Rich Pickett is SDSU’s CIO and a licensed pilot for 32 years. He is volunteering his time to fly relief flights to earthquake ravaged Haiti and will be sharing his experiences here as often as he is able …
All of our team was in Providenciales, so we decided to complete the delivery of supplies to Jacmel and Les Cayes that we could not do the other night. We found out that the people of Providenciales had a large amount of supplies for Haiti and needed a way to take them over. Since we always like to fill the plane, we immediately offered to take them.
After an hour flight, we were back in Jacmel. Many Haitians that we met earlier were there, along with the Canadian Disaster Relief team. One of our goals was to distribute some tents and food to our recent friends. Since we had many items not assigned, we started our own distribution to the people who have helped us and desperately needed help. We distributed clothes, tarps, tents, food and some medical supplies. One gentlemen approached me after noticing we had feminine hygiene products and asked if we could spare some for his young daughter. We had several boxes, so I gave him many of them and promised to bring more on our next trip. Such simple products that we take for granted, have such a profound impact for these people in need.
We were sad that we couldn’t meet everyone’s needs on this trip. Our friends offered to take us back into town again, which is accepted. We were still looking for one of our friends, Pierre, and I was determined not to leave without seeing him. We didn’t know his last name, and none of us knew French, however we went into town in the hopes of finding him. We all were thrilled when we found Pierre! All of the people we met have been special, however Pierre always made sure that the needs of others were met first. We didn’t have the tent we promised for his family on this trip, however we gave him tarps, diapers, clothes from the people of Providenciales and anything else we could spare, and of course we distributed the rest of our toys!
When we met the people on the firs trip, they were understandably careful with talking with us. Today we invited them to tell us what they needed for themselves, their families and neighbors. We collected their names and what would be important to them, our new shopping list!
While in Jacmal, we met Tom Weppers, a Canadian missionary that needed a ride home. Of course our answer was yes, as long as he didn’t mind joining us on a short trip to Les Cayes. An American doctor, Steve, helping in Jacmel as a volunteer, approached us asking to take a medical team and patient to Port Au Prince. We offered them the same ride, however the found out they needed additional paperwork. As we were talking, I mentioned to him that we had heard about a serious need for antibiotics, and other specialized medical supplies. We told him that if he could find the supplies, we would try to deliver them.
Todd had been talking with various doctors about the need for heart monitors for infants. Tom called back to Greg, who is supporting us in Fort Lauderdale and asked Greg to purchase as many infant heart monitors as possible so we could take them on the next trip.
We had found a few boxes in the Banyan Air Service hanger in Fort Lauderdale (who is providing incredible support for this airlift) for a hospital in Les Cayes the previous day and since no one had offered to help deliver these, we had put them in the plane. With our work in Jacmel done for this trip, we closed the door and headed to Les Cayes.
The airport in Les Cayes is not in our GPS database, so we flew along the coast until reaching the town. We landed in this beautiful town, which had not been directly within the earthquake damage zone however had large number of refuges in the area. We only had a name of a doctor, Dr. Robert Leger, and no way to reach him. After a few attempts, Dr. Leger arrived and was surprise to receive the supplies. After we transferred the supplies to Dr. Leger, we talked about his clinic and the growing needs of so many people. He mentioned many items of need and we added them to our shopping list.
We had headwinds on the way back to Florida, so the trip was substantially longer. After dodging a few weather cells, we landed at Fort Lauderdale Executive airport. We had changed our plans from earlier in the day, and I was unable to update the required Department of Homeland Security paperwork as required before flight. We also had picked up a new passenger, Tom, along the way. The Customs personnel were helpful and allowed us to proceed due to the nature of our flights.
After clearing Customs we taxied immediately to the Banyan Air Service hanger to load the plane for tomorrow’s flight. While Brandon, Greg, and were loading the plane we noticed that we needed more food, toys, and other items for Haiti. We found a Walmart open all night and at midnight Brandon and I were purchasing cooking oil, spaghetti, beans, rice, snack bars for the kids we meet, and of course more toys!
We were short of tents and didn’t know when we would get more so we decided to buy a large one for Calle. We had met this quiet lady in Jacmel on Thursday. Pierre had mentioned to me that she had lost her home, many relatives, and her family needed shelter. I hugged her and told her that we would help. While we knew that we couldn’t help everyone, we wanted to help her now. At the checkout stand our cart made a curious site. Here were too guys after midnight with a cart full of stuffed toys, cars, 40 bags of beans, rice, a tent, and who knows what else. We struck up a conversation with the other shoppers about our cause. I mentioned to Brandon that we forgot to purchase a pocket knife to help us open boxes. A Walmart employee standing nearby, took his pocket knife out and told us we needed it more than him. When the time came to pay for our purchases, another shopper came up to us and offered her discount card to help reduce our costs. Brandon and I had never had so much fun shopping!
During the evening, I also received an e-mail from Eric Frost, one of our SDSU professors heavily involved with disaster preparedness and response. Eric and I have worked on several projects and he had introduced me to a Navy team that was unable to get 400 lbs of critical communications gear and a specialist to Haiti. Tomorrow (actually today in a few hours) we will try to take them to Haiti, of course they have to join us on our delivery route to Les Cayes, Jacmel, and then Port Au Prince.
Since we leave in a few hours, I need to get some sleep. Todd Macaluso and several other members of our team are going home tomorrow. Todd thought it was so important to continue using his plane for a few more days, that he is flying home commercially and leaving the plane with me so that Brandon, Greg and I can continue flying a few more days.
We know that we can’t do everything, for everyone, however maybe over the next few days we can improve the lives of a few, see some children smile when they play with the toys, provide some doctors with medicines and supplies, feed a few more hungry people, shield a family from rain, help a father with his daughter’s needs, clothe some folks, provide diapers and formula for babies, and of course our biggest reward is the smile we receive at the end of a day in Haiti before closing the door and heading back to our temporary home.