It has been a month since the earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince. Tomorrow was declared as the start of a week of mourning by the Haitian government. As I look back on the month, I am amazed at the changes, proud of some of my accomplishments, and saddened by my mistakes. Following are some of the main points:
- Instant Response: As soon as I heard about the earthquake, I began mobilizing to respond. We were fortunate to have a good relationship with the American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic. Their Executive Director called me the night of the earthquake and promised the first of the funds. The next morning, we loaded two of our vehicles with supplies and crossed the border. We were in Haiti within 24 hours of the earthquake. That was the hardest visit. Collecting the dead was the highest priority. Many people were trapped in buildings. There were no telephones and very little information.
- Quick Relief: For the next five days, I drove back and forth between Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo. I escorted trucks into Haiti and brought people out. It was a hard, stressful time as we tried to rush whatever supplies we could find into Haiti. For the first week, there was very little available and very little organized.
- Organized Relief: One week after the earthquake hit, I was given responsibility for running our Haiti office. Up to that point, I had been trying to support the existing office, but with no clear authority. I spent the next two weeks full time in Haiti. I struggled to reorganize our office to allow us to focus on the immediate response while still providing support to our staff--half of them had their houses badly damaged in the quake. It was an exciting time as we tried to figure out how to maximize our impact.
- Moving from Relief to Reconstruction: Three weeks after the earthquake, I slowed down a bit and began focusing on the medium-term tasks of running the two country offices and preparing for the reconstruction work. I have gone back to working with our project managers, helping them to restart or accelerate their projects. Our earthquake response continues quite nicely--we have a very active warehouse and are doing regular food distributions. However, it is one of several proejcts we manage rather than my sole focus (our other work includes a child protection program, community-driven development work in the slums of Port-au-Prince and another in rural Haiti, and some potable water projects plus my cross-border program).
The second one is Linchpin by Seth Godin. Ironically, I had received an advance copy of the book and was set to go to the launch in New York City. Seth stresses that in today's difficult environment, we need to rise up and become indispensable linchpins in our organizations--to be willing to go out on a limb and create the changes that are needed. I have never been as indispensable as I am today. Having the role of a linchpin described so clearly has given me the courage to push harder than I would otherwise have dared.
My mistakes have been in trying to move to fast--pushing people into changes that they were not ready to accept and overlooking details that were then mismanaged. Someone said that if 7 out of 10 decisions are good, then you are doing well. That is probably my success rate. I hope that those around me help me catch and correct the 3 bad ones.
I don't know what will happen next and where we will go. I am both proud of what we have accomplished and sad that we could not do more. I can't keep up my current pace for much longer, but I do know that this experience has changed me. I hope for the better.