"Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive...then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Storm Update

I spent the weekend at one of our camps, first assessing damage and beginning some crucial infrastructure clean up and today doing tarp distribution for the families that lost their home / tent.  We had many conversations around this point:  If we are truly trying to encourage people to leave the camps and return to their pre-quake neighborhoods are we sending a mixed message by providing tents and tarps to those that remain in the camps?  Wouldn't distributions to those that left (or never entered) a camp be a better, more consistent message?  But then are you really a humanitarian organization if you leave people without a roof over their heads?  There are no easy answers here!

Everything flew away from this area except the desk!

All that was left of the central part of one of the camps I work in.

Another of the camps I work in lost 80% of their tents.  Those that remain need major repairs.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Every day we check the National Hurricane Center website for new tropical storms and hurricanes, knowing that we'll at least have a few days to prepare the the camps and their residents.   With nothing on the radar, this afternoon we were taken by complete surprise when at 3:00 the sun was shining - at 3:05 the sky turned green and wind, rain, thunder and lightening like I have never experienced anywhere before hit.  The wind sheered many of the few big trees that are left in Port au Prince, landing on streets, buildings, and tents.  Worse yet, it blew tents and new shelters apart like they were made of paper towels.  One of the camps in which I work lost 80% of the tents and structures and we have yet to be able to survey two of the other camps.  When we saw the new wooden offices in the middle of one camp get sucked up into the wind and land on another tent we had to make staff evacuate.  We are now waiting for daylight (it gets dark at 5:30 every day) to be able to assess the situation.  The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming.  When morning comes we need to send in a few of our Haitian staff to check the reaction of the residents.  Who could blame them for being frustrated and even angry that 8 months after the earthquake it appears that nothing is happening?  It's such a long, difficult answer that not enough time exists in the day to try to explain to everyone so we just keep trying to move faster, but today proved again just how precious time is and how clearly, we are not moving fast enough.

Might be time to shop at Macy's...

The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010
By Jessica Leeder
The mask is finally off – and making its way onto shelves.
Macy’s, the largest department store chain in the United States, has unveiled itself as the commercial knight in shining armour responsible for giving more than 200 Haitian artisans their first full-time contracts since an earthquake rocked Haiti last January.
In June, the retail giant quietly began investigating the purchase of a handmade line of home-decor products as a means of aiding Haitian communities affected by the quake, including the world famous metal artists of Croix-des-Bouquets and the papier-mâché masters of Jacmel.
Within weeks of seeing custom prototypes, Macy’s buyers had reopened their fall buying season to order 20,000 products in 40 categories – the maximum number the country’s still-struggling artisans could produce. Their custom Heart of Haiti line, featuring vases, quilts, ceramics, wood carvings, paintings and jewellery, is now set to roll out in 25 select U.S. stores in October and will then also be available for purchase online.
One metal artist in Croix-des-Bouquets, Jacques Rony, called the chance to sell his work at Macy’s and work with U.S.-based product designers “a huge advantage.” He and his apprentices are looking forward to the stability the Macy's relationship will bring, as well as the opportunity to work with U.S. designers who have exposure to seasonal trends. That's hard information to come by from isolated Haiti.
Although in-store sales have yet to begin, the positive impact of the relationship with Macy’s has been increasingly evident across several artisan communities in Haiti, where 235 handicraft experts have been working for months on the product order – and getting paid. Now, the mere mention of the word “Macy’s” generates smiles in several artisan communities, including Jacmel, where the city’s papier-mâché artists now equate the name with the concept of sustained work.
“Even in a short time, we’ve heard that parents who were incredibly stressed now have their children’s school fees. Now they can buy shoes. They have money in their pocket. Maybe they’re still living in a tent. But they know they can have some bit of security to craft a life. They know we’re not going away,” said Willa Shalit, the head of Fairwinds Trading, a New York-based company that specializes in connecting gifted artisans in “post-trauma” communities with American corporations to build sustainable economic relationships.
Fairwinds, in partnership with the Canadian non-profit Brandaid Project
was the force responsible for expeditiously opening a channel between Macy’s and artisan communities across Haiti after connecting at a May meeting in New York during which the William J. Clinton Foundation urged American businesses to pitch in on the rebuilding of Haiti’s shattered economy.
Ms. Shalit’s company has a history of dealing with Macy’s – Fairwinds brokered a contract with the company five years ago on behalf of Rwandan basket weavers, whose Path to Peace products have been sold in Macy’s stores ever since.
“The relationship with Macy’s has changed the face of rural Rwanda,” said Ms. Shalit, who recently returned from a visit there. “What you see in the rural villages is homes and communities where [people] have been making a living for five years now. It’s that steady income that makes a change,” she said.
“Now they are known as the greatest weavers in the world. That’s what will happen here. They [Haitians] will be known as the greatest metal workers, the greatest papier-mâché artists in the world. They’ll be perceived as valued instead of useless and disrespected.”
Already, signs are positive that the relationship will last. Designs for the spring 2011 lineup are already under way. And Macy’s has been impressed early on by the work ethic among their artists in Haiti – in spite of their austere working conditions, they were able to produce prototypes for the company in just three weeks. (The process can take up to one year.)
“As a company, Macy’s believes very strongly in supporting communities in need – and in developing programs where we can do something together with our customer that is powerful and rewarding for the greater global good,” Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and CEO of Macy’s, Inc., said in a statement. “An effort like this provides great satisfaction to Macy's customers and associates, who care deeply about giving back,” he said.
In Haiti, artists are grateful that the company did more than simply pass through.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come through and do a lot of talking,” said Onel Bazelais, a master papier-mâché artisan who has been working at the craft for about 26 years. To supplement his income he maintains a small art shop in Jacmel’s historic district. Since the earthquake, his family has been living in a series of tents in a yard behind the shop, which doubles as a work space.
“My government has no plan for us,” he said during a recent interview. “I want to put my kid through university – I have to do something for my kids.”
Working on the Macy’s order has provided him and others much-needed stability.
“In Haiti, a lot of people have heard of Macy’s. That makes them feel really proud,” Ms. Shalit said. “That sense of cultural pride, you can’t say enough about what that does for culture and community,” she said.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


 I thought this article was very accurately written and sums up a lot of what I face at work every day (which is, of course, nothing compared to the people that are living it 24/7):


Kudos to my old co-workers at The LA Times.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Global Effort

One of the things that strikes me most about working in Haiti is how much of the global community is represented here. The best example is the fact that there are 46 different Red Cross chapters. I guess I'd never really thought about how many countries do humanitarian work all over the world everyday.  For instance, in the American Refugee Committee office here we have approximately 20 Ex pat staff (meaning people from countries outside the country you are working in) and 200+ Haitian nationals.  Of the 20 Ex pats there are 5 of us from the U.S.  The others come from France, England, Vietnam, India, Australia, Nepal, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Benin. 

It has provided some great cultural learning and some interesting invitations.  Last week a small group of us were invited to join our co-worker from Nepal (Nagendra) at a UN medal ceremony honoring the peace keeping mission, also from Nepal.  We were the only civilians and sat among the troops from Sri Lanka, Korea, China, India, Japan, Canada, Argentina, Peru, France, Brasil and more.  Interestingly, Nepal supplies the 5th largest world wide contingent of peace keeping troops to the UN.  The awards were a very high United Nations honor and were presented by the head of the UN in Haiti, Nigel Fisher.  

After the ceremony, the troops performed some traditional Nepalese dances and then we enjoyed some amazing food.  It was a very fun evening and Nagendra was a very generous host.  He regaled us with his stories about his treks to Everest base camp and how he helped to  build a suspension bridge nearby.  We forgot our camera so you'll have to squint to see what we saw through the Blackberry photos posted below. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010


What a great Sunday!  We met some friends in the mountains above Port au Prince for a hike.  It is tough footing on many of the steep hills, but it's a great workout and the scenery is beautiful.  The vegetation is so lush and thick that there are places you can hear people nearby but can't see them.  We hiked down to a waterfall and then followed inside the river bank then up another path.  We passed areas planted with corn, cabbage, hot peppers, bananas, and flowers which of course meant we we're walking through and past the homes of the farmers and their families.

We started and ended at a place called The Lodge which is a small hotel with a restaurant and bar.  Our friends had spent the night and several others that hadn't joined the hike joined us for a card game and a Coke outside in the cool mountain air.   

The ride down the mountain was like the last time we were there - a torrential downpour which turns the road into a raging river.  It is crazy!  We tried to capture it with our camera but it didn't work very well.  Just imagine a river overflowing its banks and vehicles driving through it. 

The street as seen from the car window