Anonymous Generosity (aka “He Who Must Not Be named”)

So, earlier in the week, when it was “looking” like something would happen but we didn’t know when it would happen, a friend of one of our adoptive parents made a phone call to one of her clients.

“Hi Ralph (not real name), I’ve got a favor to ask of you. I’ve got a friend who is in the process of adopting from Haiti and with everything that is going on in Haiti, it looks like she might get her daughter home sooner. The “problem” is that she might find out, with less than 24 hours notice, that she needs to get to Miami. Is there any chance that you’d let her fly down there on your plane?”

“Let me check on a few things, I’ll call you back.”

In less than 30 minutes, the call back came, “Tell your friend to talk to Ned at Northern Air and he will take care of anything that the parents need. It will not be my plane because I don’t want any publicity from it. It’s not about me, it’s about the kids and their parents. But it’s all paid for by me.”

To this day, outside of the people at Northern Air, I believe there are only two of us who know the identity of the donor who picked up the tab for the flight. 

I do know this, he and another local company that donated the use of one of their planes made a substantial difference for the families that got to use them. The ease of getting through security, the timing, the entire process was a whole lot less stressful because of them.

Thank you to Amway Corporation and to “He who must not be named” for your generosity and your willingness to play a part in bringing these kids home to their families.

The Trip Home–Part 1

I remember on that Tuesday afternoon and evening (1 week post quake)talking (via instant message) with Dixie that they were compiling all of the information that the government needed (they hoped) with the hope being able to get the paperwork on Wednesday and then begin the process of flying the kids out on Thursday.

A couple of memorable moments that stand out from that time period……

At 3:30 in the morning, I got an instant message from Dixie that made it obvious that they were all working yet. I went to bed early that night, I think I was in bed by 1:30.

By Wednesday night, we knew that the paperwork had been issued and that things were looking really good for a flight to Miami on Thursday. So a large part of Wednesday night was spent notifying adoptive parents that they had to be in Miami by Thursday afternoon. Those were fun phone calls to make!

One particular call that stands out as fun was to a single mom (you’ll read more of her story later). After a week of going nut waiting, her sister told her, turn off your computer, you’re coming with me and we’re going out for dinner and going to go shopping (for kids clothes). I finally got in touch with her when she was in the middle of Target. “Hey Jayne, where have you been?” “Out for dinner and shopping for clothes for my Elli who I hope…..” “Well, you better go home.” “Why?” “Because you need to start packing – you need to be in Miami at this time tomorrow!” HOLDS PHONE WAY BACK FROM EAR TO AVOID GOING DEAF AS SHE SCREAMED FOR JOY IN THE MIDDLE OF TARGET…….

Another phone call – it’s about 1:30 AM on Thursday and I had one more adoptive parent to call. “Hey Mark, it’s Tom Vanderwell.” “Huh… Oh, Tom, hey let me call you back in 60 seconds.” “Tom, it’s Mark, what’s up?” “Mark, I just got done talking to Northern Air and you and Julie need to be at their terminal tomorrow morning (actually later this morning) at 10:00 to fly out.” (The private plane part is another story.) “Really?” “Yes, Mark, are you awake enough to understand what I’m saying?” “Yeah, the wait is almost over and we’re going to go get our son!”

All over the United States, there were over 60 families who were having the same type of conversations. They were trying to figure out how to get to Miami in time, they were figuring out if they had enough clothes, diapers, jackets etc. Because many of them weren’t expecting their kid(s)to come home for a very long time.

HP is not just a Printer

In the middle of all of the death, destruction, suffering, chaos and confusion, there were people in high levels at the US government, the Haitian government and the Canadian government that were working on another problem/challenge.

They were working on this thing called, “Humanitarian Parole.” What does that mean? Essentially it means that the governments agree that if an adoption is already in process, then the child in question would be allowed to go home to their adoptive parents and finish the paperwork from there. Essentially, it was a way to get these kids out of Haiti, out of stressful situations and free up resources so that other children can be taken care of.

From January 13 on, there were people looking into this, talking about this, trying to make this happen and pushing people they know and people they don’t know to do the best possible to get this to happen. A large part of what tied up my blur of each and every day during that time was communicating with the adoptive parents and other concerned parties and trying to make sure that everyone was on the same page in terms of what was happening, what information was needed and how it was looking. It wasn’t uncommon that I’d get calls from the same parents 2 or 3 times a day. I don’t blame them. Their child(ren) were stuck in what was without a doubt one of this century’s deadliest natural disasters.

A Front Row Seat to God At Work

I want to tell you a little bit about Mike. I don’t even know Mike’s last name (though I have heard it before) but Mike has played an important role at GLA. How so?

There were a number of years where GLA needed and hired security to ride with on airport runs. The atmosphere was such that there was concern about the safety in between the airport and the orphanage. Mike was a friend of the Bickel family and he ran a security company that provided that security. Let’s just say that I felt a lot more secure with Mike or one of his staff riding shotgun.

At the time of the earthquake, Mike and his wife and daughter were living at the Hotel Montana. Mike was working with the US Embassy providing security, training, advising and coordination. He was at work when the earthquake happened. He was not able to find out what happened to his wife or daughter for over 2 days.

It was known already on Tuesday night that the Hotel Montana (which was actually more like an apartment complex) was devastated by the earthquake. Many foreigners lives there and many of them died there. So, on Tuesday night, Mike already knew that the Hotel Montana had been devastated by the quake. But he did not know what happened to his wife and daughter in the quake. He was not able to find them for two days.

Can you imagine not knowing for 2 days what happened to your family? And still doing your job because you knew that others lives depended on you? That’s the kind of dedication I admire and respect very deeply.

As it turns out, Mike’s wife and daughter were safe. They were able to get out of the country and returned to Miami where it was a lot safer for them to live while the “dust” settled. While they were in Miami, Mike was working and staying at the US Embassy. When I say staying, he was working 18 to 20 hours a day and sleeping on a blanket on a cement floor inside the Embassy. Truly putting the needs of others, the needs of the children at God’s Littlest Angels and those injured and homeless above his own comfort and even his own needs.

While this was going on, I was talking to Laurie Bickel (Dixie’s daughter). She’s been a friend of Mike’s since high school and I asked her if Mike needed anything – was there anything that our supporters and our adoptive families could do to help him and show him a little of how grateful we are for what he is doing and has done? She said she’d talk to him and find out.

The next day, she came back and said, “Hey Tom, I talked to Mike and he said that all he needs is a laptop. He lost his in the collapse of the Hotel Montana and he uses it a lot to advise the Haitian police, to manage intelligence reports, to track trouble and clear routes and it is really hard for him to do his job without his own computer.” “I’m on it.”

So, I sat down and spent about 30 minutes writing out the story. I hit “submit” and posted it on the blog and then I sat back and waited.

20 minutes later, I got an e-mail from a lady in Florida – “Tom, I’ve got Mike’s computer, let me know the specs he wants and where to get it.”

20 minutes and someone heard Mike’s story, realized what he was giving up to help those who are less fortunate and the need was met.

That’s what I call a Front Row seat at watching God at work.

30,000 Ft. Questions–Part 4–Is Sean Penn a Rock star or a “Rock Star?”

How did the NGO’s(non-governmental organizations) do in disaster relief – both in the short term and in the long term? That’s a hard question to answer. There were many organizations and many people who did a phenomenal job at making a difference in very difficult situations. Not just very difficult situations, but in downright horrific situations.

But, unfortunately, there was a lot of money wasted, a lot of money that was donated that never came in and actually did anything. Many of the governments that promised aid had a requirement that it be spent with organizations from that country. So, you had countries who were “donating” the money and then it was creating jobs and benefiting companies in that country. Did they still make a difference? Absolutely. But did it make a difference as much as it could? I think the answer to that question isn’t nearly as positive.

Is Sean Penn a rock star or a “rock star?” What do I mean by that question? Was Sean Penn involved in Haiti to make himself feel good and/or to look good? Or was Sean Penn involved in Haiti because he truly feels that he wants to make a difference and is in it for the long haul? The closest I’ve come to actually meeting Sean is when he went through the VIP line and boarded the same plane I was getting on coming home in February of 2011.

From everything I’ve heard, Sean and his organization, JPHRO, are taking the time to do things right, to empower the local Haitians, to work with other organizations and do more than just put bandaids on things. I heard (not verified) that for the first 9 months, Sean slept on a cot in a big tent with all of their volunteer workers. So, I’d say he is a rock star in the sense of being someone who is devoted to doing it, doing it right and doing it the way that benefits the Haitians most.