Friday, May 28, 2010

Thoughts from Haiti by Wayne Elsey

I just returned from a week-long trip to Haiti to ensure that our shoe distributions are progressing the way they should. And I have to say that I'm completely overwhelmed, disgusted and angry at what I found.

It's not about the shoes -- they are being delivered just fine: safely, securely and in small enough doses to get on the feet of people who really need them. I am grateful to our many partners on the ground who are helping us in that regard.

But I am extremely angry because I saw total chaos and a complete lack of vision to help the survivors, even as they lay dying of disease and starvation in horrible conditions.

You may have heard of these TENT CITIES -- hodgepodge neighborhoods thrown up hastily and lashed together with tarps, twine and rope. They are completely devoid of HOPE. Very few residents know where their next meal is coming from. Children can't go to school or get clothes or clean water. Parents are weak from starvation because they give any scraps of food to their children. The UN and local government seems to be holding out for a miracle rather than putting any concrete plan in place.

There are even confirmed stories of child predators entering the country and posing as relief workers. When I heard that, I shook my head and said, "No, that's not right. That couldn't be." But I was wrong, and I cried. I've never heard of such pure evil in my life.

The first night we were there a riot broke out because residents of the Tent "Atrocity" were showing their frustration. Our team was uncomfortable and we certainly didn't understand the real conditions until we spent a few days there, speaking with parents, children, teachers, missionaries, volunteers... the list goes on but the story is the same: Haiti's real disaster wasn't just on January 12 -- it's happening right now and will continue to get worse throughout the hurricane season, which starts Tuesday, June 1.

Friends, I have also read the news reports and saw the pictures of the devastation in Haiti. I know that after awhile you can't help but become NUMB to just how bad it is. It's much easier for us to focus on other things, like the end of the school year or our busy work schedules. But I've never seen -- or smelled -- anything like what I witnessed in Haiti. I threw up a few times because of the utter despair and horrific stench of the place.

My heart broke each time a beautiful child held onto my hand. They are so incredibly precious, and they don't understand that their country is shattered. They know a real bad thing has happened, but then their childlike sweetness takes hold and they laugh, and run, and skip. And my heart breaks, because they have no future they way things stand right now.

We are going to change that. I cannot sit by and do nothing. All of us lead a comfortable life, and we know where our next thousands meals are coming from. How can I sit here on my couch, flip through these photos, and not do everything I can?

This means a concrete, sustainable plan of action. We never intended to drop off a million pairs of shoes and say "Okay, best of luck to ya'll." We've always been very careful to be sustainable. That word gets thrown around a LOT in the non-profit world, but it's true. We need a SUSTAINABLE plan.

Haitians need HOUSING. They need JOBS. They need EDUCATION. They need micro-enterprise SOLUTIONS. They need access to CLEAN WATER, FOOD and MEDICAL CARE. Yes, they need SHOES and CLOTHING. But most of all, they need HOPE!

However, we can't put a giant HOPE band-aid on the country with good intentions... Haitians will step up and make it happen if we help eliminate the barriers that stand in their way. This might mean funding small businesses or creating manufacturing opportunities. It certainly means secure housing, education and medical care. If we help Haitians help themselves in ways that will create their own economic benefits, we will see incredible things happen -- and Haitians will be the ones to pay it forward.

In this way, we can help change the trajectory. See, we're not just providing shoes, we're providing a bridge of access into powerful American industries. Maybe you're a CEO like me and you're reading this and thinking -- "I can do something more...I can do something SUSTAINABLE."

People, the time is NOW. There is no yesterday, and tomorrow won't come. TODAY is all we have.

Will you stand with us? Will you help us be the bridge and create a sustainable future for these beautiful people?

We will be unfolding our plan in the coming weeks. I hope you'll consider joining us during our next trip to this shattered country. We really can help change course of a country's destiny and steer it back from the brink of hell.

Yes, I have HOPE... and I have a plan. But I'm going to need your help.

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