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I was in the Dominican Republic helping AmeriCares relief efforts for Haitian earthquake survivors for over three weeks, providing logistical support for our shipments of medicines and medical supplies to our team in Haiti. With the airport in Port-au-Prince jammed with air traffic and their seaport damaged by the earthquake, the fastest way for many aid groups to send supplies has been via the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the small island of Hispaniola and have a long history of tension. However, amidst this terrible tragedy I witnessed the Dominican people open their hearts and help their neighbors in Haiti affected by the earthquake.
The Dominican government and its people have offered Haiti support and structure, and its weakened neighbor has accepted it with gratitude and collaboration. I witnessed this support in action through the generosity extended to us by AmeriCares long standing partner, the Dominican Association of the Order of Malta – a faith-based volunteer service organization.
I travelled on my own to Santo Domingo, but once I met up with our partners I never felt alone. The Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta immediately offered me their hospitality and support to help AmeriCares move product quickly and effectively to reach people in desperate need.
With the Order of Malta, we had advocates help us cut through red tape, as well as speed up customs clearance and transport. Their help has been invaluable – enabling AmeriCares urgently needed medicines to be trucked safely and quickly to our team in Haiti. I often wondered how high my blood pressure would be were not for their selfless support of our efforts!
Though experiencing several logistical successes, I quickly came to realize the humanitarian relief business requires infinite flexibility, good humor – and a big dose of patience for “hurry up and wait.” I had to accept that no matter how well I plan – something unexpected will happen. One recent air shipment arrived at the Malta warehouse late on a Thursday afternoon. While we would have preferred to truck it directly to Haiti, we learned of a new requirement to cross the Haitian border – a document with an original customs stamp. Tom, another AmeriCares relief worker, and I spent a full day and endless phone calls trying to find that elusive document so our truck could cross the border without difficulty.
On Friday afternoon, with many thanks to friends at the Order of Malta, we finally located the document and confirmed that the truck could be loaded and dispatched immediately. It was 4:30 p.m. and the warehouse closed at 5:00! The warehouse employees stayed well past closing time to load the truck even though they worked long hours all week. And they did so gladly – not a single person complained as they loaded the humanitarian aid for Haiti. From all walks of life, the people of the Dominican Republic have amazed me as they have risen to the occasion time and time again. Each of them willing to sacrifice their time to help their Haitian neighbors in need.
At 3:30 a.m., I received a call from Juan, the cheerful driver of the truck carrying AmeriCares medicines from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince. He had reached the border and was preparing to join the U.N. convoy crossing into Haiti at 6am. I didn’t sleep much awaiting the highly anticipated 8:00 a.m. text message confirming that the AmeriCares field staff had received all 1,166 cases of critically needed resupply to our warehouse in Port-au-Prince. Tom and I high-fived our logistical win, laughing at the “what if’s” I had replayed countless times in my mind (what if the document wasn’t clear enough, what if they stop him anyway, what if…) and immediately began discussing our strategy for the next load. A fellow aid worker said to me, “The more I try to plan these things, the more things change minute to minute, messing up my plans.” Like I said, you’ve got to maintain a sense of humor in this business.