Thursday, February 25, 2010

An interview on the eve of our trip

The following was done as part of an email interview for the BV. Jerry Godbout (JG), Rob Ryer (RR), and Jim Mahar (JM) were asked six questions.

1) I was told that you are going to Haiti to help out but the school has nothing to do with it, why didn't the school want to be involved?

JG: I'll leave this one for Jim Mahar to answer, but I will say that I hope this question gets posed to SBU administration.

JM: Let me start by saying that Haiti is a risky place. Haiti was poor and poorly run before the earthquake. Now conditions are worse. The University is worried about the risks of such a trip. Indeed I am too. The day I stop being worried is when I should quit doing this. I teach finance and a core part of what we do is risk management. Risk management is not necessarily risk minimization. It is deciding when risks are worth taking.

Everything carries risk. Whether it is walking across a busy street, driving down an icy road, or getting up for class in the morning. What we do carries more risk. To help people, some risks have to be assumed. Gutting houses after floods, cutting trees after ice storms, salvaging personal belongings after a tornado, or even working in poor sections of cities all carry some risks. We each have to consider these risks and the benefits we can bring to the situation.

Indeed, we did not go to Haiti after their floods in 2008-2009 because the risk/reward relationship was not slanted heavily enough in our favor to go. Now the needs are so great that we can provide exponentially more so we are going. The university, which by design must be more risk averse, is concerned with that part of the equation.

It should be noted that like looking both ways before crossing a street, we are taking many precautions. We will be sleeping outside, we will have safety gear, we have all had many shots, vaccines, and are on anti-malarial medications, we are staying with a well established group (HODR) and we will be careful to not put ourselves in risky situations.

And in the weeks that have followed the earthquake, I have spoken and emailed with scores of volunteers in Haiti and every one has been of the opinion that risks seen from a far are greater than that on the ground. Indeed, my brother Pat commented that the most scared he was on the entire trip was when sitting in the Denver Airport getting ready to go.

It is for these reasons while I feel the risks are manageable.

RR: I have the ability, and desire, to help those, who need help....why wouldn't I help?

2) Since the school did not back you on your plans to help out, what made you still want to do this trip on your own time?

JM: I can only speak for myself, but there was never a real question I was going. We all have to make our own decisions and all have diiffernet abilities and demands on our time, money, and resources, but for me, I knew from day one I had to go. I have the experience, the ability, and know-how to do this. Indeed, all of our group does. We can and will make a positive difference. I have absolutely zero doubt in that regard. It is the right thing to do. I do not think I could ever look myself in the mirror if I did not go.

And I really do want to stress that going to Haiti is not for everyone. I read, and agreed with parts of the US State Dept travel advisory that the administration forwarded to us. But the difference is that that was written for those who do not take precautions, who do not know who to help after a disaster. We have now responded to floods, fires, hurricanes, ice storms, and tornadoes. We will not be a draw on the local community. We will not be a nuisance nor in the way.

Just for an example, suppose the university had sanctioned this trip, I can only think of a few handfuls of others that I would be willing to take on this first trip. It is not the time or the place for a group of 286 volunteers at once (like 6 month after Katrina). I do think however that it is the time and the place for us.

3) When exactly do you plan on going to Haiti and what do you plan on doing there?

JG: We are leaving for Haiti on Friday, 26 February and expect to arrive in Haiti on Saturday, 27 February. We will leave Haiti on Saturday, 6 March.

4) Is there any specific goal you have to accomplish while YOU'RE there?

JG: Only to help as much as we can for the short time we are there.

JM: I agree with previous answer but for me, I have much more planned too. This is a long term recovery and rebuilding project. One of my goals (in addition to helping with the immediate needs), is to forge relationships that will be beneficial in the future. For instance, I have some people who are skilled solar power engineers and water purification experts who want to go with us on a future trip. Sure they can come and remove debris, but their skills are better used in other ways. I consider it my job to make sure those potential volunteers get to use their skill set to help Haitians. I want to meet people who need these services and find places to stay on future trips.

Additionally I want to be sure the donations we are gathering (tents, crutches) are being distributed as needed.

5) Is there any possibility of you being able to convince BonaResponds to accompany you on the trip?

JG: It is not a case of BonaResponds not wanting to go. Everyone going on this trip is an active member of BonaResponds and have been on several disaster response trips. BonaResponds is not going on this trip because BonaResponds is an official university group, and the university has not sanctioned this trip. Stated another way - "BonaResponds" is not going on this trip because "BonaResponds" was not allowed to go. The fact that everyone going on this trip is an active member of BonaResponds is merely a coincidence.

JM: no comment on this one...the above answer is very good

6) Are you going alone or do you have some other friends who wish to help out as well in Haiti?

JG: We (the six of us) are going as a group. We will be working with HandsOn Disaster Response, an organization with which BonaResponds and several SBU individuals have previously worked.

JM: I will also say that in way we are going with many many others. We are early volunteers in what will be a long term volunteer response. Like those who have gone before us to help, we will be watched closely. Thus, by being fortunate enough to go now, Jerry, Steve, Phil, Rob, TJ, and I gain the responsibility of being role models.

Like every early volunteer who has been working so diligently in Haiti to keep people from starving to death, we will be watched by those at home and at other schools, churches, and groups around the world. They will watch to see if we return home safely. They will listen to our stories to discover what they can do to help.

And while some will no doubt want us to fail, the much greater majority will be cheering silently that things work, that after the horrible earthquake, Haiti can not only come back, but come back better than before.

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