Why?

Why Do I Write?

I was talking to someone a few weeks ago and she asked me a question, “What do you write about? Or actually, I mean, ‘why do you write?'”

“How much time do you have? That’s a very involved answer.”

Looks at watch, “I’ve got about 20 minutes.”

“Okay, I’ll give you the short answer…..”

I write because ever since I was just in grade school and didn’t even have 2 digits in my age, I’ve always loved the written word.

I have memories of going to the library after school was out for summer and I had to limit it to 20 books at a time. These books took me everywhere. From the Wild West to outer space to wars to……..

I write because writing can move and impact the heart, the mind and the soul:

-of the reader

-of the writer

-of the listener if it is read in a performance.

I read the entire 7 book Harry Potter series to my kids when they were too young to read it themselves. They weren’t really sure they wanted to – but they changed their minds by page 2 of book 1.

I can remember when my high school English teacher read “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe – in the dark.

Am I claiming that I’m in the same league as those authors?

Not a chance in the world.But between my life as a preacher’s kid, a banker, an orphanage communications liaison, adoptive dad and other interesting turns in life, I’ve got a story to tell.

And it’s going to be interesting.

Stay tuned!

TV

The Jamaican Water Truck Lady

The Jamaican Water Truck Lady

I wish I had had a chance to talk to her more, but I didn’t. You remember that Saturday night where things were kind of crazy at my house? There were people bringing stuff for my wife to take to Haiti (she flew out at 6:00 Sunday morning). One of my kids (who was already a relative veteran at flying to Haiti) came home from college to help Mom pack. Phone was ringing off the hook, lots of details, lots of people wanting to know…. wanting to know anything.

And the phone kept ringing and I was using the voice mail to screen the ones that needed attention now and keeping a list to get to eventually. And the lists kept getting longer – the “adoptive parent” list, the “been there want to help list” and then the “who knows” list.

To add to the chaos, the orphanage director was going to be on Larry King Live that night. So everyone was making sure they could record it and when it came on, we all stopped and watched and listened. We heard stories from other people in Haiti, we heard stories about “our kids.” We heard a rational and logical assessment of the needs and the orphanage director said, “Larry, I worry about water. If they can’t get another water truck up the mountain by Monday morning, we aren’t going to have enough to keep the kids healthy.” Ouch

Their part of the show was done and we all got busy again. My youngest two (adopted from Haiti when they were really little) were feeling a lot of anxiety and wondering about their birth families. So, I decided to take some time and provide some calm in their rooms before they went to sleep.

And then it happened. A phone call where the caller ID had too many digits. Sent it to voice mail. Repeat process 3 more times in the next 10 minutes. So finally I said to my kids, “I have to answer this, it might be someone who wants to help. I stepped out of their rooms and answered the phone.

“Hello, you are with orphanage?” (Said in English with a Haitian/Jamaican accent)

“Yes I am.” “Oh good, I want to help you.” She then told me part of an amazing story. She grew up in Haiti, not only in Haiti but just a small amount up the mountains from where the orphanage is and she is very familiar with that area.

“Your boss lady, she says you need water?” “Yes we do, it’s Saturday night and even skipping the Saturday evening bath routine, we will run out on Monday.” “Yeah, I know that, I watch Larry King too!” Chuckles

“Give me your address. My brother lives near there and he has water trucks. I will get you water, tomorrow, yes?”

“That would be great!” “Hang on a minute,” I ran downstairs and handed my phone to my daughter, “Hey Kristin, this lady is from Jamaica and is going to get the orphanage water, can you give her directions?” “Sure!”

She steps out where it is quieter and about 5 minutes later, she came back in and said, “That was simple – she knew the town square in Petionville and I got her directions to where we turn off the main road. Then I told her to tell the driver to roll down the window and ask where “Madam John’s house” was.”

Did she give you any names or anything? “Nope,” she said, “it’s not about me, it’s about your kids.” We then resumed some semblance of life and packing and disaster relief and wondered if what we had heard and talked to was real or was a prank or what……

Sunday, my wife is traveling so I kept my phone on and with me while at church. I’ll tell you more about Sunday morning later.

Sunday night, some of us were too strung out from only a few hours of sleep, but me and one of my girls were at church. Normally, if my phone buzzes while in church, I will ignore it. I didn’t that night.

About, I don’t know, maybe 15 minutes into church, my phone buzzed. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. A simple message on it that rocked my world.

“Water is here.”

At my current church, I think I would have interrupted church to tell the story, but I didn’t do it at our former church.

Water is here, music to many ears.

God is good.

TV

How Do You Go On?

How Do You Go On?

Two days after the earthquake, the entire board of the orphanage got together by phone to discuss the question that no one likes to ask……

How do you go on? How do you go on when you’ve never been this way before?

How do you go on when you don’t even know what questions to ask?

How do you go on when you don’t know what you can rely on?

How do go on when everyone is struggling with grief and loss. I can’t verify that it’s true but I’ve been told that everyone in the Port Au Prince area either loss a family member or friend or they are close friends with someone who lost a family member or close friend.

How do you go on? I don’t know how we did. Those of us in Canada and the US who were on the board had the easy part. We had more busy, more planning, more worry, more phone calls, more anxious parents. We didn’t have to worry about running out of water, about whether the roof is going to cave in, about whether our co-worker who isn’t scheduled to work for 2 more days yet will show up or not. We knew our government was still there, that there were rescue teams attempting to rescue and recover the missing. Our people in Haiti didn’t know that.

But the urgency of the situation in Haiti translated to urgency here in the first world. We decided to send an emergency medical team and to set a goal that the whole team be in Miami on Monday (6 days after) and we would work to get them on a charter plane on Tuesday or Wednesday. My wife was on that team. So for 2 1/2 days, we had people dropping off medical donations at our house and we tried to pack in as much as we could. We didn’t really know what we would need, but we knew that there would probably be someone who could use them.

Examples of the “urgency” that we all felt in that first bit…..
– Getting an instant message from my boss asking me if I was working right then – at 3:35 in the morning.
– Waking up an adoptive parent at 1:30 in the morning telling him he needed to be on a plane by 10:00 the next morning.
– Having a fundraising conference call at 11:00 PM Pacific Time (2:00 AM Eastern Time)
– Getting 3 hours of sleep the night before my wife left for Haiti and having that be 50% more than my shortest night for the week.
– Getting e-mails from very nervous adoptive parents that they couldn’t get through on my phone and my voice mail was full. E-mailing them back telling them I was attempting to do that but the e-mails were coming in faster than I could answer them and then the voice mails too……

I want to make something very clear. While I was the only one “officially” involved located in Michigan, I was in no manner unique. Everyone on staff and all of the friends that I know who were working with organizations in Haiti said that it was encouraging how many people wanted to help.

A friend of mine runs an organization that advocates on behalf of orphans with HIV/AIDS. They have a slogan which became very apropos during the first part of the, well, I’m going to use the word recovery, but the case could be made that it hasn’t gotten there yet.

That slogan? “It’s Not About Me.” I keep telling her that I think the back of their t-shirts should say, “It’s Not About You Either.”

How do you go on in light of the worst natural disaster in the Western Hemisphere?

How do you not go on?

You go on because you have to. You go on because that’s what God wants. You go on because you can.

Unfortunately, not everyone who could and said they would help did. But we’ll get into that later.

TV

Around 11:00 the Night of the Earthquake…..

About 11:00 that night….

Like I said last time, the internet was burning up the night of the earthquake in Haiti. People all over the world were trying to figure how bad it was and how people can help. Much of the traffic and communications seemed to be happening on Twitter. Those who were on the ground in the earthquake zone who were on Twitter were getting all of the attention. Different news organizations would ask questions and the answers from the people on the ground were like a front row seat to a disaster. Scary and sad and fascinating at the same time.

And then it happened, Ann Curry (then of the Today Show) posted something on Twitter to this effect, “Looking to set up an interview with someone in Port Au Prince who speaks English.” (Not everyone in Haiti speaks English). I put in a quick instant message to the stateside office (out in Colorado) and verified that there was a cell phone working at the orphanage. I then responded to Ann Curry, “I have people I work with just outside of Port Au Prince. They can talk.”

No response. At that point, I think Ann had approximately the same number of followers as the population in Chicago. I really didn’t expect a response. I mean, Ann Curry talking to me?

And then it came, @tvanderwell, Ann Curry has requested to follow you on Twitter. According to their rules, you can’t message someone directly if you aren’t “following” them. Of course I said yes.

A little later, I get a direct message from Ann (maybe it was her staff, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter) and I passed on the phone number and names etc.

7:00 AM on Wednesday, January 11, 2010 as the Today Show opened up, it jumped immediately to a live phone interview between one of their anchors (who will remain nameless) and the director of “our” orphanage. Don’t tell me that Social Media can’t accomplish good.

I don’t know how many people saw the interview but I know it made more people aware of the plight of kids in Haiti.

And I kept the e-mail that said, “@tvanderwell, @anncurry is following you on Twitter.”

Tom

Haiti – a Decade Later

Haiti – a Decade Later

I’ll always remember where I was on January 12, 2010 at 4:53 PM.

I was sitting on one of the bar stools that we had around the island in our house that we owned at that time. At that time, I was a banker and I was done with an appt outside of the office that didn’t give me time to go back into the office. So I came home and got caught up on some work stuff there instead

At that point, I was lurking on Twitter a lot. I say “lurking” because I was really only talking to a few people on a consistent basis. Most of what I used twitter for at that point was to follow a bunch of news people and organizations to keep up with what was going on in the world. Why?

Well, it was very simple (or I thought so), the market that controls interest rates does best when what it thinks will happen actually happens. So, the market thinks that oil prices are going to go up and they do, not a big deal for the market (speaking in grossly simplistic terms) because that’s what they were thinking would happen. So keeping track of those type of movements in the markets was very beneficial to my clients because it helped them with at least an inkling of what mortgage rates might do.

So, back at the ranch, I’m returning e-mails and such and I had a program called Tweetdeck running. You can specify certain twitter accounts and any time they tweet something it will show up on there. You can also specify certain names, phrases, terms etc. for it to search on. I had put in Port au Prince, Haiti – because that is the capital city of the country where two of my children were born.

I believe it was 5:02 PM on January 12, 2010 that my computer scrolled a little box up in the upper left corner that said the following:

LA Times reports massive 7.5 earthquake in Port Au Prince Haiti at 4:53 PM EST. Casualties expected to be massive.

My heart sank. I had a lot of friends there. I had/have a lot of friends who had or were adopting from Haiti. I was on the board of the orphanage – with lots of employees in Haiti – many of whom were not at work. This was bad. Really bad.

As in, God, why are you allowing this? Bad. As in, “I shook my fist at heaven and said, “God, why don’t you do something?”

Within an hour, darkness settled over Haiti but from what I’ve been told, quiet didn’t come. Sobs of grief, the cries of the wounded, the sounds of impromptu rescue teams trying to pull people to safety. All night long.

Depending on who you listen to, anywhere from 80,000 to 300,000+ people lost their lives on that day or would soon because of injuries sustained on that day.

And while the people on the ground in Haiti were working in horrific conditions trying to figure out what happened, what’s been damaged, who can be rescued and more, all night, there was another group of people who weren’t in Haiti but were burning up the internet trying to figure out how bad it was, what was needed to help and how to get there.

I remember, about 1:00 the next morning, all of the kids from the orphanage were sleeping on the driveway (imagine trying to get 90 kids to sleep on a driveway?) I was able to connect on Facebook with one of our volunteers. When they ran out of the building, she had her computer in her back pack, so she had it. She spent quite some time but located a spot just outside the main building where she could get a weak wifi connection through the router in our building (our buildings were shaken but remained standing.) She and I talked for about a half hour and the information she was able to share with me turned out to be a great comfort to the adoptive parents whose kids were at the orphanage and were worried, literally sick, about them. No one was hurt at the orphanage. We found out later that one of the orphanage’s employees lost 11 family members that day.

Finally, at about 4:00 in the morning, after spending a couple of hours on the phone with another board member trying to wrap our heads around what happened and what to do next. I fell in bed knowing that the sun would come up in a couple of hours and with it a “better” chance for those in Haiti to see how bad it was.

What they saw when the sun came up, it was worse than you could ever imagine.

Tom