Yesterday I was running late, my bicycle didn't work, the subway was not direct enough and my meeting was starting in ten minutes. I broke down and paid for a cab rise across Paris. I was frustrated when I entered the cab and told the driver without even looking at him that I needed to hurry as it was an important meeting. He replied in French with a heavy accent, "It's no accident that you ended up in my taxi." I looked up from my business and frustration to see the reflection of a man's eyes looking directly at me. I thought at first he was trying to flirt with me. Then I asked him, "Where are you from?" He replied, "Haiti."
I literally felt my entire being change and I began to listen. From that moment on the cab ride became a story-telling, of family members lost and pain beyond belief, and when I asked what we could do most to help he replied, "When the help and aid comes to Haiti, they always leave carrying the knowledge and tools back home with them to their (wealthy) countries. We need to be more than hired manual laborers on projects, we need to be educated to rebuild better, to be engineers and run our own country. We have so many resources in Haiti. Before we produced our own sugar, now we import sugar. Haiti has clean water everywhere, you make a hole in the ground and there's clean pure water. Why are they bringing in bottled water? We need water wells!" The message rang loud and clear: Haitians wanted an independent and strong country free of dictators and other country's running the show.
He told me about what Haitians themselves were saying about how the "international aid efforts" were being handled. He said that there was so much suspicion because of Haiti's history of tug of war between nations, that they did not know who to trust. By the end of the cab ride, I had been transported and being a few minutes late didn't matter anymore. All I could think of was how glad I was to have heard from someone who had the inside story of what his family and fiends, those who survived, had told him.
Not much later, I came back home and found an email sent from a colleague in the world of microcredit at the Grameen Foundation with an amazing story on Haiti attached, which can be found on their website.
Rebuilding Haiti: Fonkoze Gets Money into Hands of Haiti's Poorest People Unprecedented Pre-Dawn NGO-Military Collaboration Assists the Most Vulnerable In the predawn hours of Saturday, January 23, an unprecedented joint NGO-military operation delivered money by helicopter to ten locations throughout Haiti for payouts of money sent from abroad and to permit Haitians greater access to their savings. The dramatic operation, which involved the U.S. Military and United Nations to complete the delivery, used disguised boxes of money airdropped across Haiti. In the wake of the earthquake on January 12, Fonkoze was the only financial institution in Haiti able to stay open for customers making withdrawals and receiving money transfers, but within days it grew short of cash. Unable to access its commercial bank account in Haiti, Fonkoze reached out to its partners to get money into the hands of desperate earthquake survivors. In less than 24 hours, Fonkoze was able to secure approval to send $2 million of cash from Fonkoze's accounts in City National Bank of New Jersey to its 34 branches that had not been shut down by the earthquake. The cash was packaged in Miami and transported aboard a military C-17 to Haiti.
"This was an absolutely tremendous experience for all of us -- military and civilian, government and non-profit alike," said Anne Hastings, CEO of Fonkoze Financial Services. "Our branches have been working since the earthquake to pay the money transfers our clients so desperately needed to begin to put their lives back together."
Then, more synchronicity, as later yesterday evening I had a meeting with Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the founder of the Grameen Bank , who had just arrived in Paris. On the way there, I received a call from a French friend, a former Minister for Human Rights, Nicole Guedj, who wanted to let Dr. Yunus know about their efforts to create a UN special international force, the "Red Helmets" which would coordinate rescue and aid efforts following such disasters:
According to Nicole Guedj: 'After a catastrophe of that magnitude, communication networks are systematically broken and teams cannot communicate with each other. We are witnessing a total disruption of the emergency aid and, as usual, thousands of Haitian victims have paid the price.'
She added, 'We may not have learned from the tsunami, but, with President Préval, we will remember the lessons of Haiti. Because of the lack of organization and coordination, we have lost many time and thousands of lives".
At her arrival at Port-au-Prince, Nicole Guedj also encountered the Haitian President to present her proposal of Red Helmets at the UN. René Préval, witness and victim of the rescue disorganization, immediately gave his support and launched the 'call to Port-au-Prince.'
According to René Préval: 'I thank the international aid actors for their immediate mobilisation for the Haitian people." However, I regret that there was no coordinator to organize relief. In the same way that the Blue Helmets maintain peace, we should urgently create Red Helmets at the United Nations scale to organize the humanitarian action.
All I can say is, what a day, yesterday was all about Haiti. Thank you God, I received the message loud and clear.
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