Asheville’s connection to Haiti is built on the ongoing passions of locals.
If there’s a theme to Ashevilleans’ involvement in the past years, it’s helping on the ground in Haiti, in its communities, and doing so as part of volunteer-based operations that minimize administrative costs and red tape.
Here’s a look at just a couple of Asheville’s ongoing connections. For more, visit Xpress’ “Helping Haiti Heal” page for more stories, news and contact info.
AMURT stands for “Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team.” AMURTEL is the women’s side of the project. The group operates a wide variety of projects in Haiti, spanning the creation and operation child-safe spaces for orphans to healthcare to environmental restoration.
One of AMURT’s main project directors is Demeter Russafov (shown at the left in this photo) who overcame his fears while in Asheville. He has been in Haiti for about eight years. (Photo courtesy of AMURT.)
“It takes something to work here,” says Russafov, a.k.a. Dharma. “I think the training of Volunteers for Social Service helped me tremendously.”
“In 1998 I participated in a weekend VSS training program organized in the U.S. in Asheville, where we learnt how to overcome our fears, develop a thirst for our higher inner potential, and work on overcoming challenges cooperatively. It was quite intense and we were very exhausted after it was over. It gave me an initiation to be able to understand certain things that I had to cope with seven years later here in Haiti [after the earthquake] and has helped me to convert problems into successes.”
Russafov is the manager of AMURT’s biggest disaster relief and development projects in the Western Hemisphere, covering a wide range of different welfare activities, AMURT’s online page says. A native of Bulgaria, U.S. educated, Demeter assumed directorship of AMURT Haiti in August 2004. AMURT Haiti’s main area of focus is in the country’s northwest region, Anse Rouge, five hours north of Haiti’s capital. His work entails fundraising and managing an integrated development program, impacting more than 80 villages and at times employing up to 1,600 people daily in reforestation, soil conservation, public works etc. He also headed two disaster relief operations in 2004 and in 2008 in which 30,000 people were provided with emergency disaster assistance.
AMURTEL volunteer — and Asheville resident — Ann Albrecht recalls Asheville’s response after the earthquake, when the group raised more than $14,000.
“It all happened through the tremendous support of Green Life Grocery, which hosted our collection stand for long weeks, and the many, many citizens who so full-heartedly donated, plus the several businesses that donated in cash and kind, and all the volunteers who ‘personned’ the stand,” she says.
After the local campaign wound down, Albrecht says, AMURTEL has continued to keep collection cans at the French Broad Food Coop, Amazing Savings, Kim’s Oriental Market and the Cosmic Vision Shop. “Over the last few months they have brought in donations of a substantial and helpful amount,” she says. Those monies are funneled directly to relief effort, she emphasizes. “There are not salaries involved in this process, so everyone should understand that collected monies go directly ‘to the point’ — as they came: donations.”
The demands continue to be enormous, Albrecht adds. “Ananda Jiivaprema, the sister who runs the AMURTEL project in Haiti, is so busy with the cholera epidemic, her nine orphans, the school and everything else she does for the neighborhood, that she did not come to USA for her annual Christmas fundraising campaign in Connecticut.”
Another Ashevillean who volunteered 10 days in Haiti last March with AMURT / AMURTEL is Matt Siegel, executive director of the WNC Green Building Council.
“I went with my sister in law, who’s a nurse. AMURTEL said they’d arrange to get us there. We helped distribute food and water and helped provide medical assistance. We also spent time at a former school, taking care of kids who were living there — all orphans. There was only one woman there running the house; we helped with watching, feeding, playing with the kids, helping them get to sleep.”
UNCA grad Amber Munger founded the Article 29 Organization, whose work includes reforestation, health care, sanitation projects, irrigation and other farming projects and providing micro loans, among other things, in the Anse Rouge region — the same section of Haiti where AMURT’s Demeter Russafov works.
Amber Lynn Munger, A29 director, and Hebert Pierre, field coordinator.
A day’s drive over tricky dirt roads, Anse Rouge is isolated from Haiti’s major markets. The only commercial activity that exists there is agriculture, according to Article 29 Organization.
More than 80 percent of the population of Anse Rouge depends on farming for its survival. Yet, the area suffers from deforestation that has led to desertification and vulnerability to flash flooding.
Children outside a typical home in La Source Chaude (which means Hot Springs), the trading village where Organization A29 has its headquarters. Unlike the rest of Haiti, much of Commune Anse Rouge is a desert, complete with cactus forest. Organization A29 was founded by Ashevillean Amber Munger. Photo courtesy of article29organization.org
The people in Commune Anse Rouge don’t have access to outside resources, Munger explains. There are no trees for firewood, and charcoal is expensive. Access to safe drinking water is almost nonexistent; boiling water would be a huge expense, and isn’t practical for families.
“A cholera outbreak in this region would be devastating,” Munger wrote in October.
On Nov. 15, she sent this news, “Cholera has reached Commune Anse Rouge. Five more people have died since I last wrote…”
“The ‘nurse’ who is unpaid at the La Sous clinic won’t see cholera patients and closed the clinic,” Munger added. “Since there is nowhere to find care in CAR [Commune Anse Rouge], and since no one understands cholera, anyone who gets it has an automatic death sentence, even though it could be simply treated with hydration formula.”
Asheville filmmaker Kurt Mann (pictured with cap) recently returned from Haiti, where he’s been filming a project that’s delivering appropriate technologies, including solar-powered light bubs, solar cookers and green building techniques to a Port-au-Prince orphanage.
The project’s outreach coordinator, Leah Quintal (pictured on the left in photo with Mann) who is also from Asheville wrote today: “Just got back in town yesterday after an amazing and successful trip to Haiti with American Green (and director Kurt Mann),” she said via email.
“We distributed solar light bulbs, solar food cookers, and conducted an energy audit for New Life Children’s orphanage, Quintal wrote. “And, of course, we witnessed a lot of poverty and desperation — and HOPE. The true power of the program is that we are hand-delivering affordable sustainable technologies, training people to use those technologies, and supporting the creation of a viable economy through the distribution and selling of such products.”
Bringing light to a tent city with solar-powered bulbs. American Green has launched a campaign to bring 1,000 solar light bulbs and 100 cookers to a tent city late this spring. Photos courtesy of Kurt Mann.
Lorin Mallorie, intrepid journalist
Readers of MountainX.com likely have read regular impassioned reports from Haiti by Lorin Mallorie (all of which can be found via links on “Helping Haiti Heal.”
Lorin, pictured here with three Haitian kids, recently returned to Asheville and sent her thoughts (in words and photos) on the first anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake:
Everything I need to know I learned in Haiti
Happy anniversary, to “the biggest disaster in human history.”
1. Everyone can sing.
2. Hips in a circle, not side to side.
3. Love is blind, if you let it be.
4. Dignity and honor are not reserved for the rich.
5. Family is irreplaceable.
6. Every human being, is a hero.
7. Respect your mother.
8. Dance, every day.
9. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not watching you.
10. Joy is fickle, embrace her when she comes.
11. Democracy is just a word.
12. EAT, because you can.
13. If you can’t pee in a bucket, you should probably go home.
14. Greed and Jealousy are not reserved for the rich.
15. Every child is an angel.
16. Believe in magic – it exists, with or without you.
17. God is everywhere, always.
18. Live for the moment, it may be all we have.
19. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.
20. Laugh often.
21. When its time to run — run.
22. It’s not in the paper, it’s on the wall
23. Forgive…yourself first.
24. YOU are worthy.
25. The only thing that really matters — is hope.
The fact is, Haiti is inside of all of us. It’s something we’ve forgotten, or hidden — swept aside. It’s the unabashed joy we stifle, the sweet sorrow we fear and the truths we tuck away in the name of “civilization.”
On this day, the world will speak of what we can do for Haitians.
But I promise you, Asheville, what we have to do first, is listen and learn.