Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dust and grime at St. Vincent's

The dirt was flying at St. Vincent’s (SV) today. After making the short trek from the hotel, three of our volunteers dove into a large, messy project: sorting through mountains of donated supplies that filled a cavernous storage space. John, a volunteer from New Orleans, worked side-by-side with Sally and Brian, both clergy from their Episcopal churches in Washington state, as they methodically dug their way through an overstuffed 10 x 25’ storage area.

"It’s a mess, baby girl"

When the door was first opened, you couldn't even walk in the space. John stepped right up and took the lead in the separation and organization process. Areas along the classroom walls were designated for unusable items, questionable goods, school supplies, materials for the blind, kitchen items and medical equipment. Moving the materials kicked up so much dust and dirt that masks were a requirement. They disposed of huge spiders, dead rats and animal droppings while they meticulously sorted everything.

Sally (left), John (center), Brian right taking everything out of the storage space

Mountains of materials

Bed frames, wheelchair parts, mattresses... you name it

When asked what John might tell his daughter about the job, he simply stated, “It’s a mess, baby girl”.

Some of our discoveries were:
  • hundreds of pounds of Braille paper
  • boxes full of Braille workbooks (which delighted the blind teachers!)
  • dozens of unassembled bed frames, bunk beds and mattresses
  • cartons full of boy’s dress shirts
  • enough t-shirts for every child and then some
  • at least a dozen hospital beds
  • huge cooking kettles and kitchen implements
  • stacks of bright blue buckets
  • fifteen manual air pumps
Some of the more interesting finds included:
  • seventeen boxes of greeting cards (all in English)
  • cases and cases of cloth diapers and baby overalls (keep in mind that SV only serves children ages 5 and up)
  • thousands of dish rags
  • hundreds of plastic colanders
  • and the list goes on
You might be wondering why we took on this “little” project – how does this fit with The Red Thread’s mission to provide hope and healing to needy and orphaned children.

The reason is multi-faceted. As with many organizations, St. Vincent’s is running at full capacity with a minimal staff and even less resources. There is simply no time for anyone to go through the space, to determine what is truly of value to the children and facility. Sadly, the area in which the trio worked had become a huge catch all for everything that was not an immediate necessity after the earthquake.

One of The Red Thread’s goals while working in Haiti (or any other country) is to truly access the needs of our partner organizations before fundraising or sending anything. We talk to the partners to determine their highest priorities that fall within the scope of our mission. We do not guess or speculate about what we “think” they may need. We ask questions, and lots of them, long before a single purchase is made.

We also have a commitment to our supporters to use their funds as judiciously as possible and we take this responsibility seriously. Until we knew what was in that storage space, how could we determine what St. Vincent’s truly needs vs. what they already have?

Last but not least, we do not try to Westernize our partners in other countries, placing our perceived “necessities” on them. Rather we respect our differences and follow their lead on what needs to be done.

So, while this may seem like an odd project for us, we feel that it is critical in determining the next steps in our relationship with St. Vincent’s. To best serve the children, we need to know what items are already available so we do not duplicate things, thus wasting our time and resources.

John, Sally and Brian will be hard at it again tomorrow. Wishing them sweet dreams and no sore muscles tomorrow!

Serious progress!


Jennifer said...

We miss you John. I wish you well in our travels and support you in your mission.You are truly a wonderful person. Jennifer Wood

WTN Haiti Partnership said...

My deepest appreciation to your team for taking on this grimy and backbreaking job. You all have a servant's heart in your work. Sonya, I knew you could pull this off! Wish I was there with you Susan Nelson

Red Thread Sonya said...

@ Jennifer - we will pass your comments along to John when we meet for breakfast this morning. Thank you for thinking of him and our team!

@ Susan - what a mess! The trio did a great job finishing up yesterday and now we know what is and what isn't in that space. The majority of our finds are on the list in the post. No medical supplies other than the hospital beds and tons of wheelchair parts, but no chairs. Not what we had hoped for, but at least we know and can help fill in the gaps as needed.