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Thoughts about Sandy and New York

Posted by John Rossi on November 20, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Our hope is to work with City and State officials and to offer them a solution for several of their needs. In the near term, there are ambulances parked everywhere, offering medical care as needed. As time goes by and so many buildings need reconstruction, the need for first aid for all those workers will grow. Having temporary on-site clinics in the neighborhoods, rather than idling ambulances with their crews on street corners would save the City a huge amount of much needed disaster relief funding. Our RDM can serve in both the short and long term as a medical clinic/first aid station for victims and for those helping them to rebuild. We can see RDM’s serving in the neighborhoods as community spaces for meetings, information sharing and even as neighborhood watch kiosks. Also, because the RDM is easy to keep warm and dry, using them as warming stations for residents working on their homes or for the many workers and volunteers on hand to help seems to be a good fit.

This is our time to help, I’m hoping we get the chance.
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Sandy Reconnaissance

Posted by John Rossi on November 19, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Our trip took us through Brooklyn, out to Long Island, Staten Island, and Manhattan.

First stop was Belle Harbor… the popular boardwalk is now a pile of kindling… and many houses are off their foundations, or completely destroyed. Driving on to Breezy Point, we passed several large buildings that had burned as a result of storm damage.. leaving charred steel beams bent in tortured shapes. We have seen full-grown trees that look like burnt matchsticks, you can see how high the flood waters were because there is a straight line across the trunk. Below it, the tree looks perfectly normal, above it a few feet of charred twig is all that remains. It looks like a bomb went off here.
NYC Boardwalk
Thankfully, the iconic Wonder Wheel and Cyclone on Coney Island are still standing. But the neighborhood lies in ruins. Debris, cars, appliances, and the stink of a damaged sewer system… all in a swirl sand and of dried dune grass. Even Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs is shuttered.
Sandy wreckage

Sandy Hits New York

Posted by John Rossi on November 18, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

A few weeks after Hurricane Sandy made land-fall in New York, the Visible Good team is headed there to do our ongoing research on how disaster relief works and to assess how our shelter system may be of use. We have delayed our trip on advice from friends at the NY State Dept. of Homeland Security, because of the chaos that is already there.

Our plan is visit as many places as we are allowed, gather information concerning what victims really need in these circumstances and how Visible Good could fit into rescue and recovery efforts.
Sandy radar image

Our last night in Haiti – at least for now

Posted by John Rossi on September 01, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Today, Tina and I drove down to Gran Goave, a small town on the coast, a couple of hours south and west of Port Au Prince. Life in the countryside is very different than what we typically see of Port Au Prince. Out here, life has pretty much returned to normal, except that there is allot more building going on. We have made our way to my friend Kevin Groder’s base at the Mission of Hope Haiti, where they are busy building a new school and church building in one location and then a new school at the top of a mountain known as Icondo. From way up there (the mountains here are real and high), this place is vast and beautiful. And despite being so remote and in the hills, there are people everywhere. There’s a saying here: you are never alone in Haiti; apparently not even at the top of a mountain. The children here have been very curious and friendly and running around everywhere. We saw a new orphanage being build by the “Be Like Britt” organization, the place is a veritable palace down here. Kudos to architect Paul Fallon of Cambridge MA for taking on this project and the school at the mission gratis. When we were together, walking around, crossing a river, visiting people in their kombits, I kept thinking about how this place could be one of those Caribbean “destinations” for better or for worse. I also wondered about all of the great efforts and volunteers that have poured money and energy into the country with mixed results and I thought about our conversations with Haitians, NGO’s and with Danielle. The mission here was very much destroyed by the quake. In two years, the place has been rebuilt better AND bigger – mostly by Haitians themselves. The be like Britt folks are very close to completion of Avery complex building in a difficult place on a difficult site – again by Haitians. These examples are not simply great “projects”, they are the results of a PLAN. Even before the quake, the Mission was reimagining Haiti. Danielle would be proud, so should all the people making this happen.

We leave for the States tomorrow afternoon. It will take us weeks to digest and understand what we have seen, heard and felt. I will try to keep this up as we do.

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Leaving Port Au Prince

Posted by John Rossi on August 31, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Today we head west out of the City and make our way along the coast. We’ll be passing through some of the worst quake-affected areas, including the city of Leogane, the epicenter. The small town of Gran Goave is our destination, to visit with my friend Kevin Groder, a pastor with the Mission of Hope Haiti located there. Despite my not being particularly religious, Kevin and I see how our missions align and hope to work together. We are assessing the possibility of our providing to our shelters to his organization and parent organization to be used as schools, medical facilities and housing when needed, in Haiti and other locations world wide.

The countryside is the Haiti we don’t see on CNN, as you can see in the pictures, it looks more like Wyoming than what we’re used to seeing. Notice how open and mountainous it is – there’s a huge lake (several miles long) in the pictures that is hard to pick out and not a single house anywhere nearby. Life has mostly returned to “normal” in most of the countryside. But in Haiti, normal is still in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. As Kevin put it yesterday when we spoke on the phone “…now you’ll see how the other eight million Haitians live…”. I can’t wait.

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Haiti reimagined

Posted by John Rossi on August 31, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Earlier today, I wrote briefly about our conversation with Danielle Saint-Lot, the Haitian businesswoman, former government minister, social activist, and now ambassador that is passionately working to build (or expand) a middle class here in Haiti. Her focus is the countryside, not the tight confines of the City. She is an opinionated, articulate, very brilliant, very angry woman that believes that money is not the problem, land is not the problem and that NGO’s are certainly NOT the solution. In her terms, Haiti does not need more “projects”, Haiti needs a PLAN. For her, the pattern of others giving and Haitians accepting has to be reimagined. To her, Haitians now need to be given the tools and organizational expertise to rebuild on their own. In fact, she wants to go a few steps further by taking one or two back. The forward steps involve making a plan and developing the infrastructure to stick to it. She explained that every year for the past eight years, a huge hurricane has hit the island, in fact they are a way of life. However, despite this, there is no preparedness and not just at the leadership levels, it happens in everyday life. People plant crops and build houses that are vulnerable to hurricanes, a storm hits and they are forced to start over again. The cycle replays itself time and again. This puts people in “survival” mode in which all that matters is today. If we think about what it would be like, struggling just to keep the rain off our children’s heads and at least SOME food on the table, how do you have time left to think about tomorrow or even next year? Her plan -and the step “back” -is to redirect focus on the “lakou”, a traditional small cluster of homes around a common outdoor space in which people share resources, labor, etc. Not quite a village, but more of an extended family they are also referred to as a “kombit” here. This provides security, a place for kids to grow up under many watchful eyes and just as importantly, a place for people to breathe, think and work. The ability to create something of value and earn a living produces not only money, but also dignity and peace of mind allowing for further growth and development. Building on this, generation after generation, can create a new Haiti and Danielle is just the woman to help pull it off. One of the images here shows a typical kombit in the countryside, east of Port Au Prince, the other shows one of the bigger tent cities in PAP. Where would you prefer to live?

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Port Au Prince Remains Challenged

Posted by Tina Newman on August 30, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

The streets of Port Au Prince are filled with proud Haitians who are doing their best to continue the lives they knew before the earthquake. Every day the Haitians drag their various goods back to the streets in an effort to sell enough of their products to maintain their own meager lives. The vendors sell everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to tires, mattresses, chickens, clothing, shoes, alcohol and electronics.

Resilience

Posted by John Rossi on August 30, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

This morning we met with Danielle Saint-Lot, an incredibly compelling businesswoman here in Haiti who has turned her focus to issues of women’s empowerment and through this, of children and families in general. Her passion is the creation of a full-fledged, thriving middle class in Haiti. I will have to blog more thoroughly about our meeting later, as we are heading to the main port here to understand shipping in this country, but I will say a little now.

The picture below was taken yesterday as an example of resilience. How does a person take a blank, ugly UN box and turn it into something more culturally significant that they can actually love? Art. Make it your own. Take the hit and bounce back. But Danielle has a different spin on that story. She thinks Haitians should stop taking the hit, rebuilding and waiting for the next hit. According to Danielle, Haitians don’t need more resilience, they need a PLAN. I have never thought of resilience as potentially negative, but Danielle has opened my eyes to the notion that there really can be too much of a good thing some times. The discoveries just keep coming. More later…

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A piece of cake

Posted by John Rossi on August 29, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

I know I’ve already written once about contrasts in the past 24 hours, but I can’t help thinking in those terms again. My partner Tina and I have just returned from a morning with the IOM (International Organization for Migration) at the UN compound near the airport and then more importantly, at the Villabatta Camp. The camp is smaller now than it was, with “only” a few thousand people living there right now. Giovanni, one of our IOM guides referred to the place as “a piece of cake”. Look at the pictures, it’s not a pretty cake and there are allot of cakes here. Giovanni estimated that there are over 350,000 people living in these “organized” camps with no estimates as to just how many are in “unorganized” settlements, which are everywhere.

Haiti CampTo be fair, organizations like the IOM have done amazing work, in fact, Giovanni’s statement was not callous at all. It is because of their work that this camp – as chaotic as it looks to us – is actually safer and better run than most, thus the piece of cake. In a place where the hot, moist wind literally coats your skin and clothes with dust, he has been working since a few days after the quake. So, win, lose or draw, you can’t say that people like him aren’t trying. Attached are two pictures from the camp. One is a typical “tent”, admittedly Isaac has just come through, but it looked like this before the storm. The other is a transitional shelter, or “T-Shelter”, basically the same plywood shed one might put their lawn tools in at home. However, standing in the midst of that camp and all those people and children (especially the children) the contrast is truly amazing. I’m going to go scrape the dust off now, maybe find something cool to drink.

An observation here in PAP

Posted by John Rossi on August 29, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Here is an image from our hotel courtyard. We are very fortunate to have such a beautiful, safe, clean place to stay. That’s something many people here cannot even dream of. Look to the houses on the mountainside on the left. Tina and I agreed that if circumstances were different, you could almost imagine it was Positano or some other quaint Italian hill town.

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