To Haiti and Back: Good Intentions and a Pile of Glasses

libby

During the preparation phase for the “North State to Haiti” adventure, nurse Libby Hernandez was true to the “what’s-good-for-them,” not “what’s-good-for-you” mindset of relief aid work.

Advice from a colleague with aid experience in India set her on a mission to gather prescription eyeglasses, magnifiers and sunglasses, commodities often out of fiscal reach for most Haitians. The result: a combination of collected eyewear from the Mercy Medical Center ER staff and the local Dollar Tree.

sunglasses

Libby, a 2003 Chico State graduate, lives in Cottonwood with her husband and high-school sweetheart, Artie. While working as a staff registered nurse in Mercy’s emergency room, Libby is completing her master’s through a program at Sonoma State “with one year left,” she exclaims. She adds, “I hope to focus on women’s health or pediatrics when I graduate.”

Today, all of Libby’s medical expertise, travel planning and preparation, including weeks of spectacle collection, will culminate in a trip across a continent and an unforgettable experience. She’ll be among seven health care professionals on a volunteer medical relief mission to Haiti. Until July 14, they will help treat victims of January’s Haitian earthquake — and I’ve metaphorically climbed into one of their suitcases with my camera and laptop. As the eighth member of the team, I’ll be the north state’s eyes and ears on this adventure.

But first, the phases of travel. You see, just like the shock-to-acceptance cycle of recovering from grief or the romance-to-commitment rhythm of a new relationship, travel has a sequence of phases.

First, travelers experience the idealistic, concept phase. Then comes the logistical phase, followed by the practical, preparation phase. The “I Can’t Leave For A Week” panic phase sets in just before departure, often in the throws of voyage preparation. Finally, the dreaded “If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will” phase.

The “North State to Haiti” medical relief team’s journey fell right into the rhythms of globe-trotting’s natural cycles. Team leader Susie Foster realized phase one with the realization of a dream to take a medical relief team to the disaster site. Read all about the mission in the first chapter of “To Haiti and Back.”

This first, enthusiastic phase culminated in an incredibly successful fundraiser for CRUDEM, which administrates Hopital Sacre Coeur in the tiny northern Haitian town of Milot. The Redding-based wine tasting, auction and raffle extravaganza at Vintage Wine Bar raised over $6,000 that will directly benefit patient care at the hospital. Many thanks to everyone who donated and joined the team for an incredible evening.

Phase 2: logistics. I can’t take any credit for this step in our adventure. Susie and team made complicated travel arrangements, secured hotel rooms for respite from overnight flights, consulted with public health nurses and coordinated with those on the ground in Milot long before I got on board.

dop-kit

All I had to do was have four shots in the arm that made me unable to raise my fist above my head for three days. Once upper-body limb mobility returned, I scoured five pharmacies to find the horse-pills that will prevent a mosquito bite from morphing into malaria-induced headaches, diarrhea and chills. Based on the scarcity of the monster pills, destinations plagued by parasite-infected mosquitoes aren’t on the Top 10 list for north state travelers.

The preparation phase continued until yesterday as I pushed, jammed and forced a mind-boggling array of clothes, hiking shoes, toys for kids at the hospital, and enough pharmaceuticals, creams and TSA-regulation three-ounce bottles to stock a Rite-Aid into a gorged 24-inch duffle bag. The camera is charged, a nail-biting 24-hour laptop tune-up is complete, and the adventure can begin.

The “Oh-Shit-What-Was-I-Thinking” phase was brief, but the “If-Something-Can-Go-Wrong” phase hit the team head-on yesterday. Most people wouldn’t complain if their flight was derailed, diverted to Miami and scheduled for the next day. No big whoop, right? A little sun and pool time, a few cocktails: a traveler’s dream. But one traveler’s dream is an aid-traveler’s nightmare.

A chance call to confirm our reservations revealed that we were delayed 24 hours and redirected from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, delaying our arrival in Milot to begin hospital relief work. But as a member of our team illuminated, rescheduled flights are a cake-walk for emergency room doctors and nurses who experience near death situations and split-second decision-making skills daily. So, the team got a grip and got back on a slightly different track and will hit the ground running even harder when we arrive in Milot.

Now, unlike leisure travelers, aid workers venturing to developing countries, post-natural disaster, experience a “Questioning-My-Motives” phase that deserves some dissection.

In my research about what to expect in Haiti, I stumbled upon and shared with the team “Good Intentions Are Not Enough,” a blog authored by Saundra Schimmelpfennig. Saundra worked in Thailand for four years and she saw the impact of aid from all perspectives: villagers, government officials, religious leaders, aid agency staff and directors, the United Nations, and various donors. As founding director of the Disaster Tracking Recovery Assistance Center, Saundra was regularly asked by individual donors, philanthropists, foundations, and corporations for advice on donating to recovery efforts.

Saundra’s blog entries address the realities of aid work and suggest that often, aid workers are doing more harm than good. Their good intentions, she contends, can add bodies to feed, house and immunize, and place added burdens on already stressed rescue crews, should a relief worker need to be evacuated. In addition, aid workers unknowingly hinder a local economy’s stimulus by assuming jobs that could provide incomes to local workers.

Upon further blog scouring, our team was exonerated. All its members are trained medical professionals, working for a well-established volunteer-based organization: the criteria for an aid-worker get-out-of-jail-free card, in Saundra’s view. But what if that hadn’t been true?

Part of me wants to tell Saundra to go “blog” herself. Her experience in this field is indisputable and certainly makes her an expert on the subject. I can even see her point of view about armies of well-intentioned but unskilled winter-breakers descending on an already stressed country. But many of her blog posts fail to acknowledge that much of the awareness and subsequent monetary relief to Haiti was a result of compassionate people with good intentions. A recent little “North State to Haiti” fundraiser is proof.

Although we haven’t had a heart-to-heart about it, I can project that the “North State for Haiti” team members realize that their contributions are a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. But I am leaving for Milot, Haiti today with seven unbelievably passionate, experienced, well-intentioned team members whose primary concern is to lend a week’s worth of their training and education to put a dent in the behemoth after-affects of a devastating natural disaster.

Maybe in her next blog, Saundra Schimmelpfennig can share a few stories about the mountains of sunglasses, bulging bags of toys and endless outpour of good intentions that help make up for those with no intentions at all.

Stay tuned for Chapter 3 of “To Haiti and Back.” You’ll meet another member of the “North State for Haiti” team and share the first glimpses of our host country.

The team is also accepting donations. Make checks payable to CRUDEM and send to P.O. Box 633, 215 Lake Blvd, Redding, CA 96003.

For more information about CRUDEM and Hopital Sacre Coeur, visit crudem.org.

Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to adamm.anewscafe@gmail.com.

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is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner are the owners of HawkMan Studios and the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday Art Hop.
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26 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Someone wrote about Live Aid that while cynics called it a massive publicity stunt, it raised $283 million for famine relief, while cynicism raised nothing at all.

  2. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    GREAT quote, Barbara. Thanks!!
    And i understand what Saundra is expressing. People going into these areas need to be aware of all her concerns. And i think Adam covered it well when he said something about the skilled help of the Northstate team making up for those with no intentions at all.

    You go, guys!!!!

  3. Avatar Katrina Ericson says:

    I love you, Adam! I'm so happy I saw you the day before you left. Your writing is informative and entertaining and makes me want to read more & more! Your "unable to raise my fist above my head for three days" statement made me giggle! Like I said when I saw you, "Be Safe, and come home soon." xoxoxokat

  4. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    I am thrilled that you will be our eyes and ears on this trip. I am sure that what your team is bringing will make great impact on individual lives. Nothing is more important.

    Make each moment count and remember we are with you in our hearts.

  5. Avatar Sara Hanson says:

    If this was really about the needs of Haitians, why not donate the cost of your travel as well as the funds you have raised? By all accounts there are plenty of well-meaning foreigners in Haiti already.

  6. Avatar Saundra says:

    As my blog is much of the subject of this article I felt a need to weigh in on the subject.

    It is often people just in your position that call myself and other aid blogger cynical. And I understand that what we are saying is not what you want to hear. We don't say what we say because we don't care, on the contrary sometimes we care too much. We have been in disaster zones and development areas long enough to see the impact of good intentions that are not matched with equally good knowledge.

    We appreciate the desire to help and we dedicate hundreds of hours writing blog posts, giving media interviews, and consulting with people one on one in an effort to help them learn how to match their actions with their good intentions. But unfortunately, Good Intentions are Not Enough. If they were I wouldn't have sacrificed so much to educate donors and volunteers, nor would I have total strangers telling me to go blog myself.

    I understand that you've already left with your bulging bags of sunglasses, toys and good intentions. Thus the many posts I've written on the problems caused by sending donated goods overseas will not have an impact on you and may even further set you against what I have to say. But for those readers that are considering future donations of goods I urge you to read these two posts first.
    http://goodintentionsarenotenough.com/2010/01/donhttp://goodintentionsarenotenough.com/2010/04/aid

    • Joe Domke Joe Domke says:

      Sorry, comments with more than one link are automatically flagged as spam and have to be manually approved. It should be visible to everyone now.

  7. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Because it's very easy, when tragedies such as this have disappeared from every day news accounts, for Americans to sit back and say, "Well, they must have that all fixed up by now, right? Pass me another margarita… dammit, the cable went out again!"

    By chronicling the week in the hospital (at the request of the organizer of this medical tour), Adam is going to bring front and center the suffering that is still going on – and hopefully that will continue to bring in donations.

  8. Avatar Nancy Haley says:

    I am proud to be Susie's Mom and know 3 of the amazing women on this trip. Susie and I were trying to relax, finish her last minute chores when right there in the middle of the Mt Shasta Mall, plans seemingly started to unravel. The flight from Ft Lauderdale to Haiti was cancelled…the plane broke down. Now they were flying out of Miami with a 24 hour delay…on a new airline now to Port au Prince…with a puddle jumper to their final destination (they're in Haiti mind you!) As a mother, inside I was in panic. I was secretly talking to my brother who recently retired from American about planes and props and jets and FAA liceneses – which their original airline evidently has suspended!!! I listened and watched this team pull together, it was like watching them stitch up a gaping wound leaving no scar. This team of professionals is amazing. They've made it to Miami and I recieved a call at 4ish AM today as they were bording for Haiti…WITH over $6000.00 in checks for the hospital which they can use to stimulate their ecomony and buy a bagillion band aids if they so choose. Thank you to everyone who has supported this effort and team in Rxtreme Adventure. Love and Hugs to you guys…the hard work has just begun.

  9. Avatar Brigid says:

    There is a huge mental leap between doing nothing charitable and doing something charitable, which you totally appreciate here.

    However, there is as big a leap between doing something charitable and then doing something charitable correctly.

    It's as hard to make the second leap as it was to make the first. Plus you want to just enjoy the fact that you made the first leap for a moment, certainly before someone who's already made that second leap begins urging you to follow.

    But on the other hand, having made that first leap successfully can be a great indicator that you'll make the second leap, too.

    – Brigid Slipka http://www.actuallygiving.com

  10. This might not make it up, but do you care to explain why you tell someone off and then not allow her comments to be posted?

    • Joe Domke Joe Domke says:

      Saundra's comment was automatically flagged as spam since it contained more than one outside link, it should be visible to everyone now.

  11. Avatar J. says:

    "But many of her [Saundra's] blog posts fail to acknowledge that much of the awareness and subsequent monetary relief to Haiti was a result of compassionate people with good intentions. A recent little “North State to Haiti” fundraiser is proof."

    Why not just call this what it is: a publicity stunt. This is not about helping Haiti. There is no document or study in existence that shows the pressing need of Haitian earthquake survivors for… donated glasses. This is about you and some people from California having an adventure and (maybe) raising a little cash. Straight up.

    J. (http://talesfromethehood.wordpress.com)

  12. Avatar Michael Keizer says:

    But many of her blog posts fail to acknowledge that much of the awareness and subsequent monetary relief to Haiti was a result of compassionate people with good intentions.

    Of course they fail to do so; just like many (probably all) of the articles here fail to acknowledge that some of the volunteers in Haiti have been less than effective.

    Should everybody now include disclaimers about everything on every blog post?

    All its members are trained medical professionals, working for a well-established volunteer-based organization: the criteria for an aid-worker get-out-of-jail-free card, in Saundra’s view.

    No, those are not the criteria; Schimmelpfennig makes it abundantly clear that it is not about the person, but about what they do or don't — in other words, the project or programme, and more importantly, its impact. The fact that you present this as Schimmelpfennig's criteria shows that you either have not read her postings very well before writing about them, or are misrepresenting them deliberately. Either would be a capital sin for a journalist.

  13. Avatar Ian says:

    I think it's understandable that people want to help in the face of disaster, and want to do more than give, and if they have specific skills they want to be able to offer them. And they also don't like to be told by experts that their idea isn't helping.

    BUT assistance MUST be judged by whether it is providing the best possible benefit for those affected by the crisis, not whether it makes those providing the benefit feel good about themselves. If you can accomplish both that's great – but blogs such as Saundra's provide a useful reality check that this is often not the case. It may sometimes be a hard message to recieve, but it is a necessary one.

  14. Avatar Amanda says:

    Visiting this post again (hoping to read Saundra's comment, to see her thoughts on where this discussion has gone), I was struck by something at the beginning of the article…

    "Advice from a colleague with aid experience in India set her on a mission to gather prescription eyeglasses, magnifiers and sunglasses, commodities often out of fiscal reach for most Haitians."

    Without going through and referencing/re-reading many of the posts on http://www.goodintentionsarenotenough.com, somewhere in all of the nuggets of good advice on that site is one saying something like, "Just because it worked/was helpful/was appreciated in one developing country doesn't mean it's the right thing for another." Perhaps next time it would be helpful to take advice on what is needed most from individuals in-country, rather than an aid worker who served on a different continent?

  15. Avatar Michael Keizer says:

    But many of her blog posts fail to acknowledge that much of the awareness and subsequent monetary relief to Haiti was a result of compassionate people with good intentions.

    Of course they fail to do so; just like many (probably all) of the articles here fail to acknowledge that some of the volunteers in Haiti have been less than effective.

    Should everybody now include disclaimers about everything on every blog post?

    All its members are trained medical professionals, working for a well-established volunteer-based organization: the criteria for an aid-worker get-out-of-jail-free card, in Saundra’s view.

    No, those are not the criteria; Schimmelpfennig makes it abundantly clear that it is not about the person, but about what they do or don’t — in other words, the project or programme, and more importantly, its impact. The fact that you present this as Schimmelpfennig’s criteria shows that you either have not read her postings very well before writing about them, or are misrepresenting them deliberately. Either would be a capital sin for a journalist.

  16. Avatar Sean Randall says:

    A lot of critical comments to a story about a group of people who want to contribute to the greater good. I wonder if those people who are pecking out cynical responses on their laptops while sipping lattes in an air-conditioned Starbucks, have anything constructive to post. If you think the intention of this article was to criticize another aid worker, or that this effort is a publicity stunt (really "J"?), you have simply missed the point. I applaud Adam, Susie and the rest of the team for their contributions, SUNGLASSES AND ALL!

    • Avatar Michael Keizer says:

      I wonder if those people who are pecking out cynical responses on their laptops while sipping lattes in an air-conditioned Starbucks, have anything constructive to post.

      1. These people are hardly that. E.g. if you would have taken the effort to read Schimmelpfennig's blog, you just might have noticed that she has just come back from Haiti. Personally, I have recently come back from 10 months in Chad where I worked with Doctors Without Borders.

      2. Constructive advice is posted, e.g. the advice to ensure that what you do has the optimal effect for the (in this case) Haitian population given the available resources. In other words, could the money and other resources spent on this be spent more effectively in some other way? I don't see any discussion on that aspect, which is repeatedly brought up on 'Good Intentions' and in the comments from Ian and Amanda.

  17. Avatar barbara nakao says:

    Hi Adam, I just found out you had left. I hope everything is going well. Is it hot there???? We just got back from Malaysia and it was sooo hot. I loved the picture of the eyeglasses so I'm going to try to paint it if you don't mind. Love Barbara

  18. Avatar Susan Daugherty says:

    Hard to believe that the efforts of a team of medical professionals, to provide aid and support in a foreign country, could raise such ire. Why do people feel a need to pass judgement without knowing the individuals involved? I have to admit that I am stunned by some of these responses. Isn't it easier to assess the validity of the trip once it is completed?

    I am sorry that Saundra's comments are deleted, I would have liked to read them. I did not feel that Adam was being critical of her blog, merely using it as a jumping off point for a discussion with the volunteer group to assess the raionale and worth of their journey.

    I look forward to your next segment in the series, Adam.

    • Joe Domke Joe Domke says:

      Saundra's comment was automatically flagged as spam since it contained more than one outside link, it should be visible to everyone now.

      -Joe

      • Avatar Susan Daugherty says:

        Thanks, Joe.

        I appreciate being able to read Saundra's comment as well as the 2 blog posts she suggested. Now, I at least know who "J" and that his "snarky" comments have helped in some way. I still can't find an excuse for him calling this a "publicity stunt" when he doesn't know the players. Condemnation for good intentions? Sorry, doesn't work for me.

        I realize that there is a lot more public education needed and it is good that blogs like Saundra's exist. This was all certainly educational to me. I don't think that the amount of "goods" that these volunteers took over is enough to cause huge problems and, hopefully, the aid they went to provide and the monetary donation will more than make up for any issues arising for the glasses and toys.

        Doni, again your site has provided education about a topic that I really never thought much about. Typically, my gifts have been monetary…but it has been more from the ease of making that type of donation. I think about all the towns that were shipping over freight cars of goods to Haiti and the one Redding was going to send that got cancelled. It sounded like such a good idea…

        I continue to look forward to reading the next chapter.

  19. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    I enjoyed reading Saundra's articles. I have no friends or relatives who have every sent "things" to a rescue effort. No one I know has ever spent time "recycling things that are no longer of any use to you" to disaster areas. My gosh. People of my culture are not stupid. How in the world would we know what people need? We've given money to organizations whose goal was to do the right thing with the right knowledge of a culture in times of disaster. How much of that money went to disaster relief and not administrative overhead? Who knows. What I do know is that medical expertise is needed everywhere in the world. I applaud this team and the folks who sponsored this excursion. Great article Adam. And I'm sure that these people had contacts in Haiti who advised them about what to bring and what they could do to help.

  20. Hi All. Thanks for your support and great comments. The team has been in Haiti only a few days and is already experiencing a complex mix of emotions and frustrations.

    Many thanks, Saundra, for adding your comments. Your blog is one of the more interesting pieces of research I found in my education process for this trip. My intention was to start a dialogue about this subject, as I had my own internal struggle about coming to Haiti, especially for what is a split second compared to the amount of time it will take Haitians to recovery from the earthquake.

    I had no intentions of minimizing the importance of your message or discounting your breadth of experience on this subject. My apologies.

    I can't address Michael Keizer's comments in any other way, but to relay that our team of nurses, in the last two days, have taught the hospital's resident medical staff to operate a CPAP breathing machine, apply dressing to a wound vac and operate the warning monitors in the ER.

    On Tuesday, a member of our team will accompany a patient on a transport from Cap Haitien to her home in Port-au-Prince. The transport, until now, was unavailable to her because no medical professional was avaialable to accompany the transport.

    All valuable contributions in my eyes.

    I am absolutely amazed by the people I have met here and the contributions they are making to this organization.

    Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more.

    Adam