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'Supernatural' Fans & Star Misha Collins Bring ''Hope To Haiti'' Through Voluntary Trip

by Laura Prudom, posted Jul 16th 2011 10:30AM
There has always been a stigma attached to the word "fan." Thanks to Hollywood, it conjures up images of pale, socially awkward young men who occupy their parents' basements and spend their time playing Dungeons and Dragons or debating the minutiae of 'Star Trek' episodes on the internet (both of which are totally valid lifestyle choices, by the way).

In reality, everyone is a fan of something. Even if you don't frequent online message boards to dissect the shocking twist at the end of last week's 'Vampire Diaries,' or dress up like a warrior princess for a weekend in the woods with your buddies, find me a person who doesn't obsess over sports or fashion or cars or another vice of choice.

The Random Acts team in Haiti

Being a "fan" is a badge of honor you should wear with pride, something that binds you to a much wider community of equally passionate, equally inspiring people. The abstract concept of "fandom" illustrates that, even in an age where some argue we're more disconnected than ever -- conducting our friendships through the sphere of social networking and the magic of electronic devices -- we're still part of something larger than ourselves.

Occasionally, that community of like-minded geniuses can band together to change the world, or at least change a life or two, as was the case with Random Acts' "Hope to Haiti" trip.

On June 20th, I was fortunate enough to embark upon the journey of a lifetime, masterminded by the staff of a charitable organization called Random Acts. The charity was co-founded by actor Misha Collins, who decided to harness the power of his 'Supernatural' fanbase to help make the world a better place, "one random act of kindness at a time."

The trip would take two dozen volunteers to the southern town of Jacmel, Haiti, to aid in the construction of a multipurpose community center and orphanage, designed to feed, educate and house some of Haiti's most impoverished and disadvantaged children. The construction efforts would utilize a portion of over $169,000 in donated funds raised entirely by the participants and other supportive 'Supernatural' fans in the three months prior to the trip.

I'm loath to simply call the 22 women who took a week out of their lives to travel to a disaster-stricken, developing nation "fans," although their appreciation for the CW series 'Supernatural' is arguably the common thread that brought them together. To label them so simplistically is to diminish their courage, their passion and their tenacity. For some, the trip to Haiti was the first time they'd ventured out of their home state, let alone their country.

Their ages ranged from late teens to their forties; their nationalities spanned the globe, from Russia to Britain, Germany to South Africa, America to Sweden; their professions encompassed students, doctors, writers and costume designers, some with volunteer experience, others starting fresh. None knew exactly what they were embarking on, what the conditions would be like once they reached Jacmel, nor how they would respond to working with children, yet everyone approached the adventure with an open mind.

Part of the children's center construction site

Some knew rudimentary French, others downloaded iPhone apps to teach them Haitian Creole, others had to rely on the broken English of the locals. Though there were frayed tempers and occasional frustrations thanks to the hundred degree heat, each participant did their part and pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits (and in some cases, past them) to get the job done -- sound like a couple of fictional brothers we know?

"Part of the reason that I wanted to start Random Acts is because I saw, in the 'Supernatural' fan community, so much creative energy that goes into being a fan," Collins explained towards the end of our trip. "And if people can channel some of that energy into doing things like this, then we can make, I think, maybe a little bit more of a positive, profound impact on the world."

Collins and his fans had been involved in Haiti's disaster relief effort from the outset, after the actor tweeted a link for his followers to make donations to UNICEF, and they proceeded to raise over $30,000 in the space of two days.

Misha Collins and a Haitian girl "That got me thinking that we could maybe do things on an ongoing basis and expand our efforts," Collins mused, "And so Lisa Walker [with a background in grant writing and program development] and I started Random Acts."

Following the creation of the charity (which is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit with tax-exempt status), two of Collins' friends, Philip Schneider and Lisa Rueff, went to Haiti to help provide materials and transportation to students to start a construction school, founded and financed by Jacmel-based NGO ACDI VOCA. The trip was funded by a portion of the $84,000 in donations that Collins raised by running 52 miles in one day, and the construction school's first class trained 40 teenagers and young adults, both male and female, who had been orphaned in the earthquake.

"They brought 1,600 tools down [in their suitcases] because ACDI VOCA was having difficulty purchasing the materials in Port Au Prince, and the port was clogged up with months of delays. They furnished an entire graduating class with the tools that they need to have a career, and were instrumental in helping to start the school, as well as starting work on a nearby dental clinic," Collins recalled.

During the course of that trip, Schneider and Rueff met Bonite Affriany, a native of Haiti who had spent 40 years living and working as a nurse in New York, before the plight of the Haitian people drove her back to her birthplace in 2001.

"Even for most of the time that I was in the US, I always had in my heart to feed some less fortunate kids, hungry kids who would go to school and come back home and have nothing waiting for them," Affriany admitted. "I always had the desire to help some of them. Not with my presence, I didn't think, but having somebody helping to do it, for them to have a hot meal at least once a day."

Bonite AffrianyAfter becoming a born-again Christian in 1997, the urge to return to help Haiti's poorest became too insistent for Affriany to ignore, and four years later, she and her daughter made the journey back to Jacmel to search for a house that could serve as a base for her feeding program. The properties all proved too small for their purposes, so they purchased a plot of land and began building the school and church that now provides hot lunches for 275 impoverished, homeless or orphaned children every day -- a school that has been in operation since 2004, but has seen its numbers swell since the 2010 earthquake.

Affriany's generous spirit proved to be the linchpin Random Acts didn't know they were looking for, and her vision for a self-sustaining children's center gave the organization a tangible goal to work towards.

Affriany will serve as manager of the orphanage and community center, which is being built on a plot of land purchased adjacent to her school. The 275 children she feeds often walk for hours for one hot meal, but Affriany admitted that it pains her to have to send them back to the streets and their tents at the end of the day.

Bonite Affriany's feeding program "I still have in my heart to have more, but we really don't have seats for them," she lamented when we sat down to discuss her vision for the community center. "When the 275 are there together, they are squeezing next to each other, their shoulders together, and they cannot budge really. People used to bring me babies, young children and I never had a place for them. And of course there are many people who don't have a place to live and if I could shelter a few, that would be nice. Right now some of the people in the tents, when it rains, they get wet. They get sick, and it's very, very miserable, the way they are living."

In addition to the children's center (which will allow her to house some of the orphans she has had to turn away), Affriany hopes to raise funds to begin building a small community of two-family homes and apartments, in order to help house those who are still displaced following the earthquake.

"Most people in Haiti, if you visit them, they don't have a bed," she pointed out. "Housing is the biggest problem for Haiti now. It's not that they are my responsibility, 100 percent, and they're not the responsibility of people in America or people who donate, but at least they would have a place to sleep. Even if they sleep the way they are sleeping now [on cots] but have a solid place to sleep, that would help."

Jacmel Children's Center from Philip Schneider on Vimeo.



It's easy to forget that even before the earthquake devastated the region, Haiti was considered by many to be "the poorest country in the Western hemisphere," ranked 145th of 168 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index. Poor sanitation, nutrition and infrastructure were further undermined by the quake, and though the Haiti is a resilient nation, many Haitians lack access to even the most basic comforts, such as clean drinking water, working plumbing and, for the 634,000 people still living in tent cities for lack of anywhere else to go, no solid roof over their heads.

To say that Haiti was a culture shock to our group was an understatement. Although we were fortunate enough to stay in a clean, secure hotel with working showers and safely prepared food, the threat of cholera and malaria hung heavy in our minds. We grew accustomed to brushing our teeth with bottled water and using hand sanitizer even after washing our hands. The smell of insect repellent became a constant, pungent companion, and in some cases, even SPF 50 lotion wasn't enough to diffuse the sun's rays.

Yet we only needed to look at the Haitian workers on the community center construction site to put things into perspective. We were given the task of transporting an intimidating pile of rocks from one end of the plot to the other in order to even out the ground so that it could be built upon (since the project's excavator was broken down), while the Haitian workers continued construction on the foundations and walls that had already been erected.

Random Acts team moving rocks

The eight men worked tirelessly in the blistering heat, either barefoot or in ill-fitting sandals, hauling cement and shoveling while we took water breaks every 15 minutes and retreated to the safety of the shade to stave off heat-stroke. The most poignant moment during the work effort came when the Random Acts staff returned from town with brand new work boots as a surprise gift for the crew, allowing them to protect their feet while traversing the hazardous construction site -- a simple convenience that Western workers might take for granted, but one that seemingly would never have crossed the crew's mind.

In addition to helping build the community center, the volunteers had an opportunity to meet Marlaine and Daniel Alix at the Faith and Love Orphanage, where construction on the aforementioned dental clinic was taking place. The couple currently houses 72 orphans, and our group took part in toy distribution, painting, cement mixing and shoveling to make ourselves useful to both the children and the workers during the building process.

The Art Creation Foundation for Children's PlayPerhaps the most affecting part of the trip was the time spent with the students of The Art Creation Foundation for Children, run by Georges Metellus. The children who study at the ACFC (from age six through to their late teens) had never attended school before being enrolled, nor did they have access to regular meals. Many of the children who study there are orphans and street children, while the few who are fortunate enough to have families still live in situations of extreme poverty.

From the moment the Random Acts team arrived, the children fearlessly descended on us, enthusiastically tugging us to a large table where they were sculpting clay birds to paper-maché. We were strangers, but they treated us like family, communicating with us in surprisingly practiced English that put our tentative French to shame.

Over the course of the week, as with all of the organizations we were funding, we visited the Art Foundation mosaicart foundation three or four times, venturing down to the beach to admire a stunning mosaic that the children had created, and watching a play that some of the older students put on for us and family members.

A young boy called Tony took it upon himself to befriend me and a fellow volunteer named Becky, and throughout the week he would constantly come to find us, leading us through the art center to proudly show off the amazing paintings he'd made, and critiquing our clay birds with a craftsman's eye. By the middle of the week, he was calling us his sisters. On our last day with the ACFC children, while visiting the mosaic on the beach, we were having trouble understanding a question that he didn't know the English for, so he led us over to his teacher to explain for him.

"He asks when you will come back," the man translated, and I promptly burst into tears, having to admit to Tony that I didn't know when we'd return. His resigned smile and the lack of judgment in his eyes only made matters worse. I wondered if we had made half the impact on his life in the space of a week that he had made on ours. (I think not.)

Becky, Tony and Laura"I love you," he told us without hesitation, hugging us both as if we were the ones in need of comfort, when he was the one who would be staying in a country where simply drinking the water could kill him. "You're my sisters."

It costs $150 to sponsor a Haitian child's education for a year, $300 if they attend a private school. Last week, I spent as much on one pair of shoes as it would cost to educate one of Bonite Affriany's children for 365 days.

When you think about how much the average American spends on Starbucks, McDonalds or impulse buying over the course of a year, it becomes hard to stomach the reality of the situation in Haiti, when $20 might as well be $100. I'm in no position to lecture or assign guilt, and as Affriany pointed out, it's not our responsibility to solve the rest of the world's problems. But if we intend to give, we should give sensibly, judiciously and directly to those in need, instead of to large, global aid agencies who may use our donations to fund (equally worthy, but unrelated) initiatives in other regions, or who may be delayed in providing the money because of red tape or regulations in their own country.

According to the Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti, donors pledged over $5.6 billion for recovery efforts in 2010 and 2011, while individuals and private companies gave at least an additional $3.10 billion in private donations to non-governmental organizations responding to the disaster. Of that money, approximately $1.69 billion in relief aid and $2.12 billion in recovery aid has been disbursed, leaving approximately $4.89 billion still to be paid.

Random Acts volunteers helping with constructionAs Affriany soberly pointed out when showing us the construction site for the first time, "What has been done? So much money was given -- where did that money go? Do nothing, or do something substantial."

"One of the most important things is having an infrastructure with people who are here whom we know we can trust and work with, because you can't just show up with a suitcase full of cash and expect to get anything done," Collins observed. "And there are a lot of people who do 'development work' who are basically just spreading a certain cultural and economic system and trying to replicate it in other places, and a lot of times it doesn't work. It doesn't apply in the same way, and in the first place, is that really something that you want to be sharing with the rest of the world?"

The actor recalled his very first trip to Haiti, 17 years ago, when he was imbued with the confidence of youth and believed that he instinctively knew how to fix the country's problems. "I stayed with a priest the first time I was here and I was saying, 'You really need some economic development here -- the infrastructure is terrible.' And he said, 'No, I think we need to go back to an agrarian economy and give everybody back the land.' And I, at the time, was 20 years old and I thought that he was insane, and we got into this huge fight. And then I went home and I had thought about that conversation over the course of the next several years and now I think I have completely come around to his perspective on it. Like, no, we really don't want to replicate a WalMart on every corner around the world. And it's something that's spreading like a virus around the world, and I don't know if it's stoppable, but it's certainly not something that I want to perpetuate."

Undoubtedly the hardest part of visiting Haiti was coming back. Many of the volunteers admitted that, almost a month later, they're still struggling with fitting back in to their former routines.

Jessica Meirs with Haitian orphans"I had a surprisingly difficult time returning to normal life," admitted Julie Yip. "When I see price tags on things, I convert them to what it would mean for a Haitian. I took my mom to get new glasses and was looking at frames, plastic frames, that were over $200. That could send a Haitian child to school for a year, with money left over. It's a lot harder to complain about small potholes in the roads when there are plenty of places in Haiti that don't have any pavement on their roads. Being able to just get a drink of water out of the tap is something that I've always taken for granted, but it's not something that the Haitians have."

"The trip demonstrated to me beyond doubt that we are capable of feats far beyond what we expect to be able to achieve, especially when we work together for a common goal," Cathy Hay observed. "It gave me a profound sense of connection to the human race and to the world we live in by connecting me with people and places with whom I might never otherwise have crossed paths. And it leaves me with questions to ponder for some time to come ... why do I feel so nostalgic for a place with such huge challenges and such a low standard of living, and what does that imply about the goals that we associate with happiness in the West?"

Nicole Edson shared, "It will definitely make me take a closer look at my priorities and how I spend money. I've never been particularly extravagant, but now I'm rethinking even the little things, because I know how far that money could go towards helping people in Haiti. I will be continuing to donate to the orphanages and organizations we worked with, and be encouraging my friends and family to do the same."

Of her experience with the children, Sarah Parsons (who stumbled across the fundraiser by chance on YouTube and was only an occasional 'Supernatural' watcher before the trip) revealed, "I was a little upset [to see the kids] at first. I wanted to pick them up, stick them in my bag and bring them home with me. But honestly, these kids are so happy, they love doing what they do and being where they are. This is not punishment to them."

Random Acts team with Bonite Affriany at construction site

Even Collins was struck by the way the Haitian people conduct themselves in comparison with the behavior of those in the West, though he arrived later in the week than the rest of the volunteers.

"These kids, and frankly the adults as well ... the people who live here have so little, yet they seem, from my vantage point, to be happier and better adjusted than most of the people I know back in Los Angeles," he said. "You can't really shake that. And to go home and start worrying about mortgage payments and all of these little material minutiae in our lives that make us act crazy ... the things that we think are so important, they're just so not important. It's a cautionary tale, when doing things like this. Frankly, I don't want to do anything to bring American culture or an American mindset to Haiti."

Though he doesn't want to bring American culture to Haiti, Collins is more than willing to bring a few more Americans (and anyone else that cares to join him) back to the country in the near future, to continue funding and supporting initiatives that will allow Haitians to stabilize their economy and forge their own path towards a more hopeful future. If you feel inclined to participate, or to donate to one of the orphanages or centers we visited, follow the links below.

Random Acts

Bonite Affriany: Jacmel Children's Center

Marlaine and Daniel Alix: Faith and Love Orphanage

Georges Metellus: Art Creation Foundation for Children


Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA

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TonyaP

Okay what I want to address is how stating that people in countries poorer than our own can be happier than we are is romanticizing poverty when the text book for my sociology class pointed out than many people in parts of the world that we would consider to be poor don't consider themselves to be as poor and downtrodden as we do. It really is a matter of perception and while life is indeed rather harsh for the children and people of Haiti that doesn't mean that they can't find a way to make a bad situation more bearable by being thankful for what they do have. If you have no parents or family to love you and you sleep on the street and walk miles to get one meal a day I bet you are pretty damn thankful for whoever it is helping to provide that one meal. If you are a parent and your family has lived in a tent since the earthquake and someone is helping to build a school and community center where your child can eat at least one healthy meal a day and get a chance at an education then you thank your lucky stars that they have even that much of a saving grace in their life. That my friends is the reality of being desperately poor only in America will you find people complaining about the amount of aid given them in times of hardship in other parts of the world ANY help at all is greatly appreciated because it could mean the difference between life and death. I don't see anyone browbeating church groups for making missionary trips to developing countries when I know of several local churches who have sent youth groups comprised of mostly teens to places like Haiti and you can't get much more unskilled than someone who hasn't even graduated high school, and yet these kids do help out and they do learn something. They learn how very lucky they are to have been born in a rich nation, and that except for the grace of God it could have been them who was born into extreme poverty, and that notion changes people it gives them a heart to give and to try and make the world a better place for all it's people not just the ones within our own boarders, so please explain to me how getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing first hand how much of the world really lives is a bad thing?

August 19 2011 at 9:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andrea Niessen

Thank you Jessica and HaitiLoveNow, your comments summarize a lot of what I am thinking as well.

HaitiLoveNow-I really like that you mentioned "camaraderie". In my opinion this is a very important part in this material world, which seems to be more and more forgotten. And it is really good seen in Jessica´s comment when she talks about our time with the kids. I still can´t see something bad in going over and spent my days off from the office and my money for an international trip on something I believe in, in going over trying to make this world a little little better in maybe making some kids smile (next to bringing money with us for giving them a home, food and education, not in the western hermisphere way, but in a way which is useful for this kids and which is decided by people who have much more knowledge about this than me). Sure - seeing them smile filled my heart, it filled it more than any roadtrip in the US or Canada did it before, so yes it is a gift to myself as well, it is my personal growth, but this is nothing which affects somebody or something in a bad way. Sure I am maybe unskilled, I am a Sales- and Marketingperson, I can´t build a house or I am not political mighty, but I can go over and make kids smile, I can come back and bring this smiles with me in my heart and report to other people around, I can infect other people with my enthusiasm and dedication and get them involved. I learned that getting people personal involved, building this bridge, helps to achieve a lot more. I guess I will be called romanticizing again now, but I think it is not the worst way to handle something with enthusiasm. And maybe Misha was the kick-off to finally really become activ, but I think this is not something bad as well. Yes I never went on such a trip before but I was thinkin about it before and I am planning to do it again, to help and to expand my horizont more and more and to try to make more kids smile, go on to support the inspiring people I met who work over there in Haiti and dedicate their lifes to the kids of Jacmel. This is my personal thing now because I was there, I met real people, which was much more activating for me then "only" raising or donating the money... You don´t really want to tell me, that it is better to stay at home and be unactiv instead of going over and trying to achieve something? Don´t forget that we went over NEXT to what you would call good aid. I KNOW that I can´t change the world, but is it better to sit at home not even trying to make it a bit better?

August 09 2011 at 10:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jessica Meirs

First off, I would like to say that I was one of the volunteers who went on this trip to Haiti. Thus far, I have kept my voice silent and simply read the comments, allowing people to say their opinions, despite the waves of anger and hurt many of the comments have caused. However, I decided now would be the time to put one of my many thoughts into writing.

First off, HaitiLoveNow, you couldn't have said it more eloquently. Thank you for your comment, especially the bit about how the "tourism" dollars from this trip benefited to the Jacmel economy. That point had largely been ignored.

But my main reason for commenting is this: For those who think bringing "unskilled" labor over to Haiti was a waste of effort, please do the following: go watch the movie Soul Surfer. I watched it tonight and one sequence in particular touched me. And please keep in mind that this was a true story. A little over half way thru the film, our leading lady takes it upon herself to visit Thailand with a group of people who, similar to us, simply wanted to help a country in crisis. They were not trained and they did not have any special knowledge. Bethany was even short an arm. The things they did would be considered "unskilled". They handed out food, they offered a smile. In one scene in particular, Bethany helps a traumatized boy smile again by playing with him in the ocean.

Now, I am not claiming to have fixed the traumatized children of Jacmel. But our group of volunteers did many of the same things they did in the film. We handed out food. We offered a smile. We played in the ocean. We were present in the aftermath of a crisis and our only purpose there was to help. If you can look at the impact that makes on people, at how sometimes holding the hand of a child has just as much, if not more impact than the writing of a check, and if you think we should not have wasted our time by going there, then I pity you. You will never know what it means to have a child who has no underwear and eats one meal a day grip you tight around the waist, smile beaming up at you and say "thank you". They did not thank us for the money we had raised. They thanked us for spending time with them, for playing with them and letting them know that there are faces to the people who care.

My hope is that I changed the lives of the children and people I met while there as much as they changed mine. And I do intend to return to Jacmel, bringing all of my "unskilled" smiles and hugs and games, with my "tourism" dollars to put into the Jacmel economy. At the end of the day, I believe that will make a bigger impact to the people than sitting at home and writing a check that is not even guaranteed to make it to Haiti. And that is why I volunteer.

August 08 2011 at 1:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
HaitiLoveNow

When does "poverty tourism" become tourism? Where's the line where it's okay to go visit a country without being branded a poverty voyeur? And what do you think gets us across that line in places that are designed for tourism...like Jacmel which used to be a tourist town and is striving to return to that status? A return to the commerce of tourism as fast as is safely and structurally possible.

Purposeful travel is here to stay, folks. People are recognizing there's more to life than mai tai's and laying on a beach. Spending time with others nationally or internationally that have asked for assistance or love has become a priority to many global citizens. Many times this is acted on during people's "vacation days". So why not combine the two. This helps the volunteers, helps tourism, and helps communities that have asked for a hand or even simply camaraderie. Why condemn travelers for acting on this?

Question: is it better to donate our time to causes in our own countries vs. going to others?

Really? You want to RANK how we donate our time. Which cause is more important? Which child's life is more valuable?

Okay, here we go...

Answer: (1) it's really a question of where we individually are inspired and feel we can make the most impact (2) more to the point, we are all one race, people, so get over your ethnic and cause prioritizing, and (3) ultimately, at the end of the day, it's none of your damn business where I choose to donate my time, talent and capital with what sweet little time is given to me on this earth. How we spend our time is the only choice we have in life...

Question: Would it have been better if they had donated their ticket price?
Answer: Have you considered how many "tourism" dollars this trip benefited to the Jacmel economy? Hotels, food, water, clothing, gift buys from local artisans....You would rather they donate the price of a plane ticket to Haiti vs. going down there and staying in local run hotels, eating at local restaurants, riding in local taxis, buying litres of water from roadside stores, buying dozens of local gifts? Really? Do the math, folks...clearly the numbers are in favor of tourism.

See this article that was published more than a month ago..for more details on the "impact"...http://jacmelchildren.org/haiti-purposeful-travel/

August 03 2011 at 1:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Pestilence Horseman

Stay golden.

August 02 2011 at 11:49 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Pestilence Horseman

Unlike many people, everyone on this trip made a conscious effort to do SOMETHING. By visiting, and doing what they could, at least made it look like they cared. It's better than twiddling their thumbs, and leaving pointless comments on an internet article.

August 02 2011 at 11:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Pestilence Horseman

Jesus. I literally want to punch ll of you in the face.

August 02 2011 at 11:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Andrea Niessen

I am thinking about all the comments a lot, as one of the volunteers who went over I am still trying to get the point in what I for my case could have done different.

1. I thought about this point that I only changed my own life with this trip not the life of people I met in Haiti. But even if I changed only my life, on this FIRST trip I made, I think this is how more starts...And I must say that I am convinced about the Butterfly effect.... everything you do has consequences and I didn´t found bad ones in this till now...

2. What´s with "Help local!" instead of goin into a foreign country. I met many people on the way who are workin local but are not able because of different reasons to go over in another country and help there. I think that it is important to go over, to get a direct connection, to build a bridge. It made me and people around me feel activated, wanting to achieve more and giving the most possible to make a change. Nothing bad in it or?

3. BIG ISSUE...this "I was just a fan who went over to do some kind of holiday with Misha..."
C´mon, whoever really thinks that should take a look on everything we did during the whole week. And for my case, I even haven´t met him before I started fundraising. Even more I was watching the show on german tv till last fall, where they just showed Season 3, so I only heard from him a few months before. Believe it or not, there were other reasons to go over and I think it is nothing bad when you feel a bit more comfortable in doing it like this if it is for the first time… Due to my first conventions I had met him as we went to Haiti, but other Volunteers never had and you could see on this trip that it was not their aim to go over to meet him... Because if we could have saved our days off and money to do more conventions and stuff right?

4. Talking about unskilled Labours...we knew for sure that we couldn´t go over and build a complete center in our week over there or that we don´t have skills to do different works over there, but we tried to support. We carried stones, shovel sand.... things which just supported the local workers but gave them now and then some time for a little break they usually not do. And we saw other ways how we could help while we were over there and took chances to do it. We didn´t cause bad things over there so where is your problem in us to be there even if we could not achieve as much as "skilled labours" would have done? Remember we paid everything ourselves...so sure there need to go others over as well, believe me I really don´t think that I could do wonders, but just for this, building a bride, spending time with the kids..I see nothing bad in it...

I decided to go on working for the kids in Haiti, I know that there are things I can organize from home as well, so as already said before, constructive critic is always welcome.
Andrea

July 25 2011 at 7:07 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Andrea Niessen's comment
martin632277

Andrea,

I can only write for myself and not everyone who criticized the trip, but I do agree with most of them.

1. No one thinks that the people who went to Haiti had malevolent intent. Unfortunately, good intentions do not make good aid.

2. Everyone who's been involved in humanitarian aid in any meaningful way knows that acting locally is best. It's not necessary to send 20 unskilled laborers to Haiti to "build a bridge" from rich countries to poor ones. This attitude is born out of rich donors' desires to have a meaningful experience with poverty tourism, not any need from the people the donors say they are trying to help. You spent hundreds of dollars on this trip, but that money was spent for your own benefit, not the benefit of Haitians. I hope that is clear to you. It's not "bad" to visit Haiti, but it's not the best way to use those resources to help the Haitians.

3. Would you have gone to Haiti if this trip did not involve Misha Collins? What other causes have you raised $5000 to go on an international trip for?

4. Your unskilled labor was basically useless to the Haitians. They would have been better off if you had sponsored a local laborer to do what you did. It would have cost less money than your airfare and would have given someone a job. It's not that you did something bad. It's that you are self congratulatory when you didn't do much good with your labor. The money you brought was very useful, I'm sure, but spending time with kids and building a bridge is not just not. If you would just admit that the trip was to provide an incentive and experience for you and not for the Haitians, a lot of people would feel more comfortable about this.

July 27 2011 at 4:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to martin632277's comment
richerdwest

I can't believe how many people are saying that we should ignore bad aid practices just because the people engaging in them have good intentions. Bad aid should be called out so other people don't repeat the mistakes of the fans in this article. That's not even going into how offensive this article's tone is.

July 22 2011 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
janeray100

I didn't see what was wrong with the article. Some of these comments were extraordinarily harsh. But hey, every opinion is valid, even if unpleasant.

It's valid to write about how "other" Haiti culture can seem to someone who's never been there before. This article mentions somethings that came up when the movie "SlumDog Millionaire" was doing so well. The director said he marveled at how much happier folks in Dubai were compared to "richer" societies. It was good to see a reminder of that. I felt enlightened by this article. :) So, I'm going to be happy.

July 21 2011 at 8:55 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to janeray100's comment
richerdwest

What does Slumdog Millionaire have to do with Dubai?

July 22 2011 at 12:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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