Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Blog -- Alex Buznego on Humanitarian Aid

When I asked one member attending the 2009 University of Miami Cuba Conference if he would prefer to attend Saturday morning’s panels, rather than traveling to a warehouse to pick up the truckload of aid, the participant, without skipping a beat, looked me dead in the eye: “No. I’m through talking. Now I want to do something.”

Today, Raices announced that it will donate the nonpolitical humanitarian relief supplies to the people of Haiti in this time of uncertainty and loss.

Raices said:

(Miami, FL) During this time of great need and tragic loss, our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people. In a gesture of friendship and solidarity, Roots of Hope would like to offer more than nine pallets -valued at approximately $150,000- worth of humanitarian aid to help in the relief and recovery efforts in Haiti.The aid, originally intended to go to Cuba, was collected and cataloged by Roots of Hope in response to the hurricanes that devastated the island in 2008.

Despite our exhaustive efforts over the course of a year to place the much needed aid in the hands of the Cuban people, the Cuban government rejected the shipment based on what they are calling "political reasons." We believe there is nothing political about the humanitarian needs of the Cuban people. This denial of aid demonstrates a complete disregard for the needs of Cubans on the island. Since the Cuban government made it impossible to send the humanitarian relief, Roots of Hope looked outside of Cuba and
identified with Haiti. We feel it's important to donate these materials to our Haitian brothers and sisters who are faced with extreme recovery efforts in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster. Roots of Hope thanks the more than 300 volunteers who collected, cataloged and packaged the aid for their incredible generosity and selfless sacrifice.

We extend our deep and sincere condolences to the friends and families of the victims and offers this aid with love, friendship and hope for the Haitian community.

The decision that the nine pallets of humanitarian aid, consisting of about 6,000 pounds of clothes, shoes, linens, food and toiletries, will be sent to Haiti has evoked a mixed emotion for me. In the course of the past year, I joined hundreds of my fellow Roots working for countless hours to inventory the aid. During seven different day-long efforts, we sorted and counted individual piece after piece after piece of aid, in order to comply with the standards required to send the aid with our pre-approved license. We lifted and weighed box after box after box after box, sweating through our clothes in that unairconditioned sauna-like warehouse during a Miami summer.

I never heard one complaint.

Despite the grueling and unbelievably tedious nature of the work, and the less than favorable conditions, our Roots put their heads down with a collective and quiet resolve and passion unlike any I have ever experienced. It resounded with me deeply the level of passion our volunteers had, that they would go through this type of taxing work without a peep, because of their unwavering passion and care for Cuba and Cuban youth.

Last February we received a humanitarian license and pre-approval to send aid. So we proceeded to collect and inventory our nine pallets’ worth of aid. Yet despite doing everything right and complying with the rules as they were laid out to us, we were arbitrarily denied by the Cuban government when it came time to deliver. We then tried month after month after month, speaking with and trying to work with NGOs, trying to find avenues, trying different and creative means to get it there, but the bottom line was that the Cuban government refused our aid and made it impossible for us to send it.

Given this roadblock and the situation in Haiti, which is by any definition and without exaggeration, a heartbreaking and devastating catastrophe, Raices made the decision to move forward with using the aid in a different manner. There is undoubtedly an urgent pressing need given the degree of pain, loss and suffering currently being experienced only miles South and East of Cuba. Our organization is founded on Amor, Amistad y Esperanza- Love, Friendship and Hope- and given the historic situation, we wish to extend these sentiments to our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti. We can continue to negotiate with the slim hope that an opportunity presents itself at some unknown time in the future, while the aid continues to sit in a warehouse, or we can put the materials to use where they can have a profound and immediate impact- with the people of Haiti who are going through such inconceivable pain.

Our hearts and prayers are with the people and youth of Haiti, and despite the adversity and obstacles, Raices will remain unwavering in its efforts to help Cuban youth.


Laura "Cubanita in DC" Rodriguez said...

Congratulations to Raices for donating. I am proud to be a part of this organization. If the Cuban government doesn't want our aid then I am glad we donated to the Haitian people who desperately need our help.

Bianca said...

Alex, I couldn't agree with you more. Like we always say, it's not just a Cuban issue, it's a HUMAN issue. Haiti needs help and because of our humanitarian nature and actions in the past, we are poised to help with nine pallets of already collected aid in the present. Like you said, we can either let the aid sit in the warehouse (and potentially rot) waiting for a whim by the Cuban regime to allow it in, or we can "be through talking and do something." I, like the student at the Raices conference at UM, say we do something!

Romy "Cubanasa" Portuondo Remior said...

Thank you for writing about this, Alex. This was truly a tremendous effort that I was proud to be a part of.

Miguel said...

I'm proud to be part of an organization that not only works it's tail off to ensure a better life for those who are unnecessarily suffering in Cuba, but can also realize the pain and suffering of others so close to the island.

Keith Fernandez said...

Alex, great blog post. Haiti needs immediate assistance and any help we can provide is certain to be a welcome relief to them.

Panpan said...

My friends at Raices,

As I'm sure you're aware, there are typically two responses to crises such as the Haiti earthquake that are well intentioned but actually end up being more detrimental than helpful. The first is volunteers attempting to go to the affected zone without solicitation. These people are well intentioned and want to help. Unfortunately they typically take more resources (e.g., food, water, shelter, communication) than they are provide. Unless they have special skills (e.g., search and rescue, or have substantial experience in disaster relief) they should not go. Even then, they should carefully consider the risk-benefit and of course consult with an agency before heading to the disaster zone. The second is donations of goods rather than money. Following the Asian tsunami of 2004 there an outpouring of goods such as clothes, baby formula, diapers, and food. This was often even solicited by local news organizations. Most of these donations sat unused due to the difficulty in managing the logistics of these donations and sat unused/wasted.

Relief efforts in Haiti are most hampered by the destruction of infrastructure and the difficulty in distribution of aid, rather than scarcity of aid itself. That said, cash donations are definitely still needed. Perhaps there is a way to get "matching donations" in cash from someone who needs material donations?

A lot of us are feeling helpless right now and want to respond in any way we can. Mobilization is a natural urge. However, we must be aware that our good intentions can actually have negative impact (or at least a much less than anticipated positive impact) in this type of situation.

All of this may already have been discussed between Raices leadership, but if not, I would suggest that you take this into consideration before shipping 9 pallets of your donated goods to a place that won't be able to handled the donation.

Panpan Wang

Panpan said...

Edit: 2006 Asian Tsunami.

FYI, My post is grounded in knowledge from a Pan American Health Organization (a part of WHO) senior official, whom I had as a professor in a class called Health in Crisis and Conflict. This was one of the first things he told our class about disaster relief and one of the major things he wish he could change about human behavior following a disaster.

Here's a randomly searched (but accurate) article that probably better articulates my thoughts:

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