I am immensely proud to introduce a new Grotto Interview Series, called GENERATION XYZ HAITI. It will be interviews with people on the ground in Haiti as well as representatives of those people. I am honored to introduce our first guest, Kim Driscoll, a representative of the amazing Global DIRT: Disaster Immediate Response Team.
Global DIRT: Disaster Immediate Response Team is a non-profit organization created by Adam Marlatt and Robert Sullivan, two members of the United States Marine Corps. Their small, all-volunteer organization has become a powerful force in Haiti following the devastating January 12th earthquake, and they provide services in areas not reached by some of the larger NGOs, and act as intermediaries between the larger organizations, the military and the victims. I recently spoke to Kim Driscoll, a representative of the organization. The interview is below.
1. What do you do for Global: DIRT? Can you give us a bit more information about your background and how you came to be so involved in the non-profit sector, specifically this organization?
I serve on Global DIRT’s board of directors, as well as coordinating States-based fund-raising and social media efforts. I answer questions, field phone calls from NGOs and coordinate contact with our ground team in Haiti. I love this organization and am generally willing to do whatever needs to be done for it to continue its good work in Haiti. Adam and I both went to the University of New Hampshire (when he wasn’t off being a Marine) and his job before the Marines was with some mutual friends. On the most recent “general volunteer trip” of mid-March, I knew two of the three volunteers that went to Haiti very well. During their absence, I saw a definite need for the organization to have more contact with the public. Global DIRT does such great and fantastic work in Haiti but so little information about them was available on the Internet. From that point on, I have been helping them run Facebook and Twitter pages to keep in contact with interested followers, as well as promoting locally and searching out fundraisers.
2. With so many NGOs on the ground in Haiti, why did Adam and Robert feel that their presence was necessary? What unique services do Global: DIRT bring to the affected areas that others cannot?
Global DIRT was the brain-child of Adam and Robert during their time as active duty U.S. Marines. Haiti has been the first real natural disaster for them to get involved in since becoming reserve-duty Marines. Adam initially went to Haiti by himself after the quake to assess the situation on the ground. He felt that some of the organizations were not in touch with the people and their actual needs as victims. He returned to the U.S., gathered supplies, funds, and Robert, and returned. They have been building up their support and following ever since.
Global DIRT’s goal for Haiti is to create a bridge between large aid organizations and the people in need. We are willing and ready to go above and beyond to make sure that the people of Haiti have medicine, clean water, and a safe, dry place to sleep. Our strong point for our organization is our size. We are a small enough NGO that we are capable of giving attention to areas that other organizations may feel have too few people to service. We also have high ambitions, loads of connections and a highly skilled team. Our nurse recently graduated from Northeastern University and has proven a key member of our team during these past weeks. We also have an amazing volunteer technical team that is able to create all of the online medical, logistical and database systems we dream up. We believe that these systems that we are starting to put into place will aid Haiti well through the hurricane season and reconstruction.
3. Obviously one of the major focuses of those working in Haiti right now is the rainy season. Have the rains started in full force, and what impact do you expect the rain will have on the conditions where you are and your ability to work?
It does rain frequently, but unfortunately, the rainy season has yet to hit full force. Obviously, the rainy season and its hurricane-strength winds will slow the work of NGOs and make conditions much more difficult for those Haitians still left without permanent shelter. We have been working diligently to prepare for the rainy season and are hoping to still work at the pace at which we now work. Our concern is that with the hurricanes, people will have a greater need than they do now and that many NGOs will be incapable of servicing Haitians directly outside of their sphere of influence. We have been bolstering our transportation and finding more secure shelter for our team and supplies to be able to continue traveling to these lesser serviced areas.
4. How are your volunteers doing? Physically, emotionally, mentally? Do you feel there are adequate mental health resources for the relief workers, soldiers and journalists where you are?
Our volunteers are doing well. We do our best to make sure that all of our volunteers have frequent access to the Internet and international phones to make contact with loved ones back home. Those who went to Haiti within two weeks of the quake have all been home in the U.S. for at least a week for a chance to rest and relax as much as possible. I cannot speak for the relief workers, soldiers or journalists outside of our care, but we do try our best to make sure that all of our own volunteers are given adequate time to rest and to contact those back home.
5. Are you at all involved with other NGOs working in Haiti? How do you feel about the work that is being done by Doctors without Borders, charity: water, The Clinton Foundation, JP HRO, UNICEF, the Red Cross, CARE, Save the Children, Yéle Haiti and others?
Teamwork and cooperation is a must for an NGO of our size. We are willing to work with any organization that needs our help or logistical assistance. Our goal is that the victims of the earthquake receive the aid they need. As long as aiding victims is the goal of the project, we are willing to assist in any way possible. As we are a small operation, we are sometimes unable to answer all of the requests that are sent our way and we truly regret this. However, we do try to help out as much as possible. As for other organizations, we have made some fantastic friends in some wonderful NGOs doing great work for Haiti. We can personally attest to the great work being done on the ground by JP/HRO and Doctors Without Borders.
6. Musician and blogger Richard Morse has been writing captivating articles for The Huffington Post these past few months, most notably his column “Stealth Zone,” where he details his experiences—both before and after the earthquake—involving attempts to silence him and to prevent certain businesses from profiting by placing them into “Red Zones,” alleged high-crime areas that don’t necessarily have higher incidences of violence than “Green Zones.” Where do you think these forces are coming from, and have you dealt with them?
I cannot say that we have really encountered this specific issue. We have witnessed corruption and abuse of power but are not particularly knowledgeable about the zones you’ve mentioned.
7. How can the average person get involved, and should people without medical, disaster relief or journalistic training be making the trip to Haiti right now?
We receive requests to help out in Haiti all of the time. We love the enthusiasm of people who are looking to get DIRTy to help in Haiti. However, Haiti is currently overburdened with preparations for the upcoming rainy season and we feel that only trained professionals should currently be traveling down. That being said, at a later time Haiti needs to be rebuilt and this would be a wonderful time to accept non-medically trained volunteers including carpenters, contractors and less technically trained citizens. To get involved now, we encourage people to both raise money and awareness. As we all know, Haiti isn’t making the 6 o’clock news anymore and people are becoming more and more desensitized to the situation the Haitians face on a daily basis. The best way for the average person to get involved is to join the “State-side” support of any Haiti relief organization. They can donate money, solicit corporate donations, have a bake sale or help NGOs find the medical supplies needed. That being said, we are always much more willing to consider volunteers who have shown a prolonged commitment to Haiti and our organization when planning volunteer group relief trips.
8. As you well know, 80% of the Haitian population was below the poverty line before the earthquake. Haiti needs long-term solutions, though due to the extent of the immediate need, the Red Cross has been under fire recently for their comment that they want to hold onto the majority of donations for long-term solutions. Where do you feel the long-term solutions lie? Can these solutions be created merely through private sector non-profits and UN attention? How do you feel about the Red Cross’s decision to hold onto approximately $300 million of donations earmarked for Haiti?
We believe that long-term solutions are the only way to get a new Haiti that doesn’t need NGO support for the next 20 years. To do this, Haiti needs management systems and not hand-outs. We are working hard to put medical and logistical systems in place and get Haitian citizens involved in them now, at their creation. A good solution for Haiti for the long term requires cooperation, as all good solutions do. NGOs and the UN must offer guidance and assistance while encouraging Haitians to help themselves whenever possible. Training and education will help create a more independent Haiti that no longer needs the daily assistance of international NGOs and hopefully will raise the nation to a much smaller percentage living below the poverty line. That being said, we need to save the people in need now before we withhold large sums of money to plan for their future.
9. Are there any major misconceptions in the media coverage surrounding this disaster? What should people in the States and elsewhere know about what’s happening where you are that hasn’t been reported properly?
The only misconception that we wish to correct is that the work being done to prepare for the rainy season is not the only work that needs to be done for Haiti. There will be a great deal of work to be done once the rainy season has finished and we hope that the media is still willing to focus on Haiti at that time.
10. What didn’t I ask you that I should have asked you?
How do we deal with critics that comment: “There’s so much need for help and relief here in America, why go to Haiti?”
Primarily, we are based as a disaster response team. We would be equally willing to provide for a disaster of similar proportions in the United States, but a natural disaster as such has yet to arise while Adam and Robert were not serving as Marines. Secondarily, many of our volunteers are involved in programs within the United States that offer aid and assistance within U.S. borders. Aside from Adam and Robert both serving in the U.S. Military, our nurse, Lauren, does wonderful work helping anyone in medical need. Multiple of our volunteers, including myself, serve as Big Brothers or Big Sisters in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization as well as general volunteering for soup kitchens and cancer awareness organizations. We would hate for anyone to think that our aid and volunteering remain exclusively abroad when so many of us do our best to do wonderful work here as well.
Global DIRT is currently pending 501(c)(3) approval, and relies solely on the contributions of their donors and all-volunteer staff. All proceeds go directly to funding operations on the ground and making a difference in the lives of the people of Haiti. Please consider donating via PayPal today. You can follow Global: DIRT on Twitter @globalDIRT.
I want to extend special thanks to the extraordinary Kim Driscoll, who really is the salt of the earth and was willing to answer any and every question. Also, special thanks for early encouragement and/or advice regarding this interview series go to Maren Wryn, Dolores Franco, Chris A. Sosa and David Badash.
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