It’s been over four months since I began my assignment helping with the disaster recovery in Haiti, and to say it has been a life changing experience would be an understatement. I have seen things I never thought I would; possibly in the movies, but never in real life. I have also met hundreds of people dropping everything in their normal lives to come down here and live in difficult conditions to help people they have never met. Most of these people said they had a “calling” to help, and many ended up falling in love with the Haitian people after working here for a period of time. This is especially true of those that worked with the children. I also had the privilege of working with people I’ve known over the years that really stepped up to the challenge and ended up playing a leading role in the recovery effort. It was extremely gratifying to see this, and I was proud of them.
As for me, my focus was on helping organizations that were not familiar with operating in Haiti. We would help coordinate their shipments of relief supplies and make sure they reach their people on the ground. I also worked with these organizations to build their skill sets and capacity internally, so they could coordinate their own shipments going forward. In addition, I’ve also been working on some of the more strategic initiatives in the area of education, health and long-term growth, specifically job creation. One area of particular interest is the development of the Citadelle as a guest destination. I will share more details on this later in this blog.
Before I go any further, I want to make sure I recognize the people I’ve been working with. As most of these initiatives are a team effort, I have the privilege of writing about them on Adam’s blog.
First and foremost, I want to mention Maryse Kedar and her husband Daniel. They were on the ground during the quake and their organization ProDev, was one of the first to take action by setting up water tanks in the camps, and then temporary schools for the thousands of children in these camps. Their team, led by Sharon Ramon (one of those people who dropped everything to help those in need), set the foundation for the curriculum and organizational structure for Royal Caribbean’s school initiative. This is something else I will share with you later in the blog.
Next is Lauren Ordway, who works for Royal Caribbean in the area of Safety and Environment, and coordinated the logistics associated with sending down hundreds of pallets with relief supplies via Royal Caribbean ships. These supplies consisted of everything you can imagine from medical supplies, construction material, oxygen generators, food, clothing and dialysis machines. A good portion of these supplies came from Compassionate Alliance who was with us from day one. There were many organizations working with us, but this one in particular really went above and beyond for Haiti, and I want to commend them for this.
Completing the difficult task of unloading and distributing these supplies was David Southby and Dave Scott. These two alternated as site managers for Labadee, and had the unenviable task of making sure that donated supplies were distributed to the communities fairly, and that assigned donations got to their NGO partners on the ground. The word “difficult” doesn’t fully capture the full scope of this task, so I will just say thank you.
Finally there was Gary Bald, Richard Pruitt and Steve Williams who worked to coordinate the overall effort from a leadership, medical and direct resource standpoint. Anything I asked for, these guys came through with executive support, medical expertise or the intellectual capital I needed to push through a problem.
I think it goes without saying, much appreciation goes to Craig Milan, Adam Goldstein and Richard Fain who had no hesitation supporting Haiti’s relief effort in spirit and, most importantly, from a resource and financial standpoint. I can honestly say there was never a moment of hesitation in making the generous commitment they made to this relief effort.
I think I covered everyone, but that’s the problem when you start thanking people individually; there are so many, and inevitably, someone gets left out. So, if you’re one of those people, thanks!!!!!
It’s amazing what can be accomplished when things have to get done and all the barriers are removed. This is the way it was in the very beginning but now things are starting to settle into their slower, more methodical pace. Despite things you may hear in the media, progress is being made-it’s just happening at a slower pace than what we would expect in the states or elsewhere in the world. There are many reasons for this, but let’s be blunt. The country was in bad shape before the disaster, in terms of logistical infrastructure, public education, a robust disaster response plan, or anything else you would expect a government to do; they simply didn’t have the capacity to handle anything like this. What little infrastructure existed there was destroyed along with some very capable people who were killed in the quake. With that said, when you have these basic challenges to start, progress is going to be a little slower.
I mentioned in a previous blog that some of the bureaucracy and lack of action you see in the country really puts a wet rag on your enthusiasm to help. You have to work through these times and focus on the people you’re helping, and not the mechanisms that seem to be working against the people.
When I do get frustrated, there are a few thoughts or impressions I have in my head that put me back on track. The first one is the resilience of the Haitian people. No matter what’s going on with my relief work in terms of obstacles or frustrations, there is nothing that compares to the daily rigors of life for the average Haitian living in these temporary camps. There is one picture that sticks in my mind. This is a picture of a family who had lost their home in the earthquake, and they are now living in one of the temporary camps among thousands.
Next week, follow me deeper into Haiti’s devastation to learn the story behind these resilient faces of Haiti’s recovery. In my next posting, my journey continues through the temporary camps and school houses supported by Royal Caribbean International. The profound moments of human endurance and triumphs through the collective-strength that I witnessed in Haiti continues to impact me. I’m grateful to Adam for lending me his blog as an outlet to share these experiences, and I hope that you visit again to accompany me on this voyage.
Article by John Weis, Associate Vice-President of Private Destinations for Royal Caribbean International