Saturday, January 30, 2010

Additional Thoughts on Haiti - Lest We Fall Victim to Compassion Fatigue

Over the past week, I have heard more than one person remark about "over-exposure" by the media to the still-unfolding tragedy in Haiti. I would like to offer a dissenting voice. The photograph that leads this article serves for me as a metaphor for how we, as Americans and the community of nations, are responding and must continue to respond to the needs in Haiti. The picture shows Dr. Warren Cooper, a Samaritan's Purse doctor serving at the mission hospital in Fermathe, taking his own blood to share with a patient in need. Senator Bill Frist, a medical doctor, has been performing surgery at this same hospital on the grounds of Haiti Baptist Mission. This is the hospital where I was privileged to work from 1974-1975.

In the rest of this Blog posting, I will offer several links for those who are not suffering from "compassion fatigue," and who want to dig deeper in understanding what is happening in Haiti today and what the needs will continue to be in the coming weeks, months and years

For other images and updates from the fine work being done at the Hospital in Fermathe, here is the link to the website for Haiti Baptist Mission.

Haiti Baptist Mission

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Last evening, I attended a fund raising event for Haiti organized by the MIT community. Among the speakers was Noam Chomsky. While I do not agree with many of his political positions, he spoke passionately and eloquently about the history of Haiti and the present need.

Dr. Dale Joachim, a Haitian-born scientist who is currently working at the renowned MIT Media Lab, spoke from is heart about the need to move beyond emergency relief to long-term, sustainable solutions for providing water, energy, habitation and other infrastructure. He announced several initiatives that the MIT community will undertake in the coming months to help in these critical areas of long-term need.

Members of the Media Lab are also working on projects to help with rebuilding Haiti. Recently, Dr. Joachim, a visiting scientist, led a “Haiti IAP Workshop” to discuss the current state of affairs in Haiti and to brainstorm innovations to benefit relief efforts. Joachim discussed using a network of XO laptops from One Laptop Per Child to relay video and voice messages from Haiti.

Around 40 laptops are being taken right now to be used for the relay of information, he said last week. An eWeek Europe article posted on the OLPC website said 14,000 XO laptops had been sent to Haiti prior to the quake, and OLPC has pledged to send more faster.

“In order for us to help recraft Haiti’s society, it’s important to understand the citizens’ needs and perspectives. The technology we are using is a quick way to surface the voices of the people,” said Joachim.

He also said that Haiti’s reconstruction would benefit from MIT projects involving energy efficiency. “In an academic environment such as MIT, people should use Haiti as a case study for how to rebuild the society in energy-efficient way.”

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Several people have asked me what I know about how churches in Haiti have been impacted. Phil McCardle, one of the leaders of the church that I attend, made available a link to a video he had recently seen. The video shows Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle reporting back to his congregation about 32 hours that he spent in Haiti figuring out how churches in the U.S. may best be able to reach out and help churches in Haiti. The video runs over an hour and may contain some theology you do not agree with, but it represents some of the clearest pictures I have seen of what it is like on the ground in Haiti right now.

32 Hours in Haiti

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Finally, Dr. Paul Farmer, Founder of Partners in Health, testified before Congress about the needs in Haiti. Dr. Farmer, based here in Boston, has encyclopedic knowledge of Haiti - from before and after the earthquake.

"I am at my core optimistic about the possibilities before us and the potential of our support to help rescue and transform our poorest neighbor," stated Paul in his submitted testimony. "The response from citizens of the United States to the recent events in Haiti has been overwhelming and encouraging. There is the promise of solidarity by our leadership to make long-term commitments to the kinds of investments needed in Haiti—and to fulfilling them."

"For two centuries, the Haitian people have struggled for basic human and economic rights, the right to health care, the right to education, the right to work, the right to dignity and independence,"he continued. "These goals, which Haitians share with people all over the world, should direct our policies of aid and rebuilding."

Partners in Health website

Please continue to pray for the people of Haiti and those from around the world who have been moved to extend a helping hand to them. And please give as you are able. And then, reminding yourself of Dr. Cooper in the picture above, give again . . . and again.

God bless.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Partners in Health Gives a Clear and Concise Update on Conditions in Haiti

In the midst of the chaos and confusion that has reigned in Haiti since the earthquake and the numerous aftershocks that continue to disrupt rescue efforts, the staff and volunteers from Partners in Health have been a wonderful source of stability, order and clear communication. I am pleased to share with you their latest update.

Dear Al,

Hope For Haiti Now - Watch Tonight at 8 p.m.

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Wednesday morning, a strong aftershock earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, temporarily shutting down operations at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, as well as several other PIH sites outside the city. Since then additional smaller quakes continue to disrupt efforts on the ground.

Here's a quick update on our work in Haiti despite these challenges.

PIH's surgical teams continue to race against time to provide surgical care to earthquake victims in Port-au-Prince. Operating rooms at the central general hospital (HUEH) in Port-au-Prince are fully operational again after being temporarily evacuated on yesterday in response to the aftershock. PIH is still coordinating the relief efforts at HUEH and reports having 12 operating rooms opened 24 hours per day. Across the country, we have a total of 20 operating rooms up and running.

To date, PIH has sent 22 plane loads with 144 medical volunteers - orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, surgical nurses and other medical professionals - and several thousand pounds of medical supplies to support the more than 4,500 PIH health care providers already in Haiti.

Despite these accomplishments, our teams throughout the country continue to report a great need for additional medicines (antibiotics, anesthesia and narcotics), medical equipment (anesthesia machines and x-rays), medical supplies (IVs, tubing, irrigating saline), and water.

"There are very sick people and too little space and time," reported PIH Women's Health Coordinator Sarah Marsh from our hospital in St. Marc. She added that we will lose more patients to infection in the coming days if we don't find additional medications, and explained that is only for lack of supplies - not patients - that the surgical team risks performing more operations. A volunteer orthopedist also working from St. Marc stressed that we will need full medical teams on site to manage dressings, skins grafts and other post operative care for another 6-8 weeks.

Our sites in the Central Plateau and the lower Artibonite are dealing with increasing numbers of patients and families seeking both medical treatment and refuge from devastated Port-au-Prince. Finding space and beds for post-operative care has become the next major challenge. In Cange, PIH's 104-bed facility is overflowing: the church is serving as a triage center and the school as a recovery room. People are arriving in Cange at all hours of the day and night; many simply have nowhere to go.

"Our houses were crushed and our businesses destroyed. So we came to Cange," said one man who arrived in a bus with 12 relatives, including his mother-in-law who was critically injured. In Belladaire, near the border with the Dominican Republic (DR), up to 1,000 people are camped out at PIH's hospital in temporary shelter, searching for family members and medical treatment. We expect that people will continue to return to the countryside, having lost their family, livelihoods, and homes in the capital city, and meeting the needs of this displaced population will be a major task in PIH's long-term rebuilding efforts.

Finally, recognizing that many of our own Haitian staff, who are working tirelessly to save the lives of others, have also lost their own families and friends, PIH is also developing a post-trauma mental health and social service program to serve both staff and patients.

The task ahead is a monumental one. And even as we heal wounds, mend broken bones, and provide basic necessities (food, water, shelter), its true magnitude grows before our eyes. But we know from 20-plus years of accompaniment the resiliency of the Haitian people. Through poverty, strife, hurricanes, disease and hunger, our Haitian friends and colleagues continue to amaze us. Their determination, spirit, and ability to overcome and survive is inspirational and humbling.

Partners In Health is determined to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to ensure that their struggle succeeds.

With your help, we know we will be able to do so.

Kenbe fem,

Ali Lutz
Haiti Program Coordinator

Partners in Health "Stand with Haiti" Website

Please continue to give generously as the struggle continues.


Rhino Reflections - MyVetwork's New Column

I am honored and humbled to have been asked by MyVetwork to write a regular column for their website. MyVetwork is a national on-line community that reaches out to veterans and those who support veterans. The focus of the column will be reviews of books that I have read on issues of leadership, the military and transition from the world of the military to the world of business. In the case of books that I may have reviewed in the past, each column will include an update as well as a summary of my conversation with the author. The column is called "Rhino Reflections."

I encourage you to visit on a regular basis. This week's column revisits Nate Fick's seminal work, "One Bullet Away."

While you are visiting the website, be sure to watch the brief video from Afghanistan by 1LT Rajiv Srinivasan, who has been a frequent contributor to The White Rhino Report. Also, take note of Doug Crandall's piece, looking behind the scenes at the book he is writing about Capt. Scotty Smiley, "Hope Unseen."

MyVetwork Website



Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Younger Generation Speaks Out on Haiti: Régine Chassagne and Thymn Chase Weigh In

An exchange has taken place in the past two days in Facebook that is worthy of being replicated in these pages. In yesterday's posting about the tragedies unfolding in Haiti, I quoted a young person whose cynicism and inability to empathize with the plight of the Haitians was troubling. I am pleased to offer a more positive light on the perspective of some members of "Generation Y" (or, sometimes aptly referred to as "Generation 'Why?'").

The poignant words below are taken from an interview with a musician of Haitian heritage. Régine Chassagne is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist musician and singer, and a founding member of the indie rock band Arcade Fire. Here are her words, as reported in this past Sunday's edition of the Manchester Guardian, followed by a link to the original article.

"Somewhere in my heart, it's the end of the world.

These days, nothing is funny. I am mourning people I know. People I don't know. People who are still trapped under rubble and won't be rescued in time. I can't help it.

Everybody I talk to says the same thing: time has stopped.

Simultaneously, time is at work. Sneakily passing through the cracks, taking the lives of survivors away, one by one.

Diaspora overloads the satellites. Calling families, friends of families, family friends. Did you know about George et Mireille? Have you heard about Alix, Michaelle etc, etc? But I know that my personal anguish is small compared to the overwhelming reality of what is going on down there.

When it happened I was at home in Montreal, safe and cosy, surfing the internet, half randomly, like millions of westerners. Breaking news: 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti near Port-au-Prince.

Such emotion came over me. My breath stopped. My heart sank and went straight into panic mode. I knew right away that the whole city is in no way built to resist this kind of assault and that this meant that thousands were under rubble. I saw it straight away.

I ran downstairs and turned on the television. It was true. Tears came rushing right to my eyes and I let out a cry, as if I had just heard that everybody I love had died. The reality, unfortunately, is much worse. Although everything around me is peaceful, I have been in an internal state of emergency for days. My house is quiet, but I forget to eat (food is tasteless). I forget to sleep. I'm on the phone, on email, non-stop. I'm nearly not moving, but my pulse is still fast. I forget who I talked to and who I told what. I leave the house without my bag, my keys. I cannot rest.

I grew up with parents who escaped during the brutal years of the Papa Doc regime. My grandfather was taken by the Tonton Macoutes and it was 10 years before my father finally learnt he had been killed. My mother and her sister returned home from the market to find their cousins and friends murdered. She found herself on her knees in front of the Dominican embassy begging for her life in broken Spanish. Growing up, I absorbed those stories, heard a new version every year; adults around the dinner table speaking in creole about poor Haiti.

When I was growing up, we never had the money to return. Even if we had, my mother never could go back. Until she died, she would have nightmares about people coming to "take her away". My mum passed away before she could meet my future husband, or see our band perform and start to have success, and though I have dreamed of her dancing to my music, I know she would have been very worried to hear that I was travelling to Haiti for the first time last year.

It is strange that I was introduced to my country by a white doctor from Florida called Paul Farmer who speaks perfect Creole and knows how to pronounce my name right. He is the co-founder of an organisation titled Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante in Creole). There are several charity organisations that are doing good work in Haiti – Fonkoze is a great micro-lending organisation – but in terms of thorough medical care, follow-up and combining of parallel necessary services (education, sanitation, training, water, agriculture), there is none that I could ­recommend more than Partners in Health. It takes its work for the Haitian people very seriously and, indeed, most of the staff on the ground are Haitian. PIH has been serving the poorest of the poor for more than 20 years with a ­curriculum that really astounded me, given the limited resources available in the area.

Visiting its facilities, I was overwhelmed by, and impressed with, the high-level, top-quality services provided in areas where people own next to nothing and were never given the opportunity to learn how to sign their own name. I was delightfully shocked to see the radically positive impact it has had in the communities it serves. Of course, during my visit, I saw some clinics and hospitals that were at different stages than others, but through it all, I could clearly see that PIH staff are very resourceful and set the bar extremely high for themselves. I know that, right now, they are using their full ­capacities to save as many lives as possible.

So in these critical times where death comes every minute, I urge you to donate to Partners in Health ( and be as generous as you can. I know from having talked to some staff that they are on the ground right now, setting up and managing field hospitals as well as receiving the injured at their clinics in the surrounding areas.

I realise that by the time you read this it will be Sunday. The cries will have died out and few miracles will remain possible. But the suffering survivors should not be abandoned and should be treated with the best care countries like ours can offer.

Many Haitians expect to be let down. History shows they are right to feel that way. Haitians know that they have been wronged many, many times. What we are seeing on the news right now is more than a natural disaster. This earthquake has torn away the veil and revealed the crushing poverty that has been allowed by the west's centuries of disregard. That we must respond with a substantial emergency effort is beyond argument, but in the aftermath, Haiti must be rebuilt.

Ultimately, we need to treat Haiti with compassion and respect and make sure that the country gets back on its feet once and for all. Haiti's independence from France more than two centuries ago should be thought of as one of the most remarkable tales of ­freedom; instead, she was brought to her knees by the French and forced to pay a debt for the value of the lost colony (including the value of the slaves: the equivalent of $21bn by current calculations). We cannot ­overestimate the strength and resilience of the brave people living in this country whose ancestors had to buy their own bodies back.

The west has funded truly corrupt governments in the past.

Right now, in Haiti, there is a democratically elected government.

Impossibly weak, but standing.

This is the moment where we need to show our best support and solidarity.

Since Haiti shook and crumbled, I feel as if something has collapsed over my head, too. Miles away, somehow, I'm trapped in this nightmare. My heart is crushed. I've been thinking about nothing else.

Time has stopped – but time is of the essence.

So I've been sitting here at my computer, food in the fridge, hot water in the tap, a nice comfy bed waiting for me at some point… but…

Somewhere in my heart, it's the end of the world."

Manchester Guardian Interview with Régine Chassagne


Régine's faith in the work and reliability of Partners in Health is well-founded. I mentioned PIH in yesterday's post as an organization worthy of financial support during this time of crisis in Haiti and going forward.

My son, Thymn, who lives in Krakow, Poland, has traveled extensively, and has developed a broader perspective on the world than many of his generation. These were his words in sharing Régine's musings with his Facebook friends:

"Yes. Besides the fact that the Arcade Fire is one of the groups I most admire in the world, her pain is about as palpable and moving and her plea as earnest and heartfelt as anything I've read so far this horrid week... I hope her words affect as many people as possible - especially those in my generation who are already so cynical towards the crisis of the 3rd world that is crumbling away on the fringe of their perception."

Thymn cannot possibly have a conscious memory of his visit to Haiti when he was a babe in arms in the early 1980's. Our family visited with many friends in Port-au-Prince, Fermathe and Petionville. Certainly the humble homes where we were so graciously hosted have crumbled to dust in the face of the trembling earth. During that visit, Thymn, only a few months old, was held in a loving embrace by our friend, Dieu-la. Now, almost thirty years later, Thymn returns that embrace through his words and empathetic heart. May his words and thoughts inspire others of his generation to give - of their money and of themselves.

Thanks, son.



Monday, January 18, 2010

My First Political Endorsement

I usually stay away from discussing politics in this space. I prefer to focus for the most part on more uplifting topics. But I feel compelled to weigh in briefly this morning on tomorrow's Special Election to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Ted Kennedy died a few months ago.

Over the years I have voted for Democrats, Republicans and a handful of Independent candidates. My choice is usually dictated by my reading of the character of the candidate, rather than by ideology or party affiliation.

For this reason, I will be casting my ballot tomorrow for Scott Brown to be the next Senator to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Washington.

My reasons for choosing to vote for Brown have both a push and a pull.

I am pulled towards Brown's candidacy because a number of my friends know him well and speak highly of his integrity, honorable service to our nation in the military, and reasonable approach to problem solving.

I am being pushed away from the candidacy of Martha Coakley because I have been disgusted with the demagoguery of her ads in the past week of desperation as she has seen a once 31-point lead in the polls evaporate. She has allowed her campaign managers and advisers to use mud-slinging ads and distorted accusations against Brown that I find unconscionable. I refuse to reward such negative behavior.

If you are a resident of Massachusetts, I urge you to vote tomorrow. And let your conscience be your guide. We can influence the tone of future campaigns by the way in which we respond to how the candidates have talked and acted in this election.


Updates from Haiti - Reports from Those on the Ground

It has been almost six days since the news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti began to be broadcast to the outside world. In those days, many of us have stared at our TV's and computer screens in utter disbelief at the extent of the destruction and suffering. I shed countless tears and offered myriad prayers on behalf of the many Haitians I have known over the years. Most of the readers of the White Rhino Report may not be aware that from 1974-1975, I lived in the mountains of Haiti, serving as administrator at the small hospital at the Baptist Mission in Fermathe, about an hour up the mountains from Port-au-Prince. I have not been back to Haiti in quite a few years, but part of my heart will forever be there.

I have learned that the hospital in the mountains survived the earthquake and is being used as a center for treating patients who are able to make it up the mountain from Port-au-Prince and Petionville, and is partnering with other organizations to provide doctors and other medical personnel closer to the capital city.

Many have asked me where to send money, so that they can be assured that the money will go directly to those in the greatest need.

The Red Cross has an outstanding reputation of using donated funds widely and efficiently, and you can never go wrong in steering donations through them:

Red Cross Website

Partners in Health, founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, is headquartered here in Boston. Their hospital in the interior of the country escaped major damage, and their staff and volunteers are helping to spearhead emergency medical and evacuation efforts. Donations sent to them directly will be well used.

Partners in Health Website

Partners in Health Photo Gallery

Haiti Baptist Mission is dong wonderful work in the rural mountainous areas above Port-au-Prince.

Baptist Haiti Mission Website

The response from the U.S. and abroad has been generous and heartfelt. What we need to understand is that emergency relief for those trapped and homeless is only the beginning. At a strategic level, infrastructure must be built from scratch and a sustainable economy must be established that uses the remarkable resilience and work ethic of the Haitian people to create small and mid-sized entrepreneurial ventures. So, long-term, I encourage you to partner with organizations that look beyond hand-outs to encouraging self-reliance using micro-finance and other instruments.

Sadly, not everyone understands the plight of Haiti. Last night, I found this posting on Facebook, and engaged in a "conversation" with the person whose perspective was woefully limited:

"Ok, watched the Golden Globes tonight, and ALL they talked about was donating to Haiti...Seriously, donate to our own country. Who helps us when we have tragedies? Am i selfish for thinking that Haiti needs to help themselves or what? Or am I being real because I'm tired of the U.S. picking up the slack for other countries?"

Last night I learned good news from my friend, Casimir Deronette, whose family comes from Bon Repos, not far from Port-au-Prince. After three days of silence and wondering about the fate of a family member in Haiti, Casimir learned that his relative was alive. He and his co-workers had just left their jobs in the National Bank when the earthquake hit and the building collapsed.

Despite our recent economic woes, even in the worst of times, the vast majority of us Americans are enormously blessed in comparison with most of those living in Haiti. Have you noticed that almost everyone who is interviewed in Haiti begins by praising God? These are, for the most part, wonderful, giving, hard-working, God-fearing individuals who want nothing more than a chance to work hard to support their families and live a productive and healthy life. Please pray that they may have that opportunity in the wake of this tragedy. And, as you pray, ask God how you may be able to help - in the short term and in the long run.

God bless.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Wall Street Journal Salute to West Point

My friend, Jon Gensler, made me aware of a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece reflecting on the newest class of men and women who have been accepted into West Point's Class of 2014. Jon is himself a graduate of the United States Military Academy, and is currently pursuing dual degrees at MIT's Sloan Graduate School of Business and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The points made in this piece by William McGurn resonated with me so much that I feel compelled to share them with the readers of The White Rhino Report.

WSJ "Salute to West Point"



Winning Hearts and Minds Cross-Culturally in Iraq

What an interesting concept that a U.S. soldier of Indian heritage who is a Hindu would be able to make a unique cultural connection with Arabs and Kurds in Iraq. In a recent edition of Khabar, a magazine targeting the Indian-American Community, 1LT Samir Patel, a graduate of West Point's class of 2008, describes some of the current challenges that he and his unit are facing as they serve in Iraq.

While much of the public focus in the past months has been on the conflict in Afghanistan, we need to remember that there are still many of our troops serving and working to maintain the fragile peace in Iraq and to help Iraqis to rebuild their nation.

Khabar article on Lt. Patel