Friday, July 1, 2011

At St. Vincent's
Love and affection. Human needs that are as close to the heart as food and shelter. When one brings gifts to Haiti, there is not a greater gift then sharing ones self with others.

Haiti is a proud country. One can watch the network news stations and only find all the negative issues in life. If one gets on an airplane and travels to Haiti, one will find how wonderful the Haitian people are.

Sitting here in Le Plaza Hotel, with the tent city only 200 yards away, one is overcome with how peaceful the Haitian people. In Tulsa and many other communities in the USA one would be hearing sirens and gunshots. In Port Au Prince it is hot and humidand living conditions are miserable … but despite this most evenings one experiences peace and quiet.

But what really touches ones heart is the Haitian youth at St. Vincent's School for handicapped children; resilience, love and happiness despite all the challenges.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

St. Vincent's School for handicapped children - Haiti

Wood smoldering ... woke up with an interesting aroma this morning. Just across the street from the Le Plaza hotel is the Haitian tent city existing since the earthquake 18 months ago. The smoldering wood smell had interesting qualities … food cooking, many varieties, added to the sensory experience. Haiti does not observe daylight savings time. The sun comes up shortly before 5am.

The purpose for being in Haiti is Quality control and training. St. Vincent s School for handicapped children received a shipment of Mobility International specialty wheelchairs that were donate by contributions made to The Red Thread Promise. Mobility International believes that when we become a part of someones life by being part of a team that provides specialty wheelchairs, they are our family for life and our mission is to keep recipients in well maintained wheelchairs.

Not finding an escort in the morning for our mile walk to St. Vincent's through the heart of Port Au Prince, the adventure was made without one. Sonya is a good leader; all along our route Haitians have set up shop trying to sell anything they can. From cooking food to selling computer parts … there was even one tire repair operation on the sidewalk. Haitians are getting more and more bold, some even moving their shops into the street.

When the container of wheelchairs was released from the port, the wheelchairs where offloaded, trucked into the city and put into storage. The mission - organize the shipment so the folks at St. Vincent's can easily find what they need. Also training, training, training. We train folks how to maintain our wheelchairs and also explain that “one size fits all” is not an option. Folks who need wheelchairs have special individual needs one must address.

Jojo is Internationally known. His art is painted from memories of Haitian Caribbean adventure. Jojo has special physical challenges, but that doesn’t slow him down. Scenes of people enjoying family, the ocean and Caribbean life in Haiti are his trademark and Jojo donates much to St. Vincent's for the needs of the handicapped children in the school.

Now that we have the wheelchairs organized, we brought one of each kind from storage to the school, so we can properly fit individuals to the chairs. We need to ensure that kids get a proper chair. Each individual has special needs. Having a wheelchair that fits properly helps development of a growing child's physiology. We rolled the wheelchairs through the streets of Port Au Prince back to St. Vincents main campus. It was quite a scene.

St. Vincent's is a school with many opportunities. People from all over the world have relationships with St. Vincent's. We met a film group there who has their premier showing of their documentary playing in Haiti this evening. We struck up a friendship and decided to have lunch together. We hailed a taxi and packed 7 of us into a Toyota and when screaming through the streets of Haiti. Our destination was Hotel Oloffson. Pulling in (to the hotel) several UN vehicles filled the parking lot. Armed guards with machine guns guarded the entrance. Dining on the porch where military brass from several countries.

The menu is interesting … it is all in French, so I took a chance on the goat. The meal was fantastic, but I like the rice and beans at Le Plaza better!

What contrasts. As we were eating on the porch at Oloffson the military folks eventual left. A dining experience in Haiti can take several hours as the clock doesn't seem to hold much influence in Caribbean life.

As we were enjoying our meal Sonya watched a trailer of the documentary. We walked back from Hotel Olaffson Le Plaza. Seems it is becoming dinner time, getting about 4:45 … so the sensory experience of food cooking over whatever wood Haitians can find in the tent city permeates the air.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Port Au Prince Haiti

In Port Au Prince.

It's easy to focus on the bad and quote folk's thoughts when they step off the plane, "This is worse than I ever imagined."

History, many times, begins when one discovers it
There is something GOOD going on in Haiti ... a country reinvigorated.
Getting off the plane, one can see the damage. Much of the old terminal shows the cracks from the earthquake. A new walkway has been built. The rebuilding of the structure is awaiting the final revised building codes.
Caribbean music was being played by a group Digicel sponsored as we disembarked the plane and climbed onto the bus to take us to immigration.
Driving through the city, one sees much activity. People are busy working at cleaning up the rubble. this is a slow process ... many of the workers on have wheelbarrows to cart the stuff away. Most of the roads amazingly are much smoother than the ones we have in Tulsa. I was pleasantly surprised that a country that has 70% unemployment has the fortitude to focus on infrastructure.
Mom and pop shops are starting to come back into operation. Business is starting to be rebuilt in the city

Checked into the hotel.

And then reality. Just across the street, thousands of folks in tents
A block away is the presidential palace which is still collapsed.
The hotel is an old Holiday Inn. It was built to American standards and is an oasis in the city for humanitarian workers, journalists and professional visitors. A testament to forethought and building structures that will endure.
There are signs that folks are starting to chip away at the presidential palace and rebuild. The lawn is nicely groomed. Haiti a proud nation.
The world is a closer place. We have our differences ... but we can also work together with true understanding for a brighter tomorrow.
Faith in humankind has been refreshed ... there is resolve to move forward despite the setbacks.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Global Mobility Equity Mission to Haiti

Steve at the Rotary International Convention in New Orleans

It’s been a long wait. The first Mobility container has been sitting in Port Au Prince since July 4th of last year. The perseverance of Red Thread Promise President Kathy Korge led us to send a second container. The second container sailed through the port without issues. In the coming days you’ll see the Global Mobility Equity team in partnership with The Red Thread Promise fulfill our mission. Not only do we deliver wheelchairs that meet the challenges of rugged areas, we believe in, and fulfill, our responsibility to maintain the equipment we deliver. Stay tuned this week for updates on our travels while in Haiti.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Embracing talents of those less fortunate

For more than a decade, Rotary International has been part of a world-wide effort to distribute wheelchairs to those who don’t have the means to afford them. Rotarians the world over have opened their hearts and checkbooks to provide many unfortunate individuals their first wheelchair.

We now have a fleet of wheelchairs, close to a million of them, which have been distributed and need maintenance or replacement. Depending on the lifestyle of the individual and the environment that individuals traverse, a wheelchair can start needing maintenance in as little as 4 months. Many folks that Rotary has supplied wheelchairs have long since worn out their chair and have gone back to being immobile in their homes.

There is a lot of talent that can be brought back to life if we work to maintain the wheelchairs we distribute and work for find productive paths for the folks we help out.

We have submitted a Rotary grant to set up repair facilities in Rwanda. The Rotarians in Rwanda let us know that there are more than 5000 wheelchairs there that are either in need of repair or worn beyond usability. We are looking forward to this Rotary grant being approved so we can get to work!