Time – of Coups and Careers

February 29, 2004 – a date that altered Haitian History.   And ours.

It is the day that a coup was staged in Haiti and the government was overthrown.

It was a big rock thrown in the pond and the ripples went out and out and out from it.  Little did we know the ramifications of that coup at that point.

I’ve got a good bit of storytelling planned about the coup and shortly after that – so I’m not going to get into great detail, but let me lay out a few important facts:
• My two youngest children, whose adoptions were still in process, we’re living in a country that just had its government overthrown by a coup.
• For 6 to 7 weeks, we knew they were safe, but we didn’t know whether their paperwork was still safe and whether the adoption would proceed or if we’d have to start over.
• Originally we were told to expect that our adoptions would be finished in either March or April – possibly into the first part of May. Our plan, at that point, was that our three older girls would stay with Grandparents and we’d go down and get them. After all, the older girls were in school.
• Since the adoptions were delayed, travel dates got pushed back and we weren’t traveling until June. The girls were done with school.

So we took them with us. And they helped with the older kids at the orphanage while we spent time with our two youngest.

Can you imagine helping 53 kids brush their teeth every morning?

Now jump forward with me a few years. We’re in the van (a 7 passenger since, well, you do the math) and we’re coming home on a Friday night after having gone out to eat. Up pops a voice from the back seat……

“I know what I want to do……”

“What?” (Thinking – go to a friend’s house, watch a movie, make ice cream sundaes……)

“I want to go to school and become a nurse and go back to Haiti and help the kids.”

Gulp. Swallow hard and try not to get too choked up.

“That sounds like an awesome plan and I know you can do it.”

In April, that daughter graduated from Grand Valley State University with her Doctorate in Nursing Practice degree. In August, she will be going back to Haiti for her umpteenth time (I’ve lost count) to work with kids who need medical care.

In August, she will also be leaving her position as an RN in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where she has been for I believe 4 or 5 years and starting to work as a DNP in a large pediatric office on the other side of town.

Now you tell me……

Did the delay in paperwork –
Because of the coup –
Which made it possible for our girls to come to Haiti that first time-
Have an impact on Dr. V’s career plans?

I like to think that when she walked across the stage to become the latest Dr. Vanderwell, God (and the other Dr. Vanderwell) were looking down and smiling and God said to Grandpa, “See, my plan all came together. Now just wait and see what I’ve got planned next…….”

TJV

Time – What Time Is It?

I can’t speak for other countries, but Americans are obessed with time.

What time is it?

How long does it take to get there?

How long is it going to take?

Buy this latest calendar/planner – it’s guaranteed to change your life and make you a multi-millionaire!

(Sarcasm alert)

Let me tell you two stories that changed my view of time. (Second one will come in Part 2).

In 2003, we were in the process of adopting and getting all of the paperwork pulled together. As part of that, we had to get certain documents “notarized” and then “authenticated” by the Haitian embassy. Given as how we weren’t too excited to send important documents by mail, we decided to schedule an appt and take the day off, drive to Chicago, get them authenticated and be back home by supper time.

The night before, I was reviewing the paperwork one last time and realized we had to get one document stamped with the seal of the State of Michigan before the Haitian embassy could authenticate it all. Suddenly our trip got longer – we had to go an hour east before we could go down to Chicago. But we figured out that if we were there, in Lansing Michigan, by the time the office opened, we could still make our appointment on time. If all went well.

If. Two small letters, one big word.

We left home early enough to make it to Lansing on time. In and out, like clock work. Headed straight to Chicago – well, as straight as we could. Traffic was good, all was on time. It was going to be close but all was looking good.

And suddenly, it all changed.

Red lights up ahead.

Almost there – we could see the building. And we’d make it on time!

If the red lights up ahead didn’t block the entire road. It was 4 lanes – give us one or two lanes open, please?

If only. If only the accident had happened a little way down the road. But it didn’t.

And we waited and waited.

And missed our appt. by 20 minutes. “I’m sorry, Mr. ________ left for lunch.” “Okay, can we come back after lunch? We’re sorry we missed our appt. It was because of a car accident.”

So we went and got lunch and came back about 1:30. “Have a seat, they should be back soon.”

And we waited.

And we waited.

And we waited.

Finally, four hours after they left for lunch, they returned. Very friendly, very welcoming, very quick to get things done and we were on our way.

It was our first introduction to Haitian time.

Time where relationships are more important than schedules.

A time that doesn’t worry about technicalities – like how long lunch is.

Over the years, we’ve heard other stories from friends about Haitian time. It was our first exposure to a different way of looking at time.

It also was our first exposure to really truly realizing that when we were entering into international adoption, we were entering into a different culture as well.

In many ways.

What time is it? Yeah, whatever……

Tom

My Dad was a Wise Guy

Many of you know my dad.  Some of you don’t.

He passed away on March 23 of this year after a 15 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Ironically, it was side effects of the treatments that brought him to glory, not the cancer itself. The fact that he had cancer 4 times was a lot of chemo and radiation……

My dad was a Christian Reformed minister. But he was also a teacher, counselor, friend, author, mentor and many other things. He was a wise man.

Okay, and sometimes he was a wise guy too. He had a sense of mischief and a sense of humor that kept all of us on our toes. I could tell you stories for a long time, but that’s not for now – maybe later.

You know how every child goes through the stages of thinking about their parents? First, their father knows everything. Then as they get to be teenagers, they think that their Dad knows nothing. Finally, when they grow up, they realize that yeah, guess what, Dad was pretty smart?

There’s another stage beyond that. Not everyone has a good enough relationship with their dad to get to this stage. It’s the stage when, you’re an adult, and as you are discussing things, often deep things, tough things, important things, your dad admits something to you. “I don’t know.”

Yep, my Dad didn’t know everything. He knew a lot. He made a lot of people’s lives a lot better. I love him dearly, I miss him dearly and I’m grateful for the role he has played in my life and the lives of my family members. I’m also grateful that he was free to admit he didn’t know everything. Why?

When you admit you don’t know everything and encourage discussions with others, you are all better off. You might learn from him or from her.

When you admit you don’t know everything you are providing others with the opportunity to share their opinions. That shows them respect and value and we need more of that in the world.

When you admit you don’t know everything, the person you are talking with is encouraged to discuss and search for truth while feeling important. There is so little of that trust and respect these days.

Admit you don’t know everything. Not only everything about EVERYTHING, but also admit that you probably aren’t the one who knows the most about the subject you’re talking about.

Admit it but keep talking.

And listening.

Really listening. Listening to learn.

You might be surprised what will happen.

Tom

Imagine This…..

You live in a very poor “neighborhood” in a very poor country.

If you’re doing well, you make $3 a day selling things at the market.   What kind of things?   Pretty much anything you can think of –food, art, you name it.

You barely have enough money to feed your family and to have a 10 x 12 shack to live in.

You are fortunate enough to have been able to save up some money and buy a “moto” for you to get to the market.   But it’s hard to fit all of your family on a “moto.”  

The trip from your shack to the market usually uses a gallon of gas per day.  Between traffic, hills and poorly running engines, that’s a reasonable estimate.

And then, the government announces yesterday that they are raising the cost of gas (no longer subsidizing it) by $1.25 per gallon.   Suddenly another 40% of your income goes to buying gas so you can go to the market and try to sell the art and jewelry and stuff you’ve made.

So, which meals do you skip?   Lunch?  Nope, can’t skip that one- because you already are.   You and your family are already used to living on two meals a day.   That leaves a total of 14 meals left in a week.   You could barely make enough for that – and now your costs are going up. 

So, do you skip 5 meals a week?

Do you skip two days at the market?  That’s going to hurt your income even more.

Ugh, this is not fair.   Why does the government do this to me?

I don’t know how I’m going to feed my children.   I don’t know what to do!

That is why people in Haiti are rioting this weekend.   They were hanging on to life literally on the edge and suddenly their costs are going up substantially – and they don’t have the ability to absorb that increase.

As Martin Luther King said it:

“A Riot it the Language of the Unheard.”

Right now, literally as I’m writing this I’m talking to friends in Haiti who are saying this is some of the worst rioting they have ever seen and they are being told (I don’t know by whom) to expect it will be worse on Monday.

Please join me and pray for peace in Haiti.   Pray for protection – for all lives, but especially for the lives of children and those who care for them.

There are many people in Haiti who have reached the end of their proverbial rope and feel like this is the only way they can be heard.   Pray that God would open up other ways to resolve this.

Thanks for praying,

Tom

P.S. There is hope that a rainstorm that is predicted for Tuesday will help cool people down and reduce the rioting.   Tuesday is a long ways away.   Oh and that rain storm – might actually come in the form of a hurricane.

Which brings the potential for a whole additional set of problems – flooding, crop damage, house damage, job loss, sickness, and the list goes on.

As a friend of mine told me about an hour ago,  #lovinghaitiisexhausting

Twitter and the Earthquake in Haiti

(This was originally written for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media blog when I was on the External Advisory Committee there.)
(This was originally written in 2011 – before certain political figures and television “former” stars gave Twitter a bit of a black eye so to speak).

Many people think that the only thing Twitter is good for is telling people what you had for dinner and what coffee shop you are at.

Wrong.

Let me tell you a story about how Twitter worked to help the orphans in Haiti……

Prior to January 12, 2010, I used Twitter for a couple of main reasons:

  • To interact with real estate and mortgage people all over the country.   It is a great way to keep up with people all over the country, talk to them about what’s happening and to not feel so “alone.”
  • To keep up the news and the markets.   In the mortgage world, it was and is very important to keep on top of what is happening in the markets, the economic reports, the direction of the interest rate market and things like that.

So, I had found a number of the main news sources and was following them.    Places like the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, the Washington Post, CNBC, the Today Show, Ann Curry, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Al Roker, Barry Ritholtz and a bunch more were all on my “follow” list.   I also followed all of the local TV stations and newspapers and their reporters.   I created a separate list in TweetDeck (my favorite and almost only twitter app) that shows only what they are saying.

Now keep in mind, the orphanage that my wife and I adopted our two youngest children from is about 15 miles outside of Port Au Prince Haiti.

Well, I’m sitting at my computer at 5:07 pm on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 and Tweetdeck pops up one of those boxes in the upper corner of my screen showing one of the new tweets that just came in.    It was a tweet that changed my life forever.

“Major 7.5 Earthquake hits Port Au Prince Haiti” and then a link to their article.    I clicked on it, read the article with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.    This was bad.   Devastatingly bad.

Within 10 minutes, I had reached our Adoption Coordinator via instant messenger (located in Colorado) and she was on a cell phone with John B (the orphanage director’s husband).    So about 25 minutes after the earthquake, I had confirmed news that our orphanage had survived and that we had experienced no casualties at the orphanage (though we didn’t know the status of our staff who weren’t on duty at that point.)

And then the phone calls started coming.   Being an adoptive parent and a board member, many families who were in process of adopting knew me and my family and started calling us and asking us what we knew about what was going on with the earthquake.   I’m so glad that I was able to reassure them that their child was safe within 25 minutes of the earthquake.

From 5:15 PM on Tuesday until 4:00 AM Wednesday morning, I spent virtually the entire time glued to the computer and the phone.   I was scouring all of the major news websites but I soon learned that I was able to find out more news of what was really happening in Haiti and with the earthquake on Twitter than I was anywhere else.    So, I’m searching Twitter using terms like #Haiti and #PAP and #Earthquake and getting live reports from people on the ground in Haiti.    I was then able to pass that information on to our supporters and adoptive parents.   Using Twitter to keep on breaking news from the “front lines” is a great benefit.

But that wasn’t the most powerful way that Twitter changed the lives of orphans in Haiti on January 12, 2010.    The most important aspect of Twitter that made a difference that day is Twitter’s ability to be the great equalizer.   I’ve had interactions with people on Twitter who I never would have had the opportunity to if it weren’t for Twitter.   News reporters, CNBC guest commentators, PGA golfers and others are all on “that” list of people who I’ve tweeted with that I never would have otherwise.    But probably the most popular one is Ann Curry from the Today Show.

About 8:30 or so that night, Ann Curry posted on Twitter, “Trying to get in touch with anyone in Port Au Prince Haiti who speaks English – need an interview.”    I chimed in, “I’m “talking” with our orphanage there – they all speak English.”

We went back and forth a bit trying to connect.   At the same time, I was IM’ng with our staff in Colorado and they were talking/texting with our staff in Haiti (when they could get through.)    Then I got a message from Ann – “How do we get in touch with them?”    Shortly after that, I got an e e-mail that said:

Tom Vanderwell, Ann Curry is following you  on Twitter

I haven’t framed it yet, but I think I’m going to.

It was then that I had to step away from the computer for a minute because the power of Twitter just kind of hit me.    Here was this mortgage lender from West Michigan talking to one of the anchors of the Today Show in the middle of the first night of an international disaster.

All because of two things:

  • The power of Twitter to be the great equalizer – More of the “high profile” people are accessible than they have ever been.
  • The willingness to speak up.   Twitter is most powerful when you aren’t a Twitter “Stalker” (always listens but never says anything) but also aren’t a “Twitter Hog” (someone who clutters up the space with very little of importance.)

Back to the story – Ann and I exchanged a few more DMs and she got the contact info that they needed down in Haiti.    About 30 minutes later, I got a Facebook message from the orphanage director’s daughter (working on her laptop outside the orphanage where she could still get a signal – they didn’t know if it was safe to go inside).     The Facebook message said that Dixie was talking to a producer from NBC.

What was the end result of the Twitter conversations that I had with Ann Curry?

The Today Show started the Wednesday morning broadcast (the day after) with an interview with the orphanage director.  Because of Twitter, Ann Curry’s willingness to be accessible and my willingness to speak up, the orphans in Haiti, especially the ones at “my” orphanage got a lot more publicity than they would have otherwise.    And that additional publicity led to additional support at a time when we really needed it.

My recommendations are:

  • Set up Twitter to develop a list/group (depending on what app you use) for the news people that would impact your life and your work.
  • Don’t be afraid to interact with those people and places – not as a spammer or trying to sell something but as someone who cares about their community and has something useful to add.

You’ll be amazed at how powerful Twitter can be.

TJV