he coordinates the delivery of an air conditioner to an orphanage while texting his secretary back home with a list of things he sees he needs for his next visit to Haiti.
Carine is part of a rising generation of affluent, young Haitian entrepreneurs who believe in helping Haiti. She knows that if like minded citizens come together and speak out while the media coverage is present, their voices can be heard. The announcement of entertainer Wyclef Jean’s candidacy in Haiti’s presidential race has also provided additional attention to the country. Our plane lands. Carine and I exchange contact information. She offers up her home and driver to me. She sees to it that I get through security without any problems. Jeremy is there, anxiously waiting...he has work to do. As Carine and I part ways, I let her know I honor her courage and will tell her story.
We jump into Jeremy’s new truck he bought. The drive through Port au Prince now rates as the #3 Most Exciting Vehicle Experience of my life (#1: a fast lap in a one-of-a-kind Corvette; #2: a race to the Atlantic City ER with a full-blooded Italian raised in Philly at the wheel). Jeremy’s new truck was officially initiated. He barely flinched as our vehicle was side swiped. No time to anguish. There were people to feed, babies to hold, and villages to visit.
Literally racing through the downtown streets of Port au Prince I saw what the media has reported countless times. It was as real as it all has appeared. I was forewarned of the poverty which I found disturbing but not shocking (I have been to Africa). What I did seek to find which reports did not convey was art. Haiti is home to a remarkable heritage of artisans whose combination of quality, style and color have had a global influence on fashion and decor. I was not disappointed... (to be continued). Part 2 of Can We Really Help Haiti will be featured in the Holiday issue of Elan Woman. The following short stories have been provided by women whom have made the journey to Haiti and shared their experience.
SEPTEMBER thru OCTOBER 2010
Written By Sue Thompson When good people get together they can make great things happen. I was with good people and ready to hit the ground running. Destination: Haiti. With only hours to pack, I was prepared to offer what service I could render in the short amount of time that I would have in the country. What I wasnâ€™t prepared for was an experience that left me living an oxymoron of emotion miserable joy. With my first breath of fetid, sweltering heat, my first sight of armed soldiers, that first blast of noise from streets teeming with cars and people I was taken aback. How could one person ever make a dent in this chaos, this place of such terrible tragedy? I had come here to care for babies and comfort the wounded and feed the hungry, but where in this squalid mess was I to begin? My mind was still reeling from it all when I and a few others loaded into a helicopter taking off from Port au Prince Airport. Soon we were flying over a city devastated by Januaryâ€™s deadly earthquake and the masses of tents where Haitiâ€™s people struggled to go on with their lives. The destruction and chaos was overwhelming, even seeing it from above and not first-hand on the ground. Again I thought, where could I even begin to help this ravaged country? The surrounding countryside was shockingly different from the damaged city.
Here I had a chance to see the side of H aiti never portrayed in the media - the side of the country I would fall in love with. Here abundant hillsides painted with bushes and vines met the sea in a beautiful fringe of green and blue. Tiny villages tented by tarps and thatched roofs lay almost hidden by the canopy of trees, their presence betrayed by trails of smoke from charcoal fires. As I watched the land unfold below me I wondered if it was even possible for me to make a difference in a land so different from my own. In a country with such diversity - in the people, in the lifestyles, in the land itself - could I ever find a place where I could leave my mark? We spent a few days traveling to remote areas of the country on a fact-finding mission of sorts and met an array of people. The children and the elderly were especially friendly and wanted to know our story as much as we wanted to know theirs. They were starved for knowledge as much as they were for food. They were eager for any taste we could give them of a world outside their own. I hungered as much to know more about their world. I wanted to touch this place and make it better. After days of experiencing verdant valleys, lush hillsides, cool mountains, monsoonal rains, stifling heat, warm arms, loving people, hope, and desperation, I came to truly experience miserable joy. I found it at a place of refuge in a small valley on a tiny island surrounded by the azure ocean. We landed in a soccer woman
Spinning Out of Control in Haiti
Written By Ilene Hacker | Photos By Ilene Hacker
we must first put the nation in order; to
we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first field near a church and were greeted by the smiling, glistening faces of the villagers and the joyous grins of the children entrusted to their care. They surrounded us as we walked the few yards to the orphanage lovingly overseen by Sister Flores, a saintly French nun, who had been there nearly two decades. It was a place that time and the world seemed to have forgotten - or had never known existed. We entered the refuge armed with pockets full of candy and were overwhelmed by the anxious faces and hands of the children. Then a child’s voice called out, “Jeremy.” Their friend, the helicopter pilot, had returned and had brought some of his friends with him. The children within the walls of this orphanage were the cast-offs of society. They had disabilities and deformities that made them less desirable and hard to look at for some. Babies lay in cribs, toddlers and older children on mats on the floors. Some older children sat in wheelchairs, their bodies so delicate and bent that they could hardly be moved. Sister Flores gently moving from one end of the room to the other, comforting as she passed, was the picture of serenity. As I looked at these forgotten children my ideas on how to make a difference changed. Words I had read long ago came to mind: “It is more noble to give yourself to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.” (Dag Hammarskjold) As I looked into their loving faces and touched their fragile bodies, my heart was open. I could not save the masses, but I could offer love to this one child whose hand I held in mine, if only for a moment. The young girl could neither see me nor hear me, but she was able to feel my touch. I brought a treat for her - a piece of penny candy. I first touched her hands. She flinched a bit. I softly and patiently persisted. I gently rubbed the piece of candy against her lips. Her eyes began to flutter. Then her lips began to move as she focused on the sensation against her mouth. I held her close and wondered what she felt as she sat in her dark and silent world. I sensed that she knew the tenderness with which that sweet taste had been given - and she longed for more. She was innocent...appreciative and incredibly excited over something so simple...and yet for me, the moment was priceless. I left Haiti a few days later. I also left behind a piece of candy and a portion of my heart. I may have not generated permanent change. I may not have provided heroic deeds. But for a moment, I held a child...tightly...with all I had to give.
cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”
~ Confucius The earthquake in Haiti this past January was a tragedy that devastated an already suffering people. The situation there remains horrible and appalling, although it’s been that way for decades. There are no simple solutions; the problems that exist in Haiti are gigantic and never-ending. People from all over were leaving for Haiti to help, and I wanted to do the same. With the perfect timing of an article in the men’s edition of Élan Woman magazine featuring humanitarian Barton Brooks, 18 individuals were willing to travel with me and assist Barton with his efforts in Haiti. Our team line-up was amazing. Each person had unique talents; we complimented each other with our abilities. I did some research on the Internet before I left. I wanted to see if a visa was required and what supplies would be needed. Surprisingly no immunizations were required, but we all got the suggested shots prior to the trip. At the bottom of the page was a statement that read, “You may require mental health counseling upon your return home.” I laughed about this with fellow traveler, Linda Thomas, thinking this would be a good excuse to justify some therapy. A group of us first traveled through the city of Port au Prince. I won’t soon forget the images of the people in that damaged city sitting in the blackened, wet and sticky dirt trying to sell vegetables in the rain. I won’t forget the hundreds of crumbled houses and buildings. And I won’t forget the knot in my stomach thinking about “hope” for the Haitian people. After a frightening half day journey over rough mountain terrain on primitive roads we reached the costal city of Jacmel. We visited a site where a school had collapsed. It was a rather large group of structures and it made me ache to stand there and imagine all of the children still in the rubble somewhere. It was a graveyard of youngsters who would never receive a proper burial. SEPTEMBER thru OCTOBER 2010
Looking through a crack I could see desks peering out of the crumbled cement and it made me sick. It was almost too much to comprehend. It was one place where I didn’t even want to take a photo. The emotion in that place was overwhelming. There were so many lives lost in just this one school. Who comforts all of the grieving parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles?
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Barton had set up a perfect project for our team: to help rebuild a school for more than 600 children in the mountain village of Cite. It was a delightful and rewarding experience. We were productive and made great efforts in rebuilding the school. One of our team members, Ryan Sequin, remained in Haiti to see the completion of the school. When the school was finished, each one of the students dipped their precious hand in paint, pressing it to the wall so that each child left their print in celebration of the new schoolhouse. This one moment was symbolic of my belief that hope for Haiti is in the education of their children.
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Returning home I realized my joke about needing therapy is not so funny after all. The images of what I encountered are etched in my mind and scenes of devastation linger. However, I will remember the beautiful faces of those I met, the laughter I shared with the children as we played games, painted fingernails, sang songs and of course, danced. Our group couldn’t do everything during our visit to Haiti but we did something and together formed a special bond between us. We touched some lives and broadened our own. Our perspectives were humbled and our hearts were set right. Top left: Women in Santa Clara, Utah, including Jeremy’s mother, Barbara Johnson, were busy cranking out dresses for young girls in Haiti, sending over 500 in the first few months after the disaster. Center: Ilene Hacker and two Haitian girls in the village of Luminère Cité, Haiti where the school was built. Top: Students in the classroom at Cité in Jacmel after its completion. Handprints remain as a reminder of the collaboration it took to rebuild the school.
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