Should be arriving to Dallas, Texas tonight around 6 or 7. I know some of you (Alexandra) may want to meet up for a quick dinner. Anyone else who is interested, leave a post below. If we have more, Ill post here when and where we will meet (it will probably be around 730pm). We will talk camera and photography stuff over dinner. 🙂
Made it to El Paso, Tx late this afternoon. I was only catching bits and pieces of the craziness going on in Chile, as well as with my family who live on Maui. Everything seems to be ok there, I am more concerned with what is going on in Chile right now. Ive been getting a few emails and questions about going to Chile to help out, and to be honest with you, I’m not feeling desperately compelled to as I did with Haiti (and Im still somewhat sick, etc)
I will however watch the situation in Chile very closely for certain characteristics we are seeing time and again with major disasters, one of which is the problem of how information and communication flows. In a few days I will be making a post about how thousands of lives were probably lost because of this “information bottleneck” in Haiti (quite terrifying when you get into the details of how this happens and how senseless it is).
I also want you guys to know that I haven’t given up on disaster relief for good, I sense Ill be taking more of these types of trips in the future. (You should think about joining me-Id love to have you there to keep me company!) I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time thinking about & trying to develop possible solutions to the disaster problems we see happening over and over again. What I have in mind may not work, but I’m determined to try anyway, because if it does…it could be huge and save a lot of lives. My experiences in Haiti were invaluable in understanding why the system is essentially broken now, and how to fix it. Not being tied in to a large NGO seems to let me think a little differently than they do. We will always need the large NGOs who are there for the long haul. They do a tremendous amount of good. On the flip side…I am seeing some gaps and deficiencies that can be easily fixed.
In about 4-6 months, I hope to have an actual, operational system in place. Once we begin to test it, Ill be asking for volunteers to help run the simulations.
Feeling good enough to get back on the road. I still havent decided if I would rather do this in 2- 12 hour days or 3-8 hour days, in any event, I am leaving tomorrow morning. Have a ton of loose ends in Bama. Will also be shooting portions of the Advanced Techniques and Lighting DVDs, and hopefully we can turn these around fast to be ready for the new Canon cameras coming out (T2i and 50D replacement). I should be driving through Dallas so if anyone wants to grab lunch let me know!
I got an exciting email from Lisa of Filter Pure Filters this morning. In addition the the 2 dozen or so we delivered on our first meeting, her company has delivered another 200 filters to the 82nd Airborne for delivery to the orphanages – this includes over 50 which were purchased by blog readers alone! Thank you everyone for your support in this project, I know that Lisa, as well as myself, and especially those receiving the filters greatly appreciate your donations. Its amazing to think how so many of you have directly blessed the lives of so many of these orphans by buying them clean water for 5 years! 🙂
A few days after our arrival, Mathieu and I kept on receiving reports of an Orphanage in Titayane (about a half hour north of PAP) that had 500 children who had no food or water. To make things tougher, we had no address or even the name of the orphanage, just “There is 500 homeless starving kids in Titayane.” Initially, we believed there was nothing that could be done, but after a few days we discovered the best way to try to find them was to ask around.
It became very evident, very quickly that Mathieu and my partnership was very dynamic and could handle many different types of situations. I could go places that most aid workers couldnt go, simply because I was with Mathieu and his relatives (say for example the up into the Jungle mountains or City Solei or out and about at night) and many times, Mathieu was only granted access to locations because he was with me (say a US or Canadian Military Base or Embassy).
I could also rely on him and his cousins to gather information on the street from the locals in a way I could never imagine and I could relay that information in real time to Toby, as well as other aid organizations who wanted to help us with the contracts and technology I had. It became clear that Mathieu would handle certain tasks, and I would handle others. After some time, we didn’t even need to talk about it, whenever a need came up, we both knew which one of us was best equipped to handle it, and we did.
The American Sisters gave us some good leads on other orphanages in the Titayane area and we found one of them at an entirely HUGE enclosed compound. They had secure walls and when we arrived they were loading a adult patient into an ambulance. (This was a sign of an orphanage being very well connected). There was a second adult man there who needed a ride to the main road so he could get a Taxi to the same American run clinic for what I believe was a complication with an amputation. Why they didn’t just go together in the same ambulance I will never know, but we ended up giving the guy a ride to the road.Once inside this compound, I started getting a really good understanding of what is going on in Haiti in terms of Orphanages. There were many very nice, professionally made buildings. Storage units, Tents, stocks of medical supplies. Very well dressed, and very clean director. In speaking with him, we found out the compound was in fact a church/orphanage, but there were only 9 boys in the orphanage, and there appeared to be more adults there than were children. Technically, yes an orphanage, however not many mouths to feed.
We asked the man if he had received any aid he said “very little, we need more”. Another lesson learned, pretty much all the orphanages we spoke to would say they needed supplies, even if they had supplies. There is an unspoken understanding that if aid workers show up and you say you need help, there is a good chance it will come. Even if an Orphanage had plenty of food and supplies, the prospect of getting more meant the possibility to sell for $$$.
Just about every single orphanage we visited insisted on needed some type of help (and compared to American standards, they absolutely did), however, the degree of their needs differed greatly. Mathieu could naturally see this and sometimes we argued about how much aid to give them. “They are rich…they don’t need us” he would sometimes say, other times “We really need to get these people some help” and it took me a while to see what he was talking about, but eventually I just took his word for it.
I think as a naive American who just wanted to help, I just assumed that we should try to help everyone. As time went on, Mathieu taught me the truth about Haitian Orphanages “Some of them really need help and are run by good people. On the other hand, some of these orphanages are run strictly for the sake of profit. The adults may not be able to find work, or are lazy, so they start an orphanage and know that aid groups will supply food and money. Some of them are involved in child trafficking. We have to be really careful to focus on the ones that have good intentions with their children.”
One of the ways we started doing this was to look carefully at the person running the orphanage in comparison with the children. If the director was well dressed, heavy set, cleanly manicured, drove a nice car and the children were in rough shape, it meant most of the aid would end up in their pockets instead of the children’s stomachs. If the director was living in the same facilities as the children (a tent for example) was skinny, and poorly dressed (as were the children) it was usually a pretty good indication they were in greater need as a whole. There was one orphanage director who wouldn’t speak to Mathieu because he was a black Haitian American and only wanted to speak with me because I was a white American…the crazy thing was…the director was a black Haitian too! Stuff like that just ticked both of us off because it was an indication they were doing fine and were overly concerned about non-essential things (like eating).
As time went on we became more and more savvy about how we approached orphanages and the questions we asked, such as “From whom have you received aid since the quake?” instead of “Have you received aid?”
In any event, we asked the director “Where are the 500 orphans in the field?” And shockingly, he answered: “Oh…they are just up the road, within walking distance.”
So up we walked….and there they were. There wasn’t 500, there were 200, and yes, they were just sitting under a tarp in an open field. There were a few adults there getting ready to cook. We could see their dirty bed mats, and their cooking utensils in an open pit, which meant they were really hurting. I took several pictures including their collapsed building and many of the children, some clearly malnourished.“These people need help as soon as possible” Mathieu remarked.
Now that we had found them came the next problem….Where in the world were we going to find food to give them? How in the world would we get it there? Up to this point we had only been collecting information, now we had a situation where we had to do something….(to be continued)