Archive for the 'Charitable Initiative' Category

Video story of Haiti family – I worked to clear this home site with HODR @hodropsin

This was one of the home sites that I had the honor to help clear.  We were very fortunate to have Brian, a videographer, to document the project and Nancy, a native Creole speaker, along with us to translate, She was able to share with us the story of the collapse from the matriarch of the family.

With more than 250,000 homes and structures reduced to rubble, it is easy to dehumanize the process of clearing rebar and concrete.  Videos like this are invaluable in reminding us of the personal impact of those 37 seconds – and of the value to each family of our volunteer efforts.


Visit Nepal and install solar panels – Swogun Nepal Voluntourism program

These are the types of programs that Travelcology will be facilitating.

Please visit and follow us on Twitter @travelcology to stay connected



Swogun’s Solar Aid volunteer program has been running successfully over the last few years. Its ultimate mission is to provide renewable energy for rural communities in Nepal.

Swogun’s Solar Aid volunteers install solar home systems in rural communities, public houses, libraries, temples, health posts etc.  After installation, training is provided to ensure that users can take proper advantage of having light after sunset. This includes the teaching of income generating skills; like weaving, carpet making, etc. This helps the villagers to become self-sufficient.

How do volunteers work with our Solar Aid Program?
On the first few days of your visit, you can explore Kathmandu Valley. You can learn various aspects of Nepalese culture – the people and their way of living. You then travel to the installation site, which are usually a day bus ride from Kathmandu and a day’s walk from the bus stop. After an intensive one day training in the village, volunteers install the system at the selected venue. Finally, our technician checks each system connection before the final installation

solar volunteer
solar support
solar help

The Solar Aid program emphasizes cross-cultural exchange. So during the installations, you will stay with families. Accommodation is simple and shared with family members. Nepalese traditional food is taken sitting on the floor with family members. Hands are use to eat food instead of spoons. You will enjoy joining in with typical Nepalese family activity because the system is entirely different to western culture.

See More at

A microcosm on the insanely complex Haiti challenge

This article closely resembles the personal experiences I discussed in my post about the local bar adjacent to the HODR camp in Leogane


March 27, 2010

Quake Accentuated Chasm That Has Defined Haiti


New York Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The lights of the casino above this wrecked city beckoned as gamblers in freshly pressed clothes streamed to the roulette table and slot machines. In a restaurant nearby, diners quaffed Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne and ate New Zealand lamb chops at prices rivaling those in Manhattan.

A few yards away, hundreds of families displaced by the earthquake languished under tents and tarps, bathing themselves from buckets and relieving themselves in the street as barefoot children frolicked on pavement strewn with garbage.

This is the Pétionville district of Port-au-Prince, a hillside bastion of Haiti’s well-heeled where a mangled sense of normalcy has taken hold after the earthquake in January. Business is bustling at the lavish boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs that have reopened in the breezy hills above the capital, while thousands of homeless and hungry people camp in the streets around them, sometimes literally on their doorstep.

“The rich people sometimes need to step over us to get inside,” said Judith Pierre, 28, a maid who has lived for weeks in a tent with her two daughters in front of Magdoos, a chic Lebanese restaurant where diners relax in a garden and smoke flavored tobacco from hookahs. Chauffeurs for some of the customers inside lined up sport utility vehicles next to Ms. Pierre’s tent on the sidewalk near the entrance.

Haiti has long had glaring inequality, with tiny pockets of wealth persisting amid extreme poverty, and Pétionville itself was economically mixed before the earthquake, with poor families living near the gated mansions and villas of the rich.

But the disaster has focused new attention on this gap, making for surreal contrasts along the streets above Port-au-Prince’s central districts. People in tent camps reeking of sewage are living in areas where prosperous Haitians, foreign aid workers and diplomats come to spend their money and unwind. Often, just a gate and a private guard armed with a 12-gauge shotgun separate the newly homeless from establishments like Les Galeries Rivoli, a boutique where wealthy Haitians and foreigners shop for Raymond Weil watches and Izod shirts.

“There’s nothing logical about what’s going on right now,” said Tatiana Wah, a Haitian planning expert at Columbia University who is living in Pétionville and working as an adviser to Haiti’s government. Ms. Wah said the revelry at some nightclubs near her home, which are frequented by rich Haitians and foreigners, was now as loud — or louder — than before the earthquake.

The nongovernmental organizations “are flooding the local economy with their spending,” she said, “but it’s not clear if much of it is trickling down.”

Aleksandr Dobrianskiy, the Ukrainian owner of the Bagheera casino here in the hills, smiled as customers flowed in one recent Saturday evening, drinking Cuba Libres and plunking tokens into slot machines.

He said business had never been better, attributing the uptick at his casino to the money coming into Haiti for relief projects. That spending is percolating through select areas of the economy, as some educated Haitians get jobs working with relief agencies and foreigners bring in cash from abroad, using it on housing, security, transportation and entertainment.

“Haiti’s like a submarine that just hit the bottom of the sea,” said Mr. Dobrianskiy, 39, who moved here a year ago and carries a semiautomatic Glock handgun for protection. “It’s got nowhere to go but up.”

Sometimes the worlds of haves and have-nots collide. Violent crime and kidnappings have been relatively low since the earthquake. But when two European relief workers from Doctors Without Borders were abducted outside the exclusive Plantation restaurant this month and held for five days, the episode served as a reminder of how Haiti’s poverty could give rise to resentment and crime.

The breadth of Haiti’s economic misery seemed incomprehensible to many before the quake, with almost 80 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. A small elite in gated mansions here in Pétionville and other hillside districts wields vast economic power.

But with parts of Port-au-Prince now in ruins, tens of thousands of people displaced by the quake are camping directly in the bulwarks once associated with power and wealth, like Place St.-Pierre (across from the elegant Kinam Hotel) and the grounds of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive’s office.

The city’s biggest tent camp, with more than 40,000 displaced people, sprawls over the hills of the Pétionville Club, a country club with a golf course that before the quake had its own Facebook page for former members. (“Had the best Citronade; I bet I drank thousands of them, no exaggeration,” one reminiscence said.)

Pétionville’s boutiques and restaurants stand in stark contrast to the parallel economic reality in the camp now at the Pétionville Club. Throughout its maze of tents, merchants sell dried fish and yams for a fraction of what the French cuisine costs in exclusive restaurants nearby like Quartier Latin or La Souvenance.

Manicurists in the camp do nails. A stylist in a hovel applies hair extensions. The camp even has its own Paradis Ciné, set up in a tent with space for as many as 30 people. It charges admission of about $1.50 for screenings of “2012,” the end-of-times disaster movie known here as “Apocalypse.”

“The people in the camp need their diversion, too,” said Cined Milien, 22, the operator of Paradis Ciné.

Still, a ticket to see “Apocalypse” is a luxury out of the grasp of most people who lost their homes in the earthquake. Some of the well-off in Pétionville who have reopened their businesses have done so cautiously, aware of the misfortune that persists on their doorstep.

“It’s kind of hard for people to dance and have fun,” said Anastasia Chassagne, 27, the Florida-educated owner of a trendy bar in Pétionville. “I put music, but really low, so like the people walking outside the street don’t hear, like, ‘Hey, these people are having fun.’ ”

Not everyone in Pétionville has such qualms. Mr. Dobrianskiy, the casino entrepreneur, said he was pleased that Haiti’s currency, the gourde, had recently strengthened against the dollar to a value higher than before the quake, in part because of the influx of money from abroad.

And on the floor above Mr. Dobrianskiy’s casino, a nightclub called Barak, with blaring music and Miami-priced cocktails, caters to a different elite here: United Nationsemployees and foreigners working for aid groups. They mingle with dozens of suggestively clad Haitian women and a few moneyed Haitian men taking in the scene.

As hundreds of displaced families gathered under tents a few yards away, the music of Barak continued into the night. A bartender could not keep up with orders for Presidente beers.

“Those who are gone are gone and buried, and we can’t do anything about that,” said Michel Sejoure, 21, a Haitian enjoying a drink at Barak. Asked about the displaced-persons camp down the street, he said, “I would want to help but I don’t have enough, and the government should be the ones that are actually helping these people out.”

“But,” he said over the booming music, “they’re not.”

Grant Fuller contributed reporting.

Fascinating, Counterintuitive Study on Capitalism and Altruism – NYTimes

Moral Lessons, Down Aisle 9


New York Times

March 22, 2010

Like Diogenes with his lamp, researchers have traversed the world looking for an honest man — or, more precisely, for people who act in the same fair, unselfish way toward everyone. If you wish to learn to follow this golden rule, which of these strategies is best?

a) Move to a village in the Amazon and go foraging with the indigenous Tsimane people.

b) Move to a Dolgan and Nganasan settlement on the Siberian tundra, herd reindeer and join the Russian Orthodox Church.

c) Visit a Himalayan monastery and follow instructions to “gaze within” and “follow your bliss.”

d) Join a camp of nomadic Hadza hunter-gatherers sharing giraffe meat and honey on the Serengeti savanna.

e) Join a throng of Wal-Mart shoppers buying groceries on the Missouri prairie.

Well, the Siberian church might impart some moral lessons, but your best bet is to go shopping, at least by my reading of the experiments reported in the current issue of Science. It doesn’t have to be Wal-Mart, by the way — any kind of grocery store seems to have an effect. Wal-Mart just happens to be popular with the exceptionally fair-minded residents of Hamilton, a small rural town in northwestern Missouri. They scored higher in a test of fairness toward strangers than did any of the less-modern communities in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The study doesn’t prove the moral superiority of Missourians, because traditional societies emphasize different virtues, like providing food and comfort to relatives. But the results do help explain a central mystery of civilization: How did small family clans evolve into large cities of cooperative strangers? Why are New Yorkers sometimes nice even to tourists?

Being nice made evolutionary sense when we lived in small bands surrounded by relatives, because helping them helped our genes survive. And we had a direct incentive to be fair to people who would later reciprocate kindness or punish selfishness. But why even consider returning a stranger’s wallet you find in a taxicab? Why leave a tip in a restaurant you’ll never visit again?

Some evolutionary psychologists have suggested that we have an innate sense of fairness left over from our days of living in small clans. According to this theory, our inherited instincts cause us to be nice to strangers even when we’re hurting our interests, just as our ancient taste for fat and sugar causes us now to eat more calories than are good for us.

But there’s more to it than just inherited instinct, says Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia, who led the study’s team of anthropologists, psychologists and economists. They found wide cultural variations by observing more than 2,000 people in 15 small communities participate in a two-player game, called Dictator, with a prize equal to the local pay for a day’s work.

One player, the dictator, was given the authority to keep the entire prize or share part of it with the other, unseen player, whose identity remained secret. Along with this power came the assurance that the dictator’s identity would also remain secret, so that no one except the researcher would ever know how selfish the dictator had been.

The most lucrative option, of course, was to keep the whole prize and stiff the anonymous partner. But the Missourians on average shared more than 45 percent of the prize, and some other societies were nearly as generous, like the Ghanians living in the city of Accra and the Sanquianga fishermen on the coast of Colombia.

But most of the hunter-gatherers, foragers and subsistence farmers were less inclined to share. The Hadza nomads in the Serengeti and the Tsimane Indians in the Amazon gave away only a quarter of the prize. They also reacted differently when given a chance, in variations of the game, to punish another player for hogging the prize.

Selfishness offended the Missourians so much that they would punish the player even though it cost them money. But the members of traditional societies showed little inclination to punish others at their own expense. “There are lots of norms in these small-scale societies for how to treat one another and share food,” says Dr. Henrich. “But these rules don’t apply in unusual situations when you don’t know anything about the kinship or status of the other person. You don’t feel the same sense of responsibility, and you act more out of self-interest.”

The researchers found that people in small communities like the Hadza camp (population about 50) were less willing to inflict punishment than people in larger communities like Hamilton (about 1,800). That makes practical sense: the more strangers there are, the more need to keep them from exploiting one another. But what enabled those larger societies to grow in the first place?

Dr. Henrich and his colleagues identified two distinguishing factors.

People belonging to a modern “world religion,” like the Islamic faith of the Orma cattle herders in Kenya or the Christian faith of the Dolgan reindeer herders in Siberia, tended to share more of their prize than did adherents of local religions. As larger communities became possible after the invention of agriculture, the researchers write in Science, “intersocietal competition may have favored those religious systems that galvanize pro-social behavior in broader communities, perhaps using both supernatural incentives (for example, hell) and recurrent rituals that intensify group solidarity.”

But a second factor seemed even more important. In explaining attitudes toward fairness, Dr. Henrich and his colleagues found that the strongest predictor was the community’s level of “market integration,” which was measured by the percentage of the diet that was purchased. The people who got all or most of their food by hunting, fishing, foraging or growing it themselves were less inclined to share a prize equally.

Grocery shopping may seem an unlikely form of moral education, but the researchers argue in Science that the development of “market norms” promotes general levels of “trust, fairness and cooperation” with strangers. (You can debate that point at

“Markets don’t work very efficiently if everyone acts selfishly and believes everyone else will do the same,” Dr. Henrich says. “You end up with high transaction costs because you have to have all these protections to cover every loophole. But if you develop norms to be fair and trusting with people beyond your social sphere, that provides enormous economic advantages and allows a society to grow.”

One such dynamic society was ancient Greece, whose ethical norms spread as it grew, widely, and perhaps it was no coincidence that those ethics were developed by philosophers debating alongside merchants at the central marketplace called the agora. In retrospect, maybe Diogenes and his lamp didn’t really have all that far to go.

#HODR It’s better to support volunteers than gala’s. NYC #Haiti Benefit to raise Less Cash Than Attention

Katie in Haiti

Being an editor at a renowned publishing house, its a bit of an unfair comparison, but here is her update (not written on a mobile phone, like mine, and not accompanied by pictures, like mine ;- ).   That said, quite a bit more detailed and I agree with her various observations.  Enjoy


The first 24 hours in Haiti has been exhausting—and it’s hard to believe that we left under the umbrella of fat, sloppy snowflakes just a day ago.  It is definitely not snowing here…

Despite a slightly delayed plane, we arrived safely in Haiti; along with a variety of other medical workers, family members of Haitians (seen carrying tents, clothing and other toiletries no longer available here), and a group of Search & Rescue team-members from the Army Corps of Engineers…who provided one of the more sobering moments of the flight when they admitted rescue operations were no longer really needed.  That being said, there was an interesting enthusiasm on the plane—people were eager to arrive and get moving, or find their families, or start helping; you looked out of the windows upon landing not see lush waters or resorts, but almost as gawkers at a car-wreck trying to glimpse the tragedy.  Our flight attendant summarized it best—it looks like one big construction site; the structural elements are in place, or some of them at least, but windows are gone and there is chaos.  Unlike flights to the Dominican, the flights into Haiti drop off passengers and return as quickly as they landed.

The airport was chaos, and immigration was in a temporary hangar, where our bags were unceremoniously dumped into piles.  From there we walked outside and met Al—one of our group members—and fought our way through the throngs of people waiting outside the gate and made it to the car.  Negotiating back into the airport—made only possible by the presence of a US passport, we located our last member, Ben.  Al is a firefighter—a 5’3” bundle of hutzpah from Orlando via South Africa—and Ben, an affable college grad from the Upper West Side.  Both piled into the car with us, our packs strapped to the back—and we began our long trek past Port-au-Prince and into the suburb of Leogane.  The city was indeed damaged, and is a mass of people, and markets, and chaos—but Leogane’s damage by comparison, was so much more profound; with nearly 90% of their buildings rendered unlivable.  The drive was a solemn one—masked by dust, burning trash, and the views of home after home left in shambles.

Our new home is quite palatial—in space, that is—apparently it was the town’s local rec center; basketball court, and…wait for it…nightclub.  Oh yes.  We are sleeping on the dancefloor of a nightclub.  The former stages at either end are now used as raised tent platforms, and the former “lounge” houses our computer area.  That being said, remnants of speakers, DJ equipment and colored lightbulbs echo what this once was…or, perhaps more fittingly, echo the promise of levity to come.  Despite the lack of techno music, our home abuts the local IDP tent camp, and their regular songs and religious ceremonies provide a musicality that is not only entertaining, but enduring.

After a tour and dinner—yes, shockingly it was beans & rice—we set up our own bunk; two lower halves of the bunk beds pushed together, air mattress, and lots of mosquito netting.  Good friends once said the true test of a relationship is making it through a trip to IKEA together…I suggest trying to string up mosquito netting in near darkness, after a long day of travel.  All joking aside, Philip’s reputation as a “prepared” adventure traveler, was a huge relief; and our bunk is most definitely four-star.  (on a side note, speaking of his preparedness, anyone who knows his propensity for dispensing with exercise-nutrition advice will find it unsurprising that camp members are now hitting him up for Endurance Gatorade powder and Carbo Pro).

Ben and Ali remain delightful compatriots—sharing food, laughs and irreverent humor as we set up camp together and prepared for sleep.  A surprising cool breeze comes through at night and in a small way, you all of a sudden remember you’re on an island…

And it would have been a perfect night’s rest if not for the ten zillion roosters crowing at 5 am.  It’s a most discordant alarm clock—but surprisingly effective (take note, Brookstone) if you’re looking for a surefire way to rouse even the heaviest of sleepers.  Shuffles back and forth to bathrooms and bucket showers, followed by corn flakes and tea—and then we were off to our site to clear rubble.

Philip and I were on a team of 9 headed to a small village 15 minutes away, that is part of a German program called GTZ—and if the homeowners clear their land of rubble, this construction company will come in and build their new home.  So our job is to clear their rubble (though a provision of the agreement is that the homeowners are required to assist in the work too).  According to Christof—the team leader I met later in the afternoon—they plan on making 1,400 of these shelters.  The village we are working in, is known as Petit Jesu—a (un)fortunate moniker that led us to name ourselves “Team Baby Jesus.”  If you haven’t already noticed, an effective remedy when wading head-first into tragedy is irreverent humor—sometimes, even with so much hope around you, the reality is still difficult to swallow.

So, Team Baby Jesus—which I’ll call TBJ—spent the morning clearing rubble from a former home.  Though we were operating under welcome overcast skies, our t-shirts were soaked within minutes, and even the darkest hair turned gray under the clouds of rubble dust.  Yoga and meditation aside, I’d highly recommend sledgehammering as an effective stress-reliever. It’s also a sure-fire way to prove your “worth” in the group—and always elicits a few smiles from the Haitian men and women who are not used to seeing women working, much less going all Paul Bunyan on sheet-rock.

Four hours of work later, two Nalgene bottles consumed, and countless wheelbarrow trips back and forth dumping off rubble—we hopped on the tap-tap (a pick-up truck with bench seating in the back…um, of course there are seatbelts…) and headed back to lunch; an event that largely consisted of eating as much rice & beans as possible and then crashing into bed for a siesta.

Back on the road, we headed to a site across the street (having pretty much handled the demolition of the first home)—a site that is the largest HODR has tackled to date.  A full-size home, even by US standards, it had completely fallen under—with concrete, rock and rebar in various states of mangled array.  We expect the job to take at least another 2 days optimistically (or realistically, see note about Philip’s nutritional plan above), assuming we can demolish the roof and rebar tomorrow and clear the rubble the following day.

In between carrying loads of rubble to the dump site, one wheelbarrow at a time, you pass the tent camps, the burning trash, the goats eating the trash, and remnants of former normalcy—dishes, lamps, stuffed animals, clothing… All of which are sobering no doubt, but tempered by the laughter and cunning of the Haitian children who Philip and others commandeered into helping.  I now understand the cruel tricks of parenting—anything can be done if you pretend it’s a game.  For example: let’s see who can lift the biggest cinder block (and then put in the wheelbarrow); let’s see who can push the rubble to the pile the fastest (quickest way to dump the rubble)…there’s not much a young kid won’t do when promised a wheelbarrow ride as a reward.  In contrast to the many people not helping out, I hope that these young kids will take pride and ownership in what they did to help out their families.

Another four hours later, a bucket shower under a blue tarp so refreshing it rivals any spa I’ve been to, and more rice & beans…it’s all left us exhausted, with hands and forearms tired from gripping axes, wheelbarrows, and shovels…(though you’d think it would stop me from typing so much).  Separated from creature comforts, especially those of us from large cities, you start to appreciate the art of conversation, and new friends, the simplicity of water, and the taste of melted chocolate has never been so flavorful—in short, you become thankful. Not for what you have, but what you carry with you—remembering to “bend from the knees” when you shovel snow (in this case rubble); having encountered that spider at Girl Scout camp made dealing with the baseball-sized tarantula a bit easier (ok, that’s a lie—it was still awful.  I just remembered not to squeal this time); and most of all, carrying with us the energy and support from each of our families and friends.  We may be here working, but we are certainly not alone.

So, with that, this blanca (Haitian for Gringo) bids “bon nuit” and am off to an assured good’s night sleep…that is, until the roosters start singing.

Departing for Haiti volunteer trip

I will be making regular blog updates about the trip to this site You can also follow Hands On Disaster Response via their website or facebook

Here are some early pictures of the efforts there, along with the site where we will be staying.

This trip is in honor of Aunt Helen, whose life and compassion have been an inspiration for me. As she nears the end of her time here, this is a recognition that her legacy continues on, and is reaches far from the covered bridges of her home town.

"beyond the fear of failure is the courage to explore new realms and expand your horizens - know no fear"

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