Tag Archive for 'Haiti'

SuperForest State of the Union

Tonight, 25 January, 2011 the President of United States of America, Barack Obama, will give his second State of the Union to the American public. In it he will outline his goals for the next, and upcoming, years. Below is SuperForester Mathew’s attempt at presenting a SuperForest State of the Union.


Citizen’s of SuperForest.org, I do now stand in front of you as friend, brother, leader, and dreamer.

The past year has been filled with hardship, struggle, and worry. Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, Chile was devastated by an earthquake a month later, tensions rose between North and South Korea yet again, Poland lost many of its leaders in a plane crash, China was hit with a earthquake killing thousands, Greece fell into economic despair, protests in Thailand met violent resistance killing 91 and injuring thousands, monsoons wiped out 1,600 people in Pakistan, the largest oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico becomes one of the largest in history, Indonesia is hit by an earthquake, typhoon, and volcanic eruptions killing hundreds, and the Republic of Ireland becomes the second nation of the European Union that needed to be “bailed out” in 2010. This is only a small list of the many devastations that were experienced around the world in the past year.

Yet, through all of this devastation and loss of life one things remains. Hope. In 2010 the tallest building ever constructed by humans was erected in Dubai, the first World Cup was held in Africa to great success, seeing Spain emerge as victors, the first fully solar powered plane flew for 24 hours straight successfully, Wikileaks released a huge number of documents to the public, thirty-three miners were trapped for 69 days in their mine, the international space station became the longest continuous human occupied object in space, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, humans contained antimatter for the first time, and Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize. And these are just the “major” events of the year, I’ll get to the real MAJOR events soon.

What is more amazing, what makes HOPE come alive, is that when Haiti and Chile were hit with earthquakes people from around the world responded with generosity and neighbourliness. When one of us fell down we each extended a hand in our own way, beginning to help those around us recover. It is true that the pain caused by such disasters is still being felt, but LOVE was the response by those seemingly unaffected. Instead of choosing to lay down and give up, we chose to continue on, and to do so in an inspirational way. More and more people are choosing LOVE before anything else. We each have fallen down and each of us has extended a hand to a friend, loved one, or stranger.

In 2010 more handshakes were given than any other year. YES! Indeed this is true. This is a MAJOR event. More hugs were given than any other year. BUT more significantly more hugs were RECEIVED in 2010 than any other year. More kisses were sent to loved ones, and more again received. More children were born into our paradise, and more departed it through death feeling fulfilled and loved. Amongst the 6,895,800,000 people on planet Earth 1000s of TRILLIONS of moments were shared in laughter, in smiles, in friendship, in love. Billions of people made love. Billions of people took a risk for personal happiness. Billions of people gave something up for the happiness of others. Billions of people had an original thought. Billions of people were inspiration. Billions of people made something new and innovative. Billions of people took on a challenge, and succeeded. Billions of people said, “I love you.”

Yes, I do mean billions. For this Union is no longer one of country, but one of Earth. We are a union of brothers and sisters, of friends and strangers, and of HUMANITY. We can list every failure, death, and loss of the past year, and next to it we can list every achievement and success. This, though, does not reflect the true nature of the past year. For these lists, do not show us WHO WE ARE. They do show us what we DO. The coming years will begin a markéd change in philosophy. I hope the two lists above are the last type of those lists produced. Instead I want to make lists of humanity, of human BEINGS. There is a saying that goes, “There are three mysteries in the world: Air to bird, Water to fish, and Being to human.”

Let us celebrate our BEING, our essence, our soul, our consciousness. Let us celebrate that I consciously write these words, and you consciously read them. Let us lift each other in BEING LOVE. Let us CREATE a world of BEING. Let us say YES! to the world and those around us. Let us say YES! to who you are, who I am, who he is, who she is. Let us say YES! to your beliefs, and let us say YES! to my beliefs, and let us say YES! to all of our beliefs. Let us say YES! to the awkward guy in the office that no one really knows. Let us celebrate his beauty and his being. Let us create a world of YES! Let us create a world of BEING me, you, us, and we. Let us create a world of cOmmUnItY (you and I). Let us declare we are dreamers. Let us BE dreamers.

We are one people in a Union of Humanity. Let LOVE be the flag we pin to our lapel. Together we can continue in abundance and beauty. Together as one people in diversity we can create, dream, and challenge. Every individual with their own beauty making part of a collective whole, creating the landscape that is human BEINGS. You each are beautiful and perfect human beings, divinely your own. You are UNIQUE, so let’s make 2011 the celebration of YOU. You have everything it takes to change the world, an arsenal of dreams, freedom of your own being, and love. Use them. Unleash them. Let us unleash them together to those around us, giving away abundant feelings of love and inspiration.

Let us celebrate each other for who each of us truly are. Let us ACKNOWLEDGE the beauty in our daily lives, and let us ACKNOWLEDGE the love in the daily interactions with those around us. Acknowledge without fear, and full of love. Reach into the darkness, and grab that persons hand.

So, my fellow SuperForest.org citizens I leave  you with the beginning in a change of thought. I ask you,

How are you BEING today?

Yours in love,

SuperForester Mathew

Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love

Inspiration Information — the audacity of hope

“These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, all around us, just waiting to be summoned.”   -Barack Obama

We can’t run from tragedy.  We can’t hide under the bed, bury our necks in the sand like so many startled ostriches.  Tragedy by definition means that which is unavoidable.  It appears in thunderbolts, the flash of a muzzle, the sudden shock of solid ground simply dropping away beneath you.  It comes fast and violent and leaves a wound of ripples that radiate both outward and inward in aftershocks of emotional and psychological devastation.

Two days ago marked the 1 year anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake, one of the worst natural tragedies in human history.  An estimated 316,000 people died.  A million more became, and still remain, homeless.    There are now more orphans in Haiti than anywhere else in the world.  Not to mention lack of clean water, insufficient food, and a cholera outbreak that has claimed over 3,500 more people.  It was a tragedy of such incomprehensible proportions, that it seems impossible and almost callous to search for any glimmer of silver lining among the rubble.

And yet

It is precisely in these moments of greatest darkness that hope is born.  The resiliency of the human spirit to survive, to rise constantly from the depths of adversity and reach for the light, is sharpened and defined by the knife’s edge of tragedy.  So it is that everywhere you look in Haiti, there are stories of inspiration.  There are people taking action, salvaging tools and material and rebuilding their homes.  And not just rebuilding, fortifying them.  Making them stronger than before.  Strong enough to withstand another earthquake.  Strong enough even to match their unbreakable hearts.

One such story of hope is that of John Baker, catcher for Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins, who along with his team members recently spearheaded a visit to Haiti as a part of the Marlin’s mission to to construct an “Inspiration Village” — a brand new community starting with 25 homes, a water well, a solar-powered water-purification unit and a community center, “which will provide the opportunity for further education in agricultural practices and animal husbandry in hopes of providing the tools families need to support themselves long-term.”  The team set out to raise $150,000 to get the project up and completed by March.  They’ve raised significantly more than that and continue to collect money  through the Homes for Haiti campaign, which you can contribute to by visiting Marlins.com .

“Others are here to repair our country. We are here to repair our souls.” -54-year-old Acsonne Frederique, a local haitian

There is a place call “Happiness Alley”.  It is one of the poorest regions in the country.  Most of the houses are pieced together from spare bits of bamboo and shredded tarp.  The children run barefoot through the garbage, which is strewn everywhere.  And yet, the kids smile bigger and brighter than anywhere else.  They have nothing, but they are happy.   Because they have each other.  Because they are alive.

The same day Haiti commemorated a year post-quake, here in America we held our own commemoration to mourn the Arizona shooting tragedy.  In the wake of this brutal, random act of violence, President Obama stepped to the podium with a incredible message of hope, an inspiring call for reflection and action.

So sudden loss causes us to look backward -– but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.

We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives.  Perhaps we question whether we’re doing right by our children, or our community, whether our priorities are in order.

We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved — and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

We can not run from tragedy.  But we can face it head on.  We can use loss to reevaluate that which is essential, important, meaningful.  In nature, sometimes a forest needs to burn completely before new seeds can break through the soil.  New, stronger trees reach for the light.

Hope is a phoenix.  No matter how many ways we beat it, burn it, bury it in rubble, abject it to crippling poverty, deadly disease and acts of unconscionable hate and terrorism… still hope rises.  And to me, that is the most inspiring truth of all.

Thursday’s Inspiration Information — Jean-Robert Cadet

I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it.  Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.”  –Frederick Douglass

Nowadays, most American children get their first job around the age of 15 or 16.  Walk into any retail store, fast food chain or movie theatre in these hot summer months and you’ll find them folding clothes or buttering popcorn.  For some it’s a badge of pride, a notch on the belt of maturity.  But for most (and perhaps I speak here from personal experience) its a bitter entrée into the tedious grind of adult living, where the reality of survival is a medicine no amount of sugar can help go down.

And yet, American teenagers have it lucky.  No matter how soul-crushing the job, they are guaranteed the benefit of a minimum wage income.  More often than not the work involves flipping burgers versus heavy labor.  They get cash upfront, a recommendation to plug into their resume.  But more important than anything else, they get to choose the work they want.  They can quit whenever they please.  And they’ve been spared labor all those wonder years of adolescence when the world is a happy place and childhood is a gift to be explored, not exploited.

This wasn’t always the case.

A hundred years ago, over 2 million American children under the age of 15 worked in factory jobs for wages.  This was the bi-product of the Industrial Revolution, an age of rapid innovation and progress in the developing nations of the world, much of which was powered by the little hands and feet of underage workers.  Since then, the rise of universal public education and harsh child labor laws have essentially eliminated child labor in our country.  And yet, according to UNICEF, there are over 158 million children globally age 4 to 15 involved in child labor today.  That’s a staggering number when you break it down… nearly 1 in 12 kids worldwide.

And then there’s the slaves.

Unlike the highly visible Trans-Atlantic Trade of the 16-18th centuries, or even the coal worker and chimney sweep kids of the 19th, modern slavery today is a vast and invisible ocean whose sinister currents affect all levels of society… and yet which we know so little about.  Ours is a world where child slavery and trafficking accounts for over 50% of the 27 million slaves existing in the harshest conditions imaginable.  I know personally, such statistics short-circuit the mind.  That I can’t even begin to put a face, let alone a feeling, to what these glaring truths unravel inside me.

And then I discover Jean-Robert Cadet.

Like many Haitian children, Cadet was born into a family of extreme poverty.  Without enough food to feed the whole family, Cadet was “given”  by his father to a wealthier family at the age of four, under the promise of a better life.  In exchange for food, shelter and schooling, Cadet would serve as the new family’s Restavek, or “domestic servant”.  But this is not Cinderella, and the daily reality of Cadet’s childhood was one of brutality and forced servitude.

“I was beaten, I would say almost every morning… but it’s when the family leaves the house and they lock the house and they leave  you outside, all day long without food.”

In Creole, Restavek translates as “Stays with”, as in stays with the family, but is not part of the family.  It is a practice all too common in Haiti, a country with an estimated 300,000 Restaveks, the majority of which are children (mostly girls) .  But Restavek is just another name for a widespread, culturally homogenized and surprisingly legal form of slavery.  For a country born out of a slave revolt, the only country in which former slaves fought and won their own freedom, the sad irony sits in the popular acceptance of this Restavek system.

For Cadet, growing up meant carrying 5o pounds of water in 5 gallon buckets up and down the steep slopes of Port Au Prince, several times a day.  It meant scrubbing the floors, cooking the lavish meals of which he might only receive leftover scraps, like an animal.  It meant never receiving a hug or a kind word.  Being whipped with sharp lashes.  Suffering endless physical, verbal and sexual abuse.  And worse than anything else, it meant the loss of innocence and the abandonment of hope.

“I don’t know when I was born, I don’t know my age.  I never had a name.”

Fortune changed for Cadet when his host family moved to America and brought him with them.  They were required by law to enroll him in school.  And when they could no longer hide the truth of his enslavement from America authorities, they were forced to abandon him.  Cadet was taken in by one of his high school teachers, who provided him a new life full of promise and opportunity.  He graduated high school, served as an US Army Ranger and eventually went on to earn a masters in French Literature, get married, have two beautiful children of his own, and become a teacher himself.  It’s a wonderful fairytale come true, as inspiring as it is heart-wrenching, in that Jean-Robert’s happy ending is such a rare exception for most Restaveks.

And yet, it is this exact happiness which Cadet has committed himself to providing as many enslaved Haitian children as he possibly can.  In 1998 he wrote and published  a memoir about his life entitled Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle Class American, which blew the lid open on this unconscionable practice.

He has spoken at numerous UN gatherings against the Haitian government’s refusal to change policy regarding Restaveks.   In 2007, he founded the Restavek Foundation dedicated to ending childhood slavery in his homeland.  The foundation provides aid and educational scholarships for children who are domestic servants in families other than their own. Because the Restavek system is legal, Cadet has to personally knock on family’s doors and convince them to release their “stay withs” to him.   To date, the foundation has succeeded in freeing 455 children and placing them into 33 schools.

It is a tedious, almost Sisyphean task pulling these kids out of their families one at a time.  But to Jean-Robert, every single child free is a victory.  In his own words: “you have to know somebody made a big difference in my life… and I can come here to my country to make a difference in those kids lives.  So saving one is worth it to me.  It’s worth it.”

With the onslaught of the earthquake, the number of impoverished families and orphaned children has swollen to critical mass.  And the amount of child slaves only expands in such climates of desperation.  Still, heroes like Cadet are waging their personal wars, slowly hacking away at the monsters of darkness that threaten our world.  This is how hope begins, how small candle flames ignite into brushfires of inspiration and change.  It begins with one man, with a story carried on the wind and spread far and wide.  This is inspiration information at its essence, where the light of truth burns brightest and purifies best.  And this is the mark Jean-Robert hopes to leave in his homeland of Haiti, until things finally improve. 

“All I can do is share their story.  Write their story.  Knock on doors… I have not found the right one, but I will keep on knocking.”

Thursday’s Inspiration Information — Living Aloha in Haiti

“When the sky falls and the earth quakes, we gonna put it back together, we won’t break”  -Jay-Z (“Haiti Mon Amour”)

We’ve talked about Haiti often here on SuperForest.  Like most, I closely followed the deluge of devastation that immediately flooded in after the earthquakes.  I absorbed all the news and information I could.  I talked with friends, peers, strangers in the streets.  I donated money to charitable relief organizations, wrote poems… on occasion even cried.  And yet, for all the news media, for the historic upswelling of compassion we as individuals and humanity at large expressed in leaping to Haiti’s aid… the reality of the daily existence on the ground and in the rubble simply defied my ability to relate.  It is too distant, too abstract and elusive to truly anchor a  prolonged human connection.  And unfortunately, as much as I hate to admit it, Haiti gradually began to drop off the radar of my consciousness.

It’s been 6 months now since the first shock waves hit, but Haiti is still rippling in the aftermath.  Nevertheless there are still people, average citizens like you or me, who refuse to let the Haitan people slip into the ether of neglect — everyday heroes who dedicate their resources and time to volunteer on the ground with the people. My dear friend and peace-warrior, superforester Trina, is one such hero who recently traveled to Haiti to lend her heart and hands to an orphanage in need.   It is with great pleasure and pride that I share now her inspirational impressions from the frontlines: (all pictures and text below are Trina’s)

On Tuesday afternoons, Port Au Prince is crawling with market-goers. UN policemen patrol the rubble-covered streets as a cloud of dust, petroleum and burning trash hang in the air. Haiti is the land of voodoo, gang-like government corruption, and inconceivable poverty.  Human sacrifice, zombies, and curses are common vernacular and unspeakable crimes are committed everyday against women and girls.

Just another Tuesday afternoon.

But 30 seconds on just such a typical Tuesday in January tipped the already fragile country into a deeper state of chaos.

Though the earthquake occurred more than 5 months ago, the landscape looks as though not much has changed.  The 1.2 million people who were displaced from their homes continue to live in makeshift tarp tent communities scattered across the country.  A UN police officer sitting next to me on the plane shared that his job was to continue to recover bodies from fallen buildings.

He helped to pull out 20 corpses the day before our conversation.

Amidst these mounting tragedies, the government continues to tax virtually all aid and makes it impossible for local Haitians (who need it most) to receive help.  As I drove through Port Au Prince, I must admit that (for one of the first times in my life) I was afraid to get out of the car.

However, it is not hard to find people living aloha in Haiti (and living it better than I have EVER seen).

The port town of Les Cayes is home to El Shaddai Ministries (ESMI), a Haitian Christian organization that has set up 17 orphanages and cares for 2400 orphans.  Pastor Louis (the director of ESMI) and his team have created a beautifully sustainable model for the orphanages that they plant: they always build orphanages in communities with schools and a church and attach small businesses to them.  The Cambry orphanage (where I stayed) was home to 250 boys and girls.  It was powered by solar panels, a wind turbine, and a bit of diesel and was partially supported by a technology school (on campus) that employed a few former orphans.

As impressed as I was by this beautiful vision, the stories of the people were what touched me most.

Barbara (one of the ESMI workers at the orphanage) told me an amazing story about a family that she knew well.  2 former orphans of Cambry are the daughters of a single mother, “Katyana.”  Katyana’s husband died in an accident (life expectancy in Haiti is 60 years, in the US it is 78 years) and since she had no education or marketable skills, she could not afford to care for her 3 children.  Heartbroken, she sent her 2 daughters to Cambry and kept her son with her.  As the two girls lived in the Cambry community, attended school, and became the reliable older sisters of the house, Katyana got a $50 microloan from Barbara (one of the employees of El Shaddai).  With this money, Katyana began producing a sweet popcorn snack out of her home.  She sold it at local markets and paid back her loan (with 1% interest) in a couple of months.  As Barbara told me this story she laughed: “and one day when I got to choir practice, I looked around for the 2 girls only to find that their mother had come to pick them up.”  Katyana had earned enough money to bring her family back together.  There is a Chinese proverb: “women hold up half the sky.”  I definitely believe that to be true.

Katyana...from port au prince. lots of these photos were taken by the kids...its cool to see what kinds of pics they take.

In the same conversation, I asked Barbara (a strong, balanced woman who did not finish medical school because she could not afford it) what kept her at the Cambry orphanage.  She quickly answered “the kids.”  She reminded me that the kids are the only hope of the country, as they have the power to rebuild Haiti.  It made me think of the youth in Hawaii, and I wondered whether (amidst furloughs and budget cuts) we meditate enough on and invest in the reality that our local kids are the only hope of our future too.

osiana...she was my buddy. when i asked her where her mom was, she pointed up (i.e. heaven). when i asked her where her dad was, she pointed up. she did it so matter of factly.

My time in Haiti teemed with hope and aloha (and lots of games of tag, laughing, building and painting), but it also prompted me to think about all of the work that still needs to be done…not just in Haiti but in my global community in general. Remembering Mother Teresa’s truth that “we [all] belong to each other,” I believe that it is our communal responsibility to care for our families both near and far.

Indeed, wanting to support Haiti and the developing world can feel paralyzing.  What can I do from so far away as a young, single, graduate student?  It is easy to slip into restlessness and frustration.  But I have to keep reminding myself that though the problems are big, truly it is the small things with great love that count. Thus far, I have come up with a list of ways that people like you and me can support our families far away.  This list is in no way perfect, but it is a start.

First of all, I believe that financially supporting the orphanages of El Shaddai Ministries (ESMI; http://esmihome.org/) is hugely effective. As I mentioned earlier, much of the aid money that we have been donating has not reached the Haitians. Large government organizations such as USAID are able to get in relatively easily.  However, to have an immediate impact, it is better to partner with local organizations that are already on the ground and are run by local people. I believe that giving is a life practice that must be cultivated; it is living aloha with my resources.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn state in their book “Half the Sky” (a MUST read) that “if you care about poverty, you must understand it not just oppose it.  And understanding poverty comes from spending time [with] it.”  As such, it is necessary to continue to read about issues affecting Haiti and our global families such as poverty, injustice, and misogyny.  We can also volunteer time with local organizations that tackle these issues in different ways (e.g., helping out at a womens’ shelter like kanuhawaii.org; supporting legislation to abolish human trafficking: traffickjamming.org; collecting extra food at a local farmers market for meals for houseless people: Give-It-Fresh-Today.

Of course, opportunities to partner with groups in Haiti and beyond are invaluable, particularly for young people such as high school students.

I believe that love and living aloha are characterized by “focused attention.” Thus, giving focused attention to Haiti and the developing world in whatever way possible (thought, resources, time) is my responsibility.

And it is yours too.

Inspiration Information — United Nations for Haiti

The race of mankind would perish did they cease to aid each other.  We cannot exist without mutual help.  All therefore that need aid, have a right to ask it from their fellowmen; and no one who has the power of granting can refuse it without guilt.”  –Sir Walter Scott

A few months ago, I posted about continued relief efforts by everyday heroes in Haiti. I talked about the mercurial nature of the collective conscious: how quickly individuals will rush together and pool their joint resources in a massive tidal wave of charity when that clarion cry of humanity-in-need rings out.  This is what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquakes, when record breaking numbers of donations, volunteer workers and international relief poured in.  The eye of the world zoomed in on the devastated island nation and refused to blink.   In retrospect, it is a moment we as humans should be proud of — that in the midst of crippling despair we put aside the political, social and religious barriers that typically keep us apart and stepped forth to extend our hands to brothers in need.

But the eye of the world is a fickle thing, with the ADD attention span of a hyper-active American teen. It's funny how suddenly the tides can shift and those waters of attention and sustained aid recede back into the oceans of our everyday push-pull.   So it is, after the initial waves of relief rolled through, our collective interest has shifted away from Haiti.  Current stories and images from the ground have already all but disappeared.

And yet, the truth is Haiti is still very much a country in desperate need of help.  Thousands of people huddle every night in makeshift shelters in sprawling open-aired camps, often with no fresh water or sanitation.  And with the rainy season so soon approaching, there is the ticking time-bomb fear of shelters getting washed away.  People drowning, children catching dysentery and cholera.

In the midst of our everyday grind, it's easy to forget, or lose perspective on the global condition.  I know I personally am guilty of this more than I care to admit.  And so it brings me infinite inspiration and faith to learn today of the unbelievably uplifting pledge from the United Nations towards rebuilding Haiti.  In case you haven't heard…


“Pledges of nearly $10 billion in immediate and long-term aid to help Haiti recover from January's catastropic earthquake were made Wednesday within hours after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened a day-long donors' conference by calling for “a sweeping exercise in nation building on a scale and scope not seen in generations.”

Ban appealed for $11.5 million over the next 10 years to help the Caribbean nation recover and rebuild after the earthquake that claimed more than 200,000 lives, destroyed much of the capital Port-au-Prince, and left one third of the population in need of aid.

Haiti's President Rene Preval, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and UN Special Envoy for Haiti former U.S. President Bill Clinton co-hosted the conference, entitled Towards a New Future in Haiti, which was attended by delegates from more than 130 nations.”

Let me restate this again, so you understand the scale of awesomeness.  The UN collectively pledged 10 BILLION DOLLARS, to rebuilding Haiti over the next 3 years and beyond.  Prior to yesterday's conference, the Haitians had nervously requested 3.9 billion for the immediate next 18 months, with the knowledge that this amount was unlikely to be attained.  Well you know what we at SuperForest say about expectations…  Be expected to be blown away and endlessly surprised by human kindness.  Instead of 3.9 billion, UN stepped up with $5.3 billion for the next two years.  9.9 for the next three.

Not only that, The World Bank Group has separately announced a $479 million pledge to recovery and development efforts in Haiti through June 2011, including a $39 million credit wipe of outstanding debt.  Can you imagine… this is the equivalent of your landlord giving you money when you lose your job and can't make rent, and then telling you those last 6 months you missed — well forget it.

Quite simply I am humbled by the colloborative spirit and the sweeping social action of the UN.  I am in awe.  It gives me hope in our abilities as nations and individuals to come together for common good. And more, that even when one of us loses sight, when we drop the torch of humanity in the darkness of our own survival, there are others right besides and all around us who will pick up that torch and continue to lead the way.  That within our collective conscience, there is “Lighthouse keeper” mentality —  that even in the roughest seas, there is always someone tending the fire and steering us safely home.

Thank you UN and all the representatives and countries who have kept the light on Haiti.  You have risen above symbolic words and gestures and stepped up to the plate swinging.  The result of which I can only call… an Inspiration Homerun!

There is much good to be (being) done



Thursday’s Inspiration Information — Heroes Haiti

“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by.”Felix Adler

A month later and the overwhelming devastation in Haiti seems to already be fading to the periphery of conscience, like some disturbing nightmare that haunts us in flashes throughout the day, but gradually loses its power and fabric in the sunlight.  We as a culture are impulsive, emotional, reactive.  When news first hit of the earthquake and the enormous need, we responded instantly, in huge outpourings of support.  News flooded with reports of destruction, loss of life, chaos.  But there also spread greater floods of monetary aid, waves of relief volunteers, miracle rescues, community heroes, hope.

Politicians put down their war of word and picked up shovels.  Corporations stepped up to bat.  Technology expedited the ease and speed of charity (cell phone companies have raised more than $30 million through text messages).  The celebrity studded Hope for Haiti concert raised a record breaking $58 million.  We as individuals broke through the walls of cynicism and malaise and lifted aside the rubble as best we could.  We came together in crisis for positive change.

But we as a culture are not wired for collective memory.  And after the initial shock wears off, after we’ve given our donations, written our inspiration posts, talked and wept and released… then we are already ready to forget.  We’ve done our part.  We’ve made our contribution.  Now it’s time to move on with our own lives, our own struggles and crisis.  And Haiti will heal.  Haiti will fade to the corners of the mind.

But as the singer so rightly said “It’s a long long road to travel, and a heavy load to bear.” And it is especially in these aftermath times when attention wanders, when our ADD minds distract and turn away, that the real heroes emerge.  The people who stay when the first responders leave.  Who hold up the blazing torches in the dark streets and serve as lighthouses in the sea of storm-wrecked survivors.  Who fight on even when everyone else forgets.

Meet Tad Agoglia and Doc Hendley.

Both are former CNN heroes.  Both have dedicated their careers and lives toward helping others.  And both are currently in Haiti, using all the resources they have to save lives.

For 18 years Tad Agoglia operated a Disaster Relief company, that would come in after natural disasters and clear roads and buildings with giant tractors and cranes.  It was hard work, good work, but it wasn’t enough.  Oftentimes it would take several days, if not weeks before local authorities could organize rescue efforts.  And companies such as Tad’s would be on hold for contracts to close before they were allowed to work.  Tad got sick of waiting.


“The most critical phase of a disaster is the first few days.”  Tad says.  It’s the time period  when people are most desperately in need of food, water, and medical attention.  And so Tad liquidized his business, took all of his life savings and started an independent non profit — The First Response Team of America.  Ever since, he spends 12 months on the road, going where the need is greatest and offering his services as quickly as he can, with no red tape to slow down his operations.

Tad and his crew use caterpillar loaders, grapple trucks, generators, water pumps, satellite communication systems, off-road scouting vehicles, and hovercrafts. When they arrive at a disaster site, they clear the roads of debris, pump out flooded water, help search for people trapped under debris, and use generators to power hospitals and government buildings, for free.  And right now, they are in Haiti, clearing debris and building shelters.

doc-hendley-300x218I wrote about Doc Hendley before on Superforest.  This unassuming former bartender has transformed his life into an international mission to bring fresh water to impoverished communities around the world.  Places like Darfur, Uganda and Cambodia where lack of clean water kills more people than aids and malaria combined.  His goal is to train locals on the ground how to filter water or drill wells.  It’s the same ” teach a man to fish” motto, and Doc is dedicated teacher.

And now he’s also in Haiti, fighting a battle that gets little media attention and is often so tragically overlooked.  In the wake of the Earthquake, access to clean water is an extreme issue.  Dehydration and hunger  killing as many people now as collapsed buildings and broken limbs.

The simple, basic needs are always the most crucial.  And in these situations it seems the simple, basic heroes are always the most effective.

To Tad, Doc and everyone on the ground fighting to protect and save lives, we applaud and appreciate you.  And because of your efforts, because of your torch-bright spirits we will not forget.  We will keep our lights shining, in support of yours.

Haiti Rewired


SuperForest loves loves loves Haiti Rewired!

Haiti Rewired is a collaborative community focused on tech and infrastructure solutions for Haiti. It’s open to anyone, and the ideas are flowing like water, all downstream towards a smarter, more flexible, and more accommodating system of living for all Haitians.

Here are the five main goals according to the Haiti Rewired Mission Statement

1. Collaboration. The events unfolding in Haiti bring together an unusual coalition: non-governmental organizations, the military, international organizations, state actors. To avoid waste, duplication of effort and confusion, they will have to break down cultural and institutional barriers, and start sharing everything: imagery, sensor data, on-the-ground intel. Old models of classification and need-to-know must be dumped.

2. Transparency. Haitians are rightly disillusioned with aid: promises unfulfilled by donors, corruption and graft by officials, a general lack of accountability when it comes to aid. While there may always be inefficiency, waste and corruption must be tackled. It might not sound like the most important element of the recovery, but we need data-based metrics. Funding will be tracked; aid will be measured; disclosure shall be the rule.

3. Innovation. Solutions for Haiti’s problems will have to blend time-tested ideas with new ways of doing things that have been enabled by technology. Transparency and collaboration have become radically easier with new communication and networking technologies. On the other hand, these same tools can fail us during major disasters. How can we incorporate and build new technological systems for Haiti that are both efficient and resilient?

4. Design. Rebuilding Haiti will be a test in the politics of architecture. How can planners, urbanists, architects, construction companies and local authorities come together to design a better Port-au-Prince on the rubble of the earthquake?

5. DIY. The old model of The Development Set — highly paid expat consultants who jet around from crisis to crisis — needs to be jettisoned. This could be rebuilding on the cheap and that could be a good thing. Empowering local communities, avoiding Beltway banditry and giving communities control of their own affairs might generate real results. Can smarter, locally rooted ideas provide immediate shelter for thousands in need and lay the foundation for the city’s seismic, social and economic future?

Three Easy Ways to Get Involved:

1. Add a Blog Post. We want to hear your thoughts about the future of Haiti. If you’re here, we figure you want to share them. Here’s how to do it. After you’ve signed up, it just takes these two clicks:

2. Add a Forum Discussion. Got a question about Haiti, this project, crisis response or infrastructure? Just post a question in the Forum. There are a lot of people with specialized expertise here on the site and many of them are actively engaged answering questions.

3. Post a Status Update. If you’re on the ground or pressed for time, you can always post a quick, Twitter-like status update from your Member Page.

Join Haiti Rewired!

Thursday’s Inspiration Information — Benjamin Skinner

A hero is no braver than the ordinary man, but he is braver 5 minutes longer.”   –Ralph Waldo Emmerson


The first story comes to me via Superforester Kaylynn, a student at (the surprisingly fitting) Hope College.   Who wrote these inspiring words:

I’ve heard it said that bad things come in three’s, but lately it seems like they’ve been coming in fives and sixes.  In the midst of tragedy in Haiti, it never seems enough to send only my prayers and monetary donations, and yet I feel helpless to offer more.  While my whole heart aches for those suffering and I desire to offer whatever of myself I can, I find myself trapped at college amongst our own recent tragic loss of two students.  It’s at times like this, when I am reading the news updates online, tears welling in my eyes, that I am reminded not to give up hope, because it is out of tragedy that heroes are born.  Numerous stories of hope and heroism have caught my eye in the past week, but this one stood out…


Heroes helping heroes.  Share the love, SuperForest, and remind your readers not to give up hope.

With gratitude for all you do,


I read the time article, which I strongly encourage you all to do, and was immediately struck by the courage of these men.  But what surprised me even more, was that I recognized the author (and hero) of the article, as one of the most inspirational men I have personally met to date.  A little backstory…

A year ago,  I was sitting in the lavish lobby of Ron Howard’s Beverly Hills production company (Imagine Entertainment), trying not to look every inch the naive, nervous screenwriter I so clearly was.  Across the plush leather couch from me, sat a handsome man in a suit– also waiting.  Perhaps because of where we were, or his calm exterior, or his palpable charisma and David Beckham good looks… I automatically assumed he was an actor.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Over the next 15 minutes, Benjamin Skinner, a professor at Harvard Keck and veteran journalist proceeded to elucidate me about his 4 years work uncovering the startling scope of modern slave trafficking.  Mr. Skinner has traveled all over the world, to the worst poverty-stricken nations, infiltrating and tracking the movement and growth of slavery in current global society.

A few shocking facts pulled from his groundbreaking book, “A Crime So Monstrous“:

1.  There are more slaves now than at any point in human history (including during the colonial Transatlantic Slave Trade).  Estimates reach as high as 27 million worldwide.

2. The value of slaves has decreased —  1850 in the American South, the cost equivalent of a slave equaled approximately $40,000. Today the average cost of a slave is around $90 or less.

3.  Slavery still exists in the US — According to the CIA, over 1 million people are enslaved as prostitutes, domestic servants and farm workers.

4.  Human trafficking generates $7 billion a year — according to UN estimates, it is perhaps “the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world”  A claim made  by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

I sat in this Beverly Hills lobby, with its pristine japanese water-wall and frosted coffee tables, in a state of stunned silence — blown away by this man’s passion and sacrifice and commitment.  Here I was, what I considered a rather informed citizen of the world, and I had never heard this basic facts.  I had no idea the scale of modern slavery.  The massive affect it has on such a huge swath of humanity.

I felt humbled.  In a profound way, SHAMED, by my ignorance.  But more, I felt inspired by Ben Skinner, by his personal mission to spread the word and make a difference.  By his unshakeable attitude of hope.

For whatever reason, for that brief window of time, we both shared the synergistic space of that lobby.   And more than the events that lead up to that moment, or my “important meeting” which followed, those 15 minutes with Ben left a deep and paradigm shifting impression on me.  I got the sense that he has that same positive ripple-effect on a lot of people he touches.

And now, less than a year later, in the wake of this devastating crisis, Benjamin Skinner appears on the radar again.  Saving the life of a man who had saved his in the past.  Offering more hope and inspiration in a place so desperate for it.

And I can’t help put smile at the strange intricacy of life.  How kindness radiates out like so many tiny waves, until we as humans find ourselves moving in concentric circles.  Spreading out in ever expanding ripples of positivity and compassion.  Connected somehow, orbiting each other, threaded together by an unbreakable humanity.

Ben’s heroism reminds me that human life is infinitely valuable.  That there is no sliding scale.  That the only real thing that separates us as individuals is the length we will each go to extend a hand and help someone in need.  You don’t need to be a doctor.  You need not be rich.  All you really need is outstretched fingers and an open heart.

Thank you Kaylynn for the link.  And thank you Ben for the inspiration.  You are my hero.

Thursday’s Inspiration Information — CDRS/SHINE

When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought that they could always be worse.  And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad, they have to get better.”  –Malcolm Forbes

4293164530_21235e1448The picture above is a snapshot of the Comprehensive Disaster Relief Services (CDRS) first medical team in Haiti.  If you look closely, the man in the grey t-shirt in the middle should look familiar to you.  Need a clue?  Or perhaps maybe a memory jog?

Several months ago a posted a Inspiration Information about a man named Todd Shea.  Todd is a musician turned international relief worker who has thrown himself headfirst into some of the worst natural disaster centers of the last decade: including World Trade Center’s Ground Zero, post-Katrina Louisiana, Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, and Pakistan after the devastating earthquakes.  He is the founder of CDRS/SHINE, a small non-profit that has single-handedly built 12 medical facilities and provided essential free medical services in the remote mountain towns of Kashmir, Pakistan.

Todd has extensive hands-on experience coordinating effective response in disaster-zones.  And Immediately upon hearing the devastation in Haiti, Todd was on a plane and on the ground in Haiti, using his much needed skills to help as many people as he can.

But, what strikes me as so unbelievably inspiring about Todd is that he is operating completely independently, on his own where-with-all and personal fund-raising.  Todd doesn’t wait for clearance.  He has little patience for redtape.  Where there’s a will, there is always a way.  And man, does Todd have an iron will.

Every few days I’ve been getting updates from Todd and his expanding team of volunteers on the ground in Haiti.  And the work they are doing is so incredibly vital and inspiring.  Below is the latest report from Todd and Team SHINE.  If you want to get involved, I’ve included all their information at the bottom.

Aftershocks felt in Haiti
More than a week after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, strong aftershocks were felt through the area, adding to the devastation. Over 200,000 may have perished in the last nine days; the dead have yet to be buried. But as one survivor said, “We need now to pray for the living”.

Todd Shea, Executive Director of CDRS, reached Haiti on Jan 14th and has since then facilitated the deployment of close to 100 doctors and medical staff, set up a warehouse in Croix de Bouquets and opened an urgent care facility where we are seeing over 70 cases a day. Medical supplies are critically short, and patients are arriving everyday who have not yet received any medical treatment. Todd has pointed out two key problems – the limited number of supply lines that have been established and the lack of sharing of resources and intel by some of the larger agencies on the ground.
Our goal is to continue facilitating teams of the ground, and ramp up to 10 Urgent Care Centers over the projected six week deployment. Our supporters have reached deep and so far we have raised close to $40,000 in donations and pledges. Our goal is to raise $186,000, so there is a ways to go.
We need your help so that we can continue to deploy doctors where they are most needed, and help fill the gaps in availability of  water, relief supplies and medical necessities. On the stateside, CDRS is joining hands with NYC Medics and IMANA to create an on-line registry of medical and non-medical volunteers, and with the use of GIS mapping, create an accurate match between demand for and supply of volunteers over the affected areas.
How to Volunteer

For those interested in volunteering in Haiti with CDRS, please fill out the electronic Volunteer Form. We will get back to you as soon as we can. For more information, please contact Laila Karamally at lailakaramally@cdrspakistan.org or at 714-261-1044.

How to Donate
There are 3 ways in which you can help the CDRS mission in Haiti:
1. To make an electronic deduction, please go to www.globalgiving.org/4592 Global Giving will disburse the funds to CDRS/SHINE every Wednesday, and retain a 10% administrative fee. A tax exempt certificate will be mailed to you.
2. Write a check to SHINE, and mail it to 10 Roseleaf, Irvine, CA 92620. In the memo, please write “CDRS Haiti Project”. We will be able to issue you a receipt but not a tax exempt certificate.
3. Write a check to IMANA, our fiscal sponsor. Write in the memo “CDRS/SHINE Haiti Project”. Mail the check to:
Islamic Medical Association of North America
101 W. 22nd Street, Suite 106, Lombard, IL 60148
Phone: 630.932-0000 ~ Fax: 630.932-0005
Email:   hq@imana.org ~ Website: www.imana.org
IMANA will transfer 100% of the funds to CDRS/SHINE Haiti Project, and issue a tax certificate to the donor.

Thursday’s Information Information — Muncheez Haiti

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only one second without hope.” –Hal Lindsey

muncheez01I was driving home today, thinking about my Inspiration Information post today and listening to NPR.  And this amazing story came on about a local Haitian restaurant that is serving free food to thousands of starving people in the midst of limited relief supplies and looting.


This once upscale pizza parlor that was too expensive for most Haitians to eat at, has transformed into a community-bonded food distribution center.  It began small, with the owners cooking whatever food supplies they recovered post-quake and handing them out to survivors on the street.  When they began to run out of food and gas, other businesses and citizens in the neighborhood started chipping in, pooling their resources.

It’s a story that’s been repeating throughout Port-au-Prince, where individuals who already have very little have been sharing their limited resources with neighbors to make every bit stretch.

Now, Muncheez is feeding around 1000 people a day, with lines wrapping around the building.  And international aids groups have taken notice, providing the improvised soup kitchen with bags of lentils and dried food.

In the words of co-owner Gilbert Bailly: “As long as I have stuff to give, I am going to keep doing it. It keeps myself busy. It gives me hope.”

To me, there is no silver lining in Haiti, if not this.  There are celebrities rising to the occasion.  Politicians.  Doctors.  Trained relief workers.  People with the power, influence, or skill sets to make a significant difference.  But also, all around, everywhere you look there are everyday, ordinary people with nothing but their resiliency, their resourcefulness and — above all else and in spite of insurmountable hardships — a limitless, indestructible HOPE.

What could be more inspiring than that?

always merry and bright,


Haiti Earthquake: Some Ways to Donate

I’m sure you’re all aware of the truly devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on Tuesday (you can read in-depth coverage in all newspapers including The Times, the Guardian, New York Times and on the BBC)


There are great organisations out there doing what they can to help – and we can too.  So, I thought it might be handy, if you would like to donate to support their efforts and the people of Haiti, to set out a couple of quick links to donation pages for you:

If you’re in the UK, the government is advising that you donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal (a coalition of 13 relief agencies: ActionAid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision); alternatively you could go to:

international humanitarian organisation CARE;

The Salvation Army;

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; and

Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders.