Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007

An outpouring of charity amid flames

When calls went out throughout San Diego County for volunteers to assist those displaced by rapidly spreading wildfires, the response often was more than the 23 emergency shelters could handle. In fact, from major centers such as Qualcomm Stadium and the Del Mar Fairgrounds to smaller quarters set up in rural communities, the emergency shelters were a model of civic cooperation and commitment.

Qualcomm Stadium became the temporary home for up to 10,000 evacuees, creating an urgent demand for hundreds of volunteers. Yet so many San Diegans rushed to Mission Valley to lend a hand that, by mid-day yesterday, Mayor Jerry Sanders had to call a halt to the flood of volunteers.

Similarly, so many San Diegans took food, water, blankets, sleeping bags and other emergency supplies to the stadium that they created a traffic nightmare. “The outpouring of community support for fire relief efforts has currently overwhelmed traffic and materials handling at the stadium site,” the mayor said in a statement urging San Diegans to suspend their deliveries of donations.

The volunteer help was not limited to retirees serving coffee and doughnuts. A small city was established at the stadium within just a few hours, with thousands of evacuees in need of three meals a day, a comfortable place to sleep, and personal hygiene items. Because of the volunteer commitment, those needs were promptly met. Meanwhile, the medical requirements of displaced residents, including many elderly, were tended to by volunteer physicians and registered nurses.

Through it all, evacuees and volunteers carried on in orderly fashion, with no disruptions, no misconduct, no mayhem. Given the grim circumstances, that was a testament to San Diegans’ civic spirit.

Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007

Venezuelan doctors carry out Miracle Mission journey in Ecuador

A commission of three Venezuelan doctors is traveling Ecuadorian lands in order to attend the poorest zones of Quito and the indigenous village of Saraguro, where they are carrying out a patients selection journey for the Miracle Mission.

This way, the integrationist foreign policy of Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez Frías, is in solidarity with the needy people of the region, supporting this brother country, as it says a press bulletin emitted by the Embassy of Venezuela to Ecuador.

Since Thursday 19 until the date, the ophthalmologists Milangel Hidalgo and José Daniel Barbosa, in joint with the anesthesiologist Segundo Urbina, have seen about one thousand people in Quito, at the Embassy venue and in poor zones like Sur y Calderón. This Monday they will visit Sangolquí.

As a result, 225 Ecuadorians have been selected to travel to Venezuela, where they will be chirurgical operated in order to solve their pathologies of cataracts and pterygium.

They will be added to the 2 thousand 875 Ecuadorians that have already been operated since December 2005 in Venezuela, who have been moved in 28 flights of the state-owned airline, Conviasa.

This Tuesday, the doctor commission will travel to Loja, specifically to Saraguro municipality, where they will see the indigenous people of the zone. The expectations at that place are very high, since it is the first time that Miracle Mission arrives at that sector of the country.

The journey will finish this Friday 29, when the doctors will come back to Venezuela in joint with a group of Ecuadorians of the rural sectors of Loja, who will be chirurgical operated next week.

Thursday, Mar. 22, 2007

Angel Flight gives sick kids wings

MORUYA man John Gillett is the Eurobodalla’s one and only Angel Flight pilot. His voluntary job consists of flying sick children, who live in isolated areas, to a major hospital.

And for this he gives up his time, his plane, and his resources.

But there is just one down-side. The retired police officer is still waiting for the area’s health system to cotton on.

For the two years that Mr Gillett has been involved with the charity, he’s flown 10 children to a metropolitan hospital but none were from the Eurobodalla.

Considering the aim of Angel Flight is to coordinate non-emergency flights for financially and medically needy people, he’s pretty sure there are local people who fit the bill.

Mr Gillett said not only is the service available, but it’s a great way to get sick children to their destination without sitting on a bus for hours.

“It’s a bit of a buzz for them and it’s very rewarding as a pilot,” he said.

“We’ve also got Earth Angels, who pick them the children up and take them to the hospital.”

Mr Gillett first took to the skies 22 years ago.

He learnt to fly in the four-seater Piper Cherokee, which he still uses for his charitable service.

After retiring in Moruya, the town he grew up in, he came close to also retiring his plane. But after he discovered the charity, he once again found a use for the hobby he had fallen in love with.

“Angel Flight gave me a whole new purpose to flying – I’m enjoying it more than ever.”

Monday, Mar. 19, 2007

Cuba eye program provides care for thousands

Jose Gomez bounds around the patio of a sunny vacation cottage near the beach, giggling as his mother gently tosses him a soccer ball.

The energetic 2-year-old from El Salvador is one of thousands of poor Latin Americans who have received free eye surgery thanks to Miracle Mission, an ambitious program started by Cuba in 2004.

“My husband is a fisherman, and we could never afford this surgery,” Gomez’s mother, Julia, said of her son’s successful treatment for a droopy eyelid. “We’ve been in Cuba for 15 days, and everything has been paid for.”

Cuba’s eye-care program, financed in part by its close ally Venezuela, has become a huge enterprise, employing hundreds of Cuban health care workers who have treated a half-million patients over the past three years.

Cuba has staffed medical clinics and other social programs in Venezuela for years, an outgrowth of the tight bond between Cuban President Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s socialist leader. In exchange, Venezuela provides Cuba with about 90,000 barrels of oil per day, about half its daily needs.

With a recent, dramatic international expansion, the program has also raised Cuba’s profile on the world stage, showcasing Cuban medical expertise while providing badly needed care in poor countries. Cuba has opened clinics and patient screening facilities in 27 nations from Africa and China to the Caribbean and across Latin America.

The effort is a humanitarian gesture and an important goodwill diplomatic tool for Cuba, which lost its prime political and financial benefactor when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

In what many analysts regard as a U.S. attempt to counter such Venezuelan and Cuban efforts, President Bush — who is on a weeklong tour of Latin America — announced plans last week to direct millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Latin America to expand health care, teach English and improve housing.

Despite the important oil imports from Venezuela, Dr. Lazaro Vigoa, deputy director of the Cuban program, dismissed reports that the program has become a big moneymaker for Cuba.

“It’s a big headache for the Cuban government, not a money-maker,” said Vigoa, who practices at one of Havana’s main hospitals, Ramon Pando Ferrer. “We’re doing it for free, so it’s not for economic reasons. It’s for moral reasons, to help these people who otherwise could not afford this care.”

Cuba has long been proud of its health care system and has sent doctors to countries around the globe for decades as part of an outreach program that resembles the U.S. Peace Corps program.

The eye-care program is the brainchild of Castro, said Vigoa, who formed the idea after hearing that participants in adult literacy programs in Venezuela had such poor vision that they couldn’t see their reading lessons.

Although Miracle Mission has taken the partnership to a global level, the program’s rapid expansion has drawn some criticism. One international news report suggested that the quality of care was being sacrificed in a bid to run up impressive statistics, a charge that Vigoa disputed.

“We monitor the surgeries to make sure there are no problems,” he said, showing a visit- ing reporter a control room with a bank of television monitors that carry live feeds from the hospital’s 34 operating tables. “Our philosophy is first-rate care.”

Foreign patients typically receive examinations in their home countries and are then scheduled for surgery in Cuba. Most travel on Cuba’s national airline, Cubana.

Once in Cuba, they are bused to one of several hospitals providing the surgeries. Some stay at hotels that have been converted into patient housing, and others stay at Tarara, a seaside resort about 20 miles from Havana.

Although some Cubans reportedly resent the red-carpet treatment given the foreign patients, Vigoa said his hospital operated on more Cubans than foreigners in the past year.

Katia Triana, who lives outside Havana, said Cuban doctors suggested that her daughter Katherine’s detached retina might be best treated in Chile.

“The trip to Chile cost $7,000, but I didn’t pay a cent,” she said. “This has been wonderful for my little girl.”

With 800 ophthalmologists already trained and hundreds more enrolled, Miracle Mission has become the biggest Cuban health program.

“We’ve grown rapidly, but we’re prepared for it,” said Dr. Reina Martinez, who runs the Tarara facility. “We have treated patients who have been blind for years. It’s very emotional when suddenly they can see again.”

Monday, Mar. 5, 2007

Heroes in the Sky

When Lissa Klueter decided to take flying lessons in 2000, her interest was purely recreational. When her husband David began taking lessons in March 2001, it was still just for fun. But now the two Belmont residents, and their plane, are involved in something much larger. Last year the husband and wife team began flying missions for Angel Flight of Virginia, the local chapter of Angel Flight of America, a nonprofit charitable air medical transportation organization that gets patients to the treatment facilities they need.

“We heard about it from the pilot community we were involved in,” David Klueter said.

“It is kind of inspirational,” Lissa Klueter said. “If you’re going to fly anyway, you might as well do something that is going to help someone.”

Angel Flight of America is a national network of seven member organizations, including Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic, parent organization of Angel Flight of Virginia, which arranges free flights, transporting patients and their families in private small airplanes to specialized medical treatment facilities around the country. The pilots fly patients for special surgeries, to visit specialists or as part of their continued care. Only flights for patients going for an organ transplant are arranged at a moment’s notice.

In 2006, the organization arranged flights for more than 34,000 passengers on 22,000 missions nationally. Of the Mid-Atlantic region’s 1,500 pilots, 311 live in Virginia. In 2006, the Mid-Atlantic region flew 565 missions carrying 900 passengers.

“These pilots truly are humanitarians,” Suzanne Rhodes, director of public affairs for Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic, said.

Recently Angel Flight of Virginia received a 12-month Compassion Capital Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. The $50,000 grant will go to a program to increase the organization’s pilot and volunteer recruitment in Virginia’s rural communities in order to improve its social service casework throughout the state.

“This money is really important to the work we do,” Rhodes said. “It lets hospitals know about us and it lets those with medical need know about us.”

All of the pilots involved with Angel Flight are volunteers, often flying their own planes, and must absorb the cost of flying missions for the organizations, including gas, insurance and training.

“Some airports will give us a fuel discount because they know we’re with Angel Flight,” David Klueter said. “It can dictate where we land.”

“Fuel is more expensive at the larger airports, so 50 cents off a gallon can really make a difference,” Lissa Klueter said.

Money and time are the biggest factors in how many missions the Klueters can run in a year. Since joining, the couple has flown eight missions for Angel Flight.

With his job as computer software designer, David Klueter is tied to flying only on weekends, when a lot of other pilots are also available. His wife has a little more flexibility with her job as an options trader, but even then it can be difficult to support flying missions.

“We strive to do one mission a month,” Lissa Klueter said. “We think that is a good goal, but we could fly every day if we could afford it.”

Rhodes said the demand for Angel Flight’s services and pilots continues to grow with the ability of doctors to treat illnesses and medicine becomes more specialized.

“Specialized medicine is a good thing, but patients might not be able to get to a specialist on their own,” Rhodes said.

While Angel Flight Mid-America only flies patients in trips less than 1,000 miles long, the organization will help a patient reach a specialist in California or however far they need to go, Rhodes said.

“We work with some airlines so we can get people on a commercial flight to get them to specialist they need,” she said.

Many of the missions that the Klueters fly are only one leg of a longer journey. David Klueter’s first flight was helping to transport a 14-year-old from Bangor, Maine to a specialist in Atlanta.

“I met him [and another pilot] in Bridgeport, Conn., and flew them to Danville, Va.,” he said. “There is a lot of coordination with Angel Flight Northeast and Angel Flight South or Southeast.”

To choose which missions they take part in, the Klueters get a mission roster of all the patients that need to be transported. The couple then picks which missions they might be able to fly, based on their availability, fuel requirements of the flight and the capacity of their airplane. They have flown as far north as Boston and as far south as North Carolina.

“It was kind of intimidating, landing at Logan [Airport in Boston] with all the big boys,” Lissa Klueter joked.

In order to become Angel Flight pilots the Klueters each had to fulfill a series of requirements above and beyond earning their pilot’s license. Each Angel Flight pilot must receive an instrument rating as a pilot, which means they can fly a plane when there is zero visibility, using only their instruments as a guide, Rhodes said.

“It is the equivalent of what commercial pilots have,” Lissa Klueter said.

In addition to being licensed through the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots must be medical certified, meaning they have been cleared by a doctor to fly, and they have to have logged at least 250 hours flying as the pilot in command. Twenty-five of those hours must be in the plane they will use for Angel Flight missions.

Dealing with weather, ill patients and other pilots means that missions do not always go off as planned. David Klueter’s first flight for Angel Flight, where he was supposed to meet a 14-year-old patient in Connecticut was supposed to happen on a Saturday. The night before, he checked the weather reports and conferred with the other pilots flying legs of the mission.

“There was a nor’easter in the Maine area,” he said. “We would have been in the clouds the whole time and on top of it there was freezing precipitation in Atlanta.”

Knowing that the boy had to be at his doctor in Atlanta on Monday morning, Klueter and other pilots conferred and arranged to run the entire mission Sunday instead.

“And we had clear, blue skies the whole way,” he said.

For Lissa Klueter’s first flight, she was scheduled to fly to New Jersey to pick up a patient and take him on the first leg of his flight to Charlestown, W. Va., so he could make an appointment in Arkansas.

“The other two pilots couldn’t fly because it was too windy in their areas,” Lissa Klueter said. “I went and picked the patient up in New Jersey, but I took off not knowing where he was going to end up.”

To compensate for the fact that the smaller planes could not fly, Angel Flight arranged to get the patient on a commercial flight out of West Virginia.

“They made sure that he was going to get to his appointment,” she said.

Rhodes said it is the pilots who generously give of their time and money that deserve the credit for the work that they do.

“They will do anything they can to help those who need it,” she said. “They truly are heroes.”

Friday, Jan. 5, 2007

“Operation Miracle” Restores Sight to Over 10.000 Ecuadorians

More than 10.000 low-income Ecuadorians have undergone eye-surgery for free and recovered their sight thanks to the Operation Miracle program, a project promoted by Cuba and Venezuela in several Latin American countries.

Ecuadorian Health Minister Guillermo Wagner told reporters that during the past six months the two centers devoted to ophthalmologic care installed by Cuba have performed a total of 8,400 operations.

The Minister said that of those 6,500 were for pterigium, 1,800 for cataract surgery and the rest related to glaucoma and other eye diseases, reports Granma newspaper.

The ophthalmologic centers were established in June 2006 in Latacunga, the capital of the mountainous Cotopaxi province, where there is a large percentage of indigenous population, and in the Santa Elena peninsula in the province of Guayas along the coast.

The rest of the surgeries took place in Havana between November 2005 and June 2006.

Wagner decorated Cuban Ambassador to Ecuador Benigo Perez, as well as the 39 members of the medical brigade working in Ecuador. The ceremony took place on Wednesday and was an act of recognition of the services provided by Operation Miracle.

The Cuban program began in Ecuador under the current government of President Alfredo Palacio, who will be handing over his post on January 15 to President-elect Rafael Correa.

The Ecuadorian official expressed Palacio’s gratitude to the government of Cuba for the healthcare program and recalled the historical ties of solidarity that exist between the two nations.

Ambassador Perez highlighted that more than 400,000 eye operations have been made in Latin American and Caribbean nations under the Operation Miracle program.

The Cuban diplomat underscored that his government and Ecuador are planning the installation of ophthalmologic centers in the cities of Esmeraldas, in the northwest of the country, and Machala in the south.

Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007

The true Angel of Africa

IT WAS supposed to be a relaxing break in a new and fascinating location, Likoma, an island on Lake Malawi. Then Sonia Waters got chatting to the cleaner and her holiday turned into a dream mission, Malawi Dream, to be precise. That is the name she has given to the nonprofit organisation she has started to help the community she befriended on the island.

Since her first visit to Likoma in August 2005, Sonia has left her home in west London six times to return to Malawi, or more particularly to Mbungo, a village of 700 souls living on very little indeed. She takes anything she can carry that the villagers tell her will be useful. On her last trip, in August, her excess baggage costs were £700, and they probably won’t be much less on her next trip, at Christmas.

So far, the funds she has raised from friends, family “and anyone I meet” have provided the village primary school with books, pencils, teaching materials and a daily meal and uniforms for all the pupils; built and equipped a kindergarten; set up a vegetable garden, a goat-keeping enterprise and a women’s co-operative.

The ventures are all small and none has cost more than a few hundred pounds. In time, they will become self-financing, but already their impact on the community cannot be overstated.

“This is the steepest learning curve for me, ” says Sonia, 45. “I’ve had to bone up on things I’ve never thought about before, like seeds and what’s the best fertiliser or the best breed of chicken. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that in Africa, small steps can take you very far and a little goes a very long way. ”

It is a salutary lesson for anyone who has felt helpless in the face of extreme poverty and deprivation, who feels the problem is simply too big and any one individual too small to change anything.

Even if you are not a multi-millionaire like Madonna, who recently adopted a child from Malawi to give him, she said, a “better life”.

Sonia, a former nurse and health visitor with a master’s degree in medical law and ethics, is a prime example of a “kitchen table” charity. These are small operations working with little money, but then they don’t have overheads either.

Every penny Sonia raises goes to the project it was intended for. Her travel costs come out of her own pocket.

It all began when she and her lawyer husband finished off a safari holiday in August 2005 with a few days’ relaxing at the Kaya Mawa Lodge on Likoma island. Seven thousand people live on the island. Kaya Mawa Lodge is the only employer, providing some 40 jobs, almost everyone else lives by subsistence fishing.

There are no shops on the island, everything arrives and leaves on the Ulala, a steam ferry built in the 1920s which chugs along the length (365 miles) and breadth (52 miles) of Lake Malawi and calls at Likoma twice a week.

“We got talking to Gladys, who cleaned our room. She told us about her village, Mbungo, and I asked if we could visit. We went to the school which has Joseph, the headmaster, one other teacher, two classrooms and one textbook for 56 children. They were hanging on Joseph’s every word. You could feel their hunger to learn.”

Years earlier, Sonia had organised her friends and family into sponsoring a school in The Gambia, which is now running well. On her return home, she asked them to switch their sponsorship to Malawi. Two months later, she was back talking to Gladys and Joseph about what to do next.

“They formed a PTA and decided what every child needed first was a bowl of maize at breaktime, because they couldn’t be sure the children were getting fed before school. We bought a big cauldron and employed a local woman, an 18-year-old orphan with a child of her own, to cook.

“Then we noticed some people were bringing small bowls to school for the meal and some were bringing very big bowls, so we had to buy the same size bowls for everyone. If there’s any money left over after we’ve bought the maize, the children get tea and a piece of fruit too.”

Then it was back to Gladys, the 60-year-old widow and grandmother who was proving a real mover and shaker in the village, to see what they should do next.

Malawi is as ravaged by HIV/Aids as any country in Africa. The infection rate is 14 per cent, or 1.76million out of a population of almost 13million. That proportion is even more alarming when you consider the country’s labour force is only 4.5million.

Gladys suggested doing something to help the 64 children in the village who had lost one or both parents to Aids.

“I asked if they wanted to build an orphanage and everyone got quite indignant and said we look after our own here, ” Sonia recalls.

“The vulnerable children, which is what they prefer to call them, were already placed with extended families or foster parents. What they wanted was some way to help with the costs of looking after an extra child.”

Under Gladys’s guidance, the villagers set up a women’s co-operative to knit garments, with Sonia’s sponsors at home in London supplying the wool. But the women could not sell enough to recoup the costs of transporting the wool, let alone make enough money to buy the basics of maize, sugar, salt and washing powder.

They then came up with the idea of creating a vegetable-growing cooperative. The produce would be distributed in the village and any surplus could be sold at market.

Once again, the redoubtable Gladys swung into action. She found the land and arranged its purchase, organised the building of a protective fence, sourced the fertiliser, borrowed an old-fashioned water pump for irrigation and recruited people for the planting, watering and tending rota.

“It was trial and error to start with. The soil isn’t good and we didn’t know what would grow in it, ” says Sonia. “I took over 20 packets of seeds and we had to wait and see.

Lettuce and kale did well and tomatoes were OK.” She produces a snapshot of the flourishing allotment and the proud gardeners. “They’re volunteers and do their stint on the vegetable patch around their fishing and other responsibilities.”

The goats came next. Sonia again asked everyone she knew if they would donate £10 to buy a goat. Mbungo now has 10 of them.

During her last visit in August, Stanley, one of the villagers, told Sonia about the children who were too small for school and had nothing to do but play in the dirt.

“Stanley and Beatrice, the other schoolteacher, were gathering them up in a room to give them basic lessons, but the conditions were appalling. Yet their little faces were beaming and shining. They already knew their two times table and some English.” Sonia had found her next project.

“I asked Gladys to look for a piece of land and the PTA to draw up costings for building a nursery school.” Meanwhile, Sonia set about raising the £600 needed to build and equip it. The nursery will be ready in the new year.

The next project is to build a chicken coop and to install a water pump. It is the latter goal, the most ambitious yet, which has driven Sonia to set up the charity, Malawi Dream.

“I tell everyone I meet about Mbungo and people are incredibly helpful and generous. We’ll go out to friends for supper and a few days later, there’ll be a cheque in the post. After one dinner party, someone sent £300 to build a playground for the nursery, because he wanted the children to have some fun too and playing was all part of learning anyway.”

The water pump, however, is on a different scale. “This is the biggest thing we’ve taken on, ” says Sonia.

“It’s actually not much more than the price of a family car, but it will revolutionise their lives. They have a great water supply, this vast, freshwater lake. The problem is getting the water to the land.”

Until recently, Malawi was, to most people, simply part of that amorphous mass we call the Third World, then Madonna adopted a baby boy. “I never have to explain where Malawi is now, ” says Sonia.

Over and over, Sonia stresses how much can be done with so little in Malawi and how each of the projects helps support the others.

“The vegetables from the garden and the eggs from the chicken coop will be sold to buy food for the vulnerable children. The goats are an asset which will grow as they breed.

Each project was decided on by the villagers. They own them. These are resourceful, hard-working people who just needed a little bit of help getting started. You don’t have to be big to make a big difference.” Or to put in a water pump.

Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006

Tutu wants miracle of helping blind to see

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has spoken of the miracle of giving sight to people through cataract operations.

Speaking at the launch of a drive to perform 100 000 cataract operations worldwide over the next 100 days, he said sighted people took so many things for granted.

“Can you imagine what it must be like when a child who has been blind from birth has one of these operations, and they remove the bandages and the child sees their mother and their father for the first time? Don’t you want to be part of making such a miracle happen?” he asked.

The drive was launched by an international NGO, the Christian Blind Mission, at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on Tuesday.

According to CBM president Professor Allen Foster, about 17 million people worldwide are totally blind because of cataracts.

It is a reversible condition in a relatively simple ten to fifteen-minute operation.

“This is one of the great injustices in the world today,” he said.

Over the past 30 years, he said, CBM has provided funding for over six million cataract operations, and last year was responsible for 640 000.

The “100 000 Miracles in 100 Days” campaign would mean that that number of extra operations would be carried out this year.

South Africa has been chosen as the venue for the launch because of the symbolism of the fact that there are about 100 000 people in the country who are blinded by cataracts.

About 2 000 of the “miracle” operations will be carried out in South Africa.

Tutu and Foster together broke a “fulani stick”, used by children to lead blind adults around in east Africa, to symbolise breaking the cycle of blindness.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, usually as a result of ageing, though it can also occur through disease or injury.

The operation usually involves replacing the lens with a plastic substitute.

According to Foster, CBM not only funds operations directly, but also invests in infrastructure and training, to ensure that cataract surgery is available on a long-term, sustainable basis.

Friday, Aug. 4, 2006

Miracle girl who became face of Live Aid triumphs with graduation

The image of a young Ethiopian girl ravaged by hunger and 15 minutes from death came to symbolise Live Aid’s 1985 plea for money for the victims of the devastating famine. Birhan Woldu, described as a “miracle baby”, survived the 1984 humanitarian crisis and was seen as a symbol of hope for Ethiopia.

Yesterday, in a triumphant reversal of fortune, she graduated from university with a diploma in agricultural science after studying at the Wukro Technical and Vocational College in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, where she grew up.

A scholarship from the African Children’s Educational Trust paid for her studies, which she hopes to combine with a degree in nursing. She intends to work among farming families in the impoverished northern provinces of Ethiopia. She will also help her father, Abu, to grow tea and coffee in the village of Quiha, the epicentre of the 1984 famine where more than one million people – mainly children – died as civil war raged.

Her home is a stone hut, where she lives with her 58-year-old father, her stepmother and seven brothers and sisters. The family survives on £80 a month provided by the Educational Trust, and the food Ms Woldu grows.

“I am thrilled she has passed,” said Bob Geldof, who pioneered the Live Aid campaign. “She has come to symbolise Ethiopia’s plight, from the very first film of her. She is probably unaware of that, which is part of her charm. She is a single example of the waste of humanity, when not just one person died but a million people around her.

“It is extraordinary she has become a worldwide symbol, but she bears it well; she is dignified, dynamic, elegant and intellectual. I hope she goes on to lead a fantastic life. It is unbelievable that this is the same scrap of a girl.”

Last year, aged 23, Ms Woldu made her first trip outside Ethiopia, travelling 3,700 miles to appear on stage with Geldof and Madonna in London for the Live8 concert.

When Geldof described her to the crowds as “a beacon of hope and inspiration to millions, proof we can make a difference”, it became clear that her recovery had been seen worldwide as a symbol of hope for Africa.

Introducing her to the crowd, Geldof said: “Some of you were here 20 years ago. Some of you weren’t even born. I want to show you why we started this long walk to justice. Don’t let them tell you this doesn’t work.”

Through an interpreter, Ms Woldu told the crowd: “It was Live Aid that helped to save my life – and now I believe together we can save the lives of millions more. We Africans love you very much. It is a great honour to be here at the start of the Live8. Please continue to support the Live8; we love you very much. Thank you.”

The first Live Aid raised £110m. Six days after the 2005 Live8 concerts, the world’s richest nations announced £28.8bn extra aid for Africa, plus measures on debt, trade and health.

Ms Woldu has said that her proximity to death has left her “grateful to be alive”. Her grave was being dug alongside thousands of other victims of the famine and her death seemed inevitable before rehydration injections given to her by a nurse saved her life. She told Brian Stewart, a Canadian reporter who was with the team that filmed her fragile body in her father’s arms: “I could have been just dust by now, but I’m not. I’m alive to see beauty around me, and to see new things. I’m very happy.”

But she cannot hear of the famine that killed so many, including her mother and sister, without crying. “I don’t remember it, and I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t see my people die in that terrible time. It is past. I don’t see it the way adults see it, and I’m glad I did not see it.”

Her education was part of a scholarship scheme run by the African Children’s Educational Trust (A-CET), a Leicester-based charity that sponsors the education of more than 2,000 youngsters. A-CET’s chief executive, David Stables, said: “We are proud of Birhan’s academic achievements. This epitomises much of what we are doing. It is important to feed starving people during famines, but it is equally important to try to make sure famines do not occur again or so often.

“By educating the youngsters and particularly in Birhan’s case, for her to get a diploma in agriculture, should help. By supporting the education of vulnerable Ethiopian youngsters, this can be their way out of poverty. Birhan has shown the way.”

Thursday, Apr. 20, 2006

Twin healers

In the mountains around Kabul, Afghanistan, the Moss brothers — a symbiotic set of identical twin doctors tough to tell apart in peacetime — lost their identities.

There, among villagers, soldiers and the pressures of war, the two Army reservists were no longer Vince and Vance, they were doganagi. The word means “duality,” but in this case it translated to “same-face healers.”

“We’d wake up in the morning and there’d be a line of mothers, fathers, grandchildren waiting for us,” Vance Moss said. “We knew that we were there to save lives.”

Physicians often brag about the power their craft holds.

Medicine, its purveyors preach, affects every facet of our daily lives.

The Moss brothers, staff members at Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood, are no different, pledg-ing their specialties — Vince is a thoracic surgeon, Vance is in training as a renal transplant surgeon — will bring cutting-edge technology and nimble hands to the Shore.

The brothers will soon open Mid-Atlantic Multi-Specialty Surgical Group LLC in Jackson. A second office will follow in Howell.

But they quietly admit their recent tour of shared duty — a classified assignment that shuttled them across a war-scarred landscape nearly 7,000 miles from their tony Upper East Side condominium — was true healing.

The pair volunteered to trek to an Afghan National Army hospital in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

M16’s and tanks patrolled the grounds, but the MASH-like unit wasn’t entirely secure. It couldn’t be. A place too militarized would startle patients, and they wouldn’t have lined up for medical asylum.

The Moss brothers didn’t feel entirely safe, either.

They drew looks as some of the first black men the natives had ever seen. They wondered if they were jeopardizing their jobs at Kimball to be in a war zone.

Plus, the fractious relations between rebels and soldiers could have killed them in the time it takes a sniper’s bullet to fire.

Still, as the 34-year-olds performed bowel resections, urological repairs and amputations, they saw what medicine means to those who need it.

“We saved lives,” Vance said. “Every day, we saved lives.”

Eagle Scouts

Born to an Army soldier and an oceanographer, the Moss boys grew up poor in Upper Marlboro, Md., a suburb between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.

They knew — fast — that they would be more than brothers.

They’d be twins in every sense of that word.

“We’re going to live out the definition,” Vince said. “It was teamwork.”

The pair rose through life together. Their hobbies dovetailed. Their passions formed in tandem.

As they worked toward the Eagle Scout award they earned at 14 — the brothers get indignant when asked if they made Eagle, a glimpse into their self-imposed mantra to be the best — they both had to earn a first aid merit badge.

From there, the Hippocratic oath was merely a matter of time.

First, the boys had to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy Prep School at Fort Monmouth, Pennsylvania State University and Temple University’s medical school.

When Dad’s a soldier, discipline isn’t fear. It’s life.

So it was a natural domino effect when the boys signed up for the Civil Air Patrol as teenagers, the first step of their military careers.

“We fell in love with it right away,” Vince said, his brother nodding along beside him. “It’s do by example. It’s teach by example.”

College wasn’t exactly like that.

Penn State is a nationally ranked school for student partying, and although the men earned entry into the school’s Honor Society as freshmen, the campus didn’t offer a rigid sense of order.

Of course, the pair imposed it on themselves.

The brothers were disappointed when they got into seven medical schools in the winter of 1994.

“We applied to 15,” Vance said.

Even medical school — as difficult as that was — left the pair wanting more.

In their second year at Temple, the two enrolled in the Army Reserves. Both are now majors in the medical corps.

Uncle Sam wanted them

Fast forward to Sept. 17, 2005.

Vance came home from another day as a renal transplant fellow at a Long Island hospital.

A large yellow envelope was at the front door.

He was awash in military intuition, the same clairvoyance a war widow experiences when a Military Police car comes to the house.

“I immediately knew it was my orders,” Vance said. “I was excited. Ready to go.”

The brothers shipped out to Fort Bliss in Texas — military rules prevent them from saying much more — and the pair soon joined a volunteer mission to provide unique medical care in and around Kabul.

The menace of a war zone became palpable moments after the Moss brothers sprang from their plane.

They introduced themselves to their translator and saw a child with no legs.

They then introduced themselves to their work spaces.

Crumbling farces of what Shore residents expect from hospitals, the operating rooms were reminiscent of the early days of American medicine.

Lights were powered by temperamental generators, so they flickered on and off with no warning. Sponges swam together in dirty buckets, a jarring sight to surgeons used to compulsive sterility.

Some hospitals had no soap.

“Here, it’s taken for granted — antibiotics, drainage equipment,” Vance said. “There, as a surgeon, we have to use the basics.”

Birth defect corrected

They don’t remember his name. They can’t forget his face.

He was 14, with thick hair, neatly cropped around the ears. He looked like a regular boy, except his plastic legs were propped up on the stretcher next to him.

He needed surgery to correct hypospadias, a birth defect in which the opening of a boy’s urethra is not at the tip of the penis, but somewhere else along the shaft.

The colonel the brothers served under said nobody would operate on the boy.

“We were his last resort,” Vance said. “And when we evaluated this kid, the colonel cried.”

Then, they fixed the child.

They fixed a lot of other people, too.

In February, the pair returned to their condo, five blocks from Central Park. Life went back to its familiar routine, although house hunting in Ocean County and the worries of opening their first medical office didn’t seem as consuming as they previously had.

“It was depressing in the first few months,” Vance said. “You come back to the luxuries of New York City and everything slowed down, even for New York. It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off.”

The high-pressure emotion may be gone, but the memories are concrete — especially about that boy. And like the rest of their lives, the experience was shared.

“It was very spiritual,” Vance said. “I don’t have to go home and tell him how it feels to be eating kebabs, feeling the snow and the gravel beneath your feet. . . . We were there together, experiencing that. That’s an experience we’ll never forget, as long as we live.”

ing their specialties — Vince is a thoracic surgeon, Vance is in training as a renal transplant surgeon — will bring cutting-edge technology and nimble hands to the Shore.

The brothers will soon open Mid-Atlantic Multi-Specialty Surgical Group LLC in Jackson. A second office will follow in Howell.

But they quietly admit their recent tour of shared duty — a classified assignment that shuttled them across a war-scarred landscape nearly 7,000 miles from their tony Upper East Side condominium — was true healing.

The pair volunteered to trek to an Afghan National Army hospital in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

M16’s and tanks patrolled the grounds, but the MASH-like unit wasn’t entirely secure. It couldn’t be. A place too militarized would startle patients, and they wouldn’t have lined up for medical asylum.

The Moss brothers didn’t feel entirely safe, either.

They drew looks as some of the first black men the natives had ever seen. They wondered if they were jeopardizing their jobs at Kimball to be in a war zone.

Plus, the fractious relations between rebels and soldiers could have killed them in the time it takes a sniper’s bullet to fire.

Still, as the 34-year-olds performed bowel resections, urological repairs and amputations, they saw what medicine means to those who need it.

“We saved lives,” Vance said. “Every day, we saved lives.”

Friday, Dec. 16, 2005

NATO rescues Pakistan quake survivors from winter

NATO’s engineers are assisting the Pakistan army in ‘Operation Winter Race’ to help survivors of October’s earthquake exposed to harsh weather conditions in the mountainous Himalayan region, the organization’s spokesman said on Friday.

‘NATO’s helicopters were flying up to 67 tons of relief goods daily to remote mountain villages and evacuating victims before the winter sets in,’ spokesman Antonio Rodrigues said in a statement in Islamabad.

So far more than 2,000 quake victims from mountainous areas have been evacuated by NATO rescuers.

‘The aim of this operation is to set up shelters for the population living in the mountains before the winter sets in,’ Rodrigues said.

Rodrigues said NATO’s air bridge has flown more than 2,898 tons of tents, blankets, stoves and food into Pakistan in more than 153 flights from Europe, while its Medical Relief Hospital (NMRH) located in Bagh district has treated more than 4,015 patients.

The Italian engineers contingent that joined the relief team earlier this month is working on clearing roads and removing debris from collapsed buildings.

‘The Italians brought 136 trucks that include 20 dumper trucks, 12 trailers, four lift trailers, four excavators and four bulldozers and they (engineers) are making a great impact to the relief efforts,’ the NATO spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the 140 U.S. sailors from Naval Mobile Construction (NMCB) Battalion 74, commonly known as Seabees, are to return home shortly on completion of their seven-week humanitarian mission in the quake-affected Kashmir region, a U.S. embassy statement said Friday.

They are being replaced by a fresh contingent of 40 Seabees from Port Hueneme, California.

In November, the Seabees also adopted Miani Bandi village adjacent to the civilian airport in Muzzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan- administered Kashmir, as part of the Pakistani government’s ‘Adopt-a-Village’ programme.

‘In addition to removing debris from the village, the Seabees built four new school structures and assisted the Pakistan military and local homeowners in rebuilding 40 shelters,’ said the statement.

Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005

Samaritan rescues ‘seal woman’

The “seal woman” is going to work herself out of her financial distress.

Elsie van Tonder, 48, whose nose was bitten off by a seal in October, received a new business gift on Tuesday – Dawie Petzer of Estate Delivery gave her a franchise.

Elsie lost her nose when she tried to help a seal, which was “lying and gasping” on a beach, back into the sea.

Petzer’s company, in Bellville, Cape Town, delivers fresh products and postal articles to busy households.

Petzer wrote a letter to Die Burger, responding to a report on Van Tonder’s financial straits.

He said: “I found this woman’s tremendous courage heartening; she reached out like that to an animal and in the process was harmed herself.

“In this article, I see that the woman also bears a heavy burden of caring for so many people. She put her pride in her pocket and asked for help.

Elsie overcome with joy

“That is the reason for this letter to you. Estate Delivery is prepared to donate a franchise to her.

“Now, she can not only begin looking after her family, but also be self-sufficient through this business.”

Elsie was overcome with joy when she heard the news.

“I’m very grateful and excited about the business. I’ll soon pick it up, because it’s the kind of work I’ve already done.

“I know I’ll make a success of it and I’m ready to begin immediately.”

She says she will not let the loss of her nose stand in the way of success.

“I’ve learned recently one mustn’t hide away. If people stop me in shops and ask what happened, I tell them.

Offer valued at $5000

“Soon, my nose will be fixed, and then people will have to get used to me all over again.”

The franchise offer, valued at R30 000 (circa US $5000), includes the use of the Estate Delivery concept, 500 advertisements, full training in managing the business, computer software, product lists, order forms, client agreements and a manual.

Petzer also promised to get surety for a computer for Elsie so that she could get to work at once.

Elsie is due in Cape Town for her third nose operation on December 18. During her stay in the city she will be trained and receive the computer.

Sunday, Dec. 4, 2005

Rescue Fund: Wise County mother, children start over with nothing but each other

“Dee” had a comfortable life in another state with her three children and a man who made a good living running his own contracting business. Then, she said, he fell in with drugs and a rowdy crowd, and everything fell apart.

Eight months ago, she finally fled what she described as an intolerable relationship. [Victim of Love?: How You Can Break the Cycle of Bad Relationships]

Dee was pregnant with her fourth child when she had enough and left a life that had spiraled deep into desperation and despair. Her children include a 12-year-old from a previous marriage and a 4-year-old, 16-month-old and 2-month-old.

Dee’s parents are both deceased. Her only immediate relative is a cousin “who is like a sister to me,” she said, because they were raised together in a rural part of Southwest Virginia.

“She is the only family I’ve got left. I had nowhere to go, but she knew what to do because she is studying to be a social worker,” Dee said.

The Department of Social Services in Virginia set up Dee with an apartment, rental assistance and food stamps – the sort of official family assistance she never dreamed she would ever need.

To complicate matters was a difficult pregnancy, the car transmission went kaput, and as if there haven’t been enough blows to endure, now Dee has been diagnosed with cervical cancer. [When Bad Things Happen to Good People]

And yet, the 31-year-old doesn’t wallow in a woe-is-me pity party. Because with her children, she hasn’t the time or, for that matter, inclination.

“I’ve had social workers to help me find furniture. I’ve had friends to go down to get as much of my stuff as we could get. I’ve had friends and neighbors and churches to just come out of the woodwork to help get things we needed,” she said. “My cousin helps get practically everything I need for the baby. She’s been as close to a sister as I’ve got. We’re getting it back together now, but it’s been real hard. Now there’s this stage 3 cervical cancer. I’ve just went through a lot in the last eight months. In the last two years I lost both my parents. And I had everything – a nice home, nice things, everything. And ended up losing it all.

“The biggest thing I tell everyone is, once you have enough (of an abusive relationship) you walk away. But until you do, you can’t. It’s been kind of hard, but we’re making it. You know, the kids are starting to do good. The baby’s here. Just being scared is the biggest part of it.”

Her ex-husband served several months in jail as a result of the abuse. Part of his probation is he cannot step foot in Virginia. He violated that requirement and is back in jail in the other state, Dee said.

“There’s a 24-month protective order in effect now, and he’s not supposed to come into this state, but he did and that’s why he’s back in jail. I would love to see the man as he once was. It would be great if he could be that person again, if nothing else, for the kids.

“I grew up not having a whole lot and ended up having it and now, losing it. We had a nice, beautiful home and a beautiful relationship. Then just everything messed up. I wanted to tough it out and thought it would get better. But it never did. It just got worse.”

Dee said her children are her top priority.

“My children are everything to me,” she said. “I’m glad I’ve got them because without them, I’d have lost my sanity. For them is why I’m hanging in there. I don’t have time to feel sorry for me. Maybe that’s why God gave me this cancer is to give me something to fight and put everything else into perspective. I already know what to fight for, and that’s my children.”

More than 1,000 families in a six-county region of Tennessee and Virginia will receive assistance from the Rescue Fund this year. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to the Times-News Rescue Fund, P.O. Box 479, Kingsport, Tenn. 37662.

More than $42,000 was expended from the fund last year.

Friday, Nov. 11, 2005

Positive news from Century Village

It’s sad but true fact that the negative side of a situation is always more newsworthy than the positive. In response to your articles, I want to say that there was much that was positive at Century Village in Boca during the days of Hurricane Wilma, and thousands of residents were given aid and support.

Several times a day food and ice were available in front of the clubhouse. People had to stand in line, but they were all accommodated. Later on in the week, ice and cartons of food were delivered by truck to individual buildings. Neighbors who saw the deliveries passed the word.

Many of our residents brought supplies back to those who were not able to get out. The Jewish Family Services sought out shut-ins.

Among the individuals and organizations responsible for taking care of our needs were County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, state Rep. Irving Slosberg, Marvin Manning (president of Century Village’s umbrella association), Paul Waverlea (official of Prime Management), a kind-hearted representative of the American Red Cross, the Sheriff’s Office and the Jewish Family Service. There were many other people and organizations that also helped all they could.

As soon as the fallen trees were cleared from the roads, our internal buses were activated to bring to the clubhouse area those who have no cars.

Century Village is a retirement community. There are no facilities to speak of for the handicapped. The majority of us are still able to take care of ourselves, and those who are not must get their own help. Many came here 20 or more years ago as able-bodied and have since become handicapped. Our management does all it can, which may not be much. Neighbors do help when they can, but they should not be expected to take on nursing duties.

We are most grateful to the individuals who came here to help. They did all that it was possible to do.

Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005

Hairdressers unite to help hurricane victims

Haircuts, manicures, pedicures, facials and massages are part of the regular routine for some, a special treat for others.

On Sunday, all of those services will provide an additional benefit as area stylists donate the proceeds of an all day Cut-a-Thon to hurricane relief efforts.

“As time goes by, people get busy with other things and sometimes forget that the need continues long after the initial urgency has past”, said Jan Norman of Jan Norman’s Salon in Belpre.

“The people affected by Katrina and then Rita are going to need help for months to come as they try to rebuild their lives. For a minimum donation of $20, people here will receive a professional service and people on the coast will get some of the help they need.”

Fifteen local stylists in the five specialties have volunteered their time from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for the no appointment necessary fund raiser. walk-in to either Lee’s Studio, 3113 Murdoch Ave., or Jon Six & Co., 1505 Grand Central Ave., to participate. Refreshments will be served, free gifts given and raffles conducted at both locations.

“Each salon has offered a fabulous prize and we’ll sell $1 chances and have the drawing that day,” Norman said.

“We hope that more stylists and more salons will participate so that more people can receive services and more donations made. The stylists are all from this community, people who have been working in this business for years and I thought it was important for us to unite for a common cause.”

Any individual service can be obtained for a $20 donation, with space being made available for any who wish to participate.

“I’ve had some people tell me that we should have done this sooner and others say that people have already given all they had to give, but I think there’s two things to remember,” Norman said.

“First, hurricane victims are starting over, many of them with nothing. They are going to need help for a long time and we can’t forget that. Second, people will be getting a professional service for their donation, not to mention the free gift every person will receive.”

Norman added that she hopes the community comes out, gets a hair cut or a massage and continues to be the generous, giving people they always have been.

“We’re offering a full day spa package as a raffle prize and I think Jon (Six) is giving a complete product line package. The salons in this area contribute a great deal to this community and I like the idea of uniting for such a good cause. There is still room for other salons to join us; I think it’s a great opportunity,” Lee Rector, of Lee’s Studio, added.

Between the three, Jan Norman, Lee Rector and Jon Six have more than 75 years of experience in the business and are now donating that expertise to the benefit of others. All are welcome to visit either of the locations where services will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005

An angel in the sky

A private pilot in town volunteered his time and airplane to fly reunification flights for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

John Rickert has been a volunteer for Angel Flight America since 1999. The mission of the national organization is usually to provide free rides for persons who need to get to medical care. So, Rickert said, this latest mission was right up his alley.

“This is all done by volunteer pilots,” said Rickert. “Some of us have their own planes and some rent them. The missions are done by us, using our own resources.”

Rickert said Angel Flights are traditionally medical flights, taking people with medical needs around the country.

“I often go to northern Maine and pick up patients to bring to Boston,” said Rickert. “I bring children to the University of Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital. I am part of the Northeast group, but there are regional groups around the country.”

During Katrina, Angel Flight America mobilized through its national dispatch center.

“After the evacuation, they started to move volunteers to locations such as Houston and Gulf Port (Mississippi),” said Rickert. “Over a two week period, I flew about five to six flights. I took nurses down to San Antonio. I brought some special-needs people to Atlanta to be reunited with their caregivers. They had gotten separated from them.”

Rickert, who owns a small turboprop plane, also brought people from Mississippi to New York for medical help, including one person who needed a spinal operation and had to be transferred because the hospital in Gulf Port had been damaged.

“There were not a lot of local doctors available,” he said. “Many had relocated with the rest of the evacuees.”

“It’s something I could do,” he said “But, it’s not just me. There were hundreds of us out there.”

Rickert said he keeps his plane at the Pease airfield. Currently it is undergoing a mandated 100-hour maintenance check. The plane can carry up to nine people.

Monday, Oct. 3, 2005

Schools give to hurricane victims

An outpouring of support and generosity swept through the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A campuswide fund-raising drive by the students and faculty at California State University, Northridge, netted $84,484, which was presented in a ceremony last week to the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross also was the beneficiary of $12,035 raised at Agbu Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park. The campus’ student council, including President Lorig Naccachian and Cabinet members Natalie Nahabet, Jessica Mansour and Mhair Zeitounian presented the check to the charity’s San Fernando Valley headquarters.

Jonathon Prince, 25, of Studio City left last week on a five-month, cross-country run to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. For more information, see www.Run4Relief.com.

The Woodcraft Rangers after-school program honored Larry Clark of Los Angeles during a Saturday night gala. The not-for-profit group provides programs at schools in the San Fernando Valley and also operates Stanley Ranch Camp in Castaic.

Laurali Fey was named Woman of the Year by the American Business Women’s Association, Los Angeles Area Counsel, which is composed of the group’s Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. Fey was commended for holding all the board offices and most of the chairmanships in the group’s Valley Glen Chapter.

Dr. Khalil Tabsh, director of maternal-fetal medicine at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, last week received a California Immigrant Achievement Award from the American Immigration Law Foundation. A native of Lebanon, he also is the vice chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Juniors and teens from the Agoura Hills Dance and Performing Arts Center captured top honors during the four-day Hollywood Vibe National Finals, which drew competitors from all over California and five other states.

Six students from West Valley Leadership Academy got shorter haircuts so they could make donations to Locks of Love, the national organization that provides human-hair wigs to children who lose their hair to illness. The participants were Danielle Carrillo, Delina Carrillo, Ashley Jaramillo, Lauren Mercado, Janet Segouia and Myly Sharko.

Fredi Macias, a 19-year-old student at Los Angeles Valley College, is set to receive his Eagle Scout Award. For his community service project, the Troop 201 member collected 106 pairs of used prescription eyeglasses to recondition for low-income residents. Macias, of North Hills, is the son of Gloria Caldera and Rafael Macias.

Monday, Sep. 26, 2005

Salon owners host silent auction to help a family

The owners of a local salon are working to help a family from the Gulf relocate to Canton.

John and Amber Gaylord of Dileo Family Hair Care, Inc., in the Ledgewood Plaza on Route 44 are taking donations from businesses for a silent auction next month.

The proceeds from the auction will go to a family coming to Connecticut from the ravaged Gulf region.

The seven-member family is set to arrive in the state any day, Amber said.

The family is in need of many different items because they lost everything when Hurricane Katrina slammed into their town last month.

“We think residents would want to help a family coming to Canton,” Amber said.

The family is being moved into a vacant church parsonage in Canton as part of state religious group’s relief efforts.

Amber said the family that arrives may change, but she believes the family of seven will be the one that arrives shortly.

To help out the family, businesses in the plaza are donating items for the silent auction that will run from Oct. 4 to 9.

All of the money from the auction will go to the family to help get them on their feet.

“We are giving 100 percent of what is made,” Amber said.

Businesses and individuals throughout the region are asked to donate items to the auction, Amber said.

Amber said all items should be donated by Oct. 3.

To help out the cause, the Torrington Fire Department said it could donate any items the family needs.

The department has been collecting bulk items since the storm struck, but is suspending collections because of the high price of transportation.

Deputy Fire Chief Jaye Giampaolo said one trip to the region could cost $1,600 in fuel.

As a result, the department is changing to a joint program with Wal-Mart where people can go into the store on Torringford Street, buy a gift card and donate it to the fire department.

This way the department can buy goods on the Internet with the cards and have the goods shipped to the region by Wal-Mart, Giampaolo said.

In the meantime, Giampaolo said the family coming to the state could have some of the goods they still have at the fire station on Water Street in Torrington.

“Make up a list, and we will make it happen,” he said.

Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2005

‘Forgotten’ towns get help from student hairdressers

The forgotten towns are now getting relief. As word trickles in about small towns on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that are barely a dot on the map, much like Pontotoc, whose needs have been overlooked, folks in Pontotoc have been responding with truckloads of water, food, and clothes.

That’s how Kay Chism and her students at KC’s School of Hair Design became involved in helping a small town named Hebron.

“We learned of the plight of these little towns through the Pontotoc city hall,” said Chism.
Chism and her students gathered in a circle on Thursday morning and prayed.

“We held hands and prayed before we started the project, I gave the students $200 to start out with.”

With that small offering of “two fish” the students scattered out into town with their own money and started collecting food, clothing and toys for the small town.

“When they gathered everything in, there was more than $1,000 worth of stuff on that table,” said Chism as her eyes misted with tears.

The things that were collected were piled high on an 8 foot long table, looking more like a Christmas shopping expedition with every passing moment.

And the amazing thing about the collection is it came together within a matter of hours.
“We thought we’d have a couple of days to get the stuff together, however, we learned the truck was leaving early Friday morning, rather than Friday afternoon, so the students really scrambled to get all the things.

“Every time I’d walk in that room and see those supplies for the people down there, I’d start crying.”

But Chism said the giving won’t stop here.

“We plan on continuing to be a drop off point for those who want to give supplies to the people who have lost everything in that storm. We want to especially help those forgotten cities.”
Chism said anyone wishing to donate to the relief effort can bring them when they come to get their hair cut and they will be delivered to those who need help.

“These things are going on a truck directly to the towns that are affected.”

Chism has other plans in the works, such as a day of beauty when all proceeds from her hair cuts will go to a fund to buy more supplies for the folks on the coast.

“We will advertise what day that will be when we get the plans worked out.”

Rescue 4 Hurricaid Set to Take Fligh

Donated items will be hand-delivered the to Salvation Army distribution centers in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Thanks to the overwhelming support from Metro-Detroiters, the mass collection effort to supply the Salvation Army with goods for Hurricane Katrina victims has been a tremendous success. Rescue 4 Hurricaid: Flight of Champions, a relief effort organized by the Detroit Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment (PS&E) along with WDIV Local 4 and Art Van Furniture, has collected nearly 520,000 pounds or 260 tons of donated items.

The Rescue 4 Hurricaid: Flight of Champions project, which began last Monday, September 12, set up donation centers in all 30 Art Van Furniture locations in Michigan. With the help of Michiganders, the collection centers were able to fill 40 of Art Van’s semi-trucks with items ranging from baby diapers, wipes and formula to extensions cords, brooms, and mops.

Throughout the week, WDIV Local Channel 4 brought live coverage of the project from various Art Van Furniture stores in the Metro-Detroit area. Several members of the Palace Sports & Entertainment family – including Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter and rookie Jason Maxiell, Pistons Head Coach Flip Saunders, Shock forward Barbara Farris, and PS&E President and CEO Tom Wilson – were also in attendance at the Art Van locations to show their support.

On Monday, after a mere week of taking donations, Barbara Farris was on hand again as several tons of the collected items were loaded onto Roundball One, the Pistons team plane.

“It’s inspiring to see how generous the people of Michigan have been, especially considering how close to home this is for me,” the six-year Shock veteran said. “The support shown by the people who contributed to Rescue 4 Hurricaid and other relief programs like it is just amazing.”

On Tuesday, September 20 more than 20 members from the Pistons and Shock organization, including Farris, Hunter and Wilson, and representatives from WDIV, Art Van, and the Salvation Army will fly down to Biloxi, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to hand-deliver the donated items to Salvation Army distribution centers in the area. There will be approximately 20 tons delivered between two planes leaving over 100 tons to be distributed in Michigan for evacuees first, and then later trucked down to the distribution centers.

Shock forward Barbara Farris, a native of Harvey, LA, about 15 minutes outside of the heart of New Orleans and a graduate of Tulane University, was happy to lend a helping hand.

“Obviously there is a lot of work that needs to be done over the coming months,” said Farris, “but it really is a privilege to be able to travel to the affected areas of the Gulf Coast and be a part of what Palace Sports & Entertainment, WDIV and Art Van have put together in such a short period of time.”

Farris, who has not seen her parents since Hurricane Katrina devastated the lives of millions, has something else to be excited about as well. The scheduled trip to the Gulf Coast to help those still left stranded, includes a visit from her mother and father.

Monday, Sep. 19, 2005

Area kids step up to help: Generosity of students aids the Gulf Coast

Going door to door and asking for money is not an easy thing to do.

It’s even harder when those doors belong to businesses with policies and managerial hierarchies and other reasons to turn away a teenager showing up unannounced to sell stickers for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

“I wish my mom were here. I’d feel more confident,” 17-year-old Courtaney Craig said after unsuccessfully trying to get several Pittsford Plaza stores to sell $2 stickers that read “I helped make NEW ORLEANS NEW again!!!” She dropped off some at The Red Barn clothing boutique, but her mother, who knows the owner, had called ahead to get permission.

“I guess you live and you learn,” Craig said on the way back to her car, deciding to make phone calls of her own to the plaza’s other stores. Besides, the Brighton High School senior was certain that she and her classmates could sell the stickers, along with $2 awareness bracelets, at school functions.

From preschool to high school, area students are doing what they can to raise money, collect school supplies and offer comfort to storm victims — in many cases under the supervision of teachers who organized similar efforts after last year’s tsunami.

They’re selling lemonade, collecting coins, washing cars, recording CDs and donating proceeds from concerts, garage sales and school dances.

“All of these people have lost their homes and their belongings,” said Brandon Kallen, 12, of Brockport. “I wanted to do what I could to help.”

Brandon was one of about 50 volunteers who raised about $2,800 for the relief effort during a garage sale Sunday in Clarkson. The sale was held by Cool Kids, a Brockport group that teaches cultural awareness. Other local businesses and groups joined the effort, said Cool Kids director Steve Appleton.

Community members unloaded hundreds of gently used items at the Clarkson Fire Hall — clothes, books, furniture — while shoppers combed through them.

Hannah Sulkowski, 11, of Brockport donated clothes and toys. While at the sale, she also wrote letters of encouragement to Gulf Coast residents, to show the survivors that she’s thinking of them.

Kids can identify

The youngest among those trying to make a difference may not fully understand the enormity of the situation, but they can imagine what life would be like without clothes, crayons, toothbrushes and other items they use every day. The Johnson brothers at the Genesee Community Charter School on East Avenue started a coin drive to help relatives in Opelousas, La., which is swelling rapidly with the sudden influx of displaced families looking for shelter. Seven-year-old Kimathi and 5-year-old Cabral have seen remarkable generosity from classmates, some of whom have given up their morning “choice time” — when they can play games and socialize — to roll the coins in paper wrappers.

“One of the kindergartners brought in this huge bin of pennies,” said their mother, Sekile Nzinga-Johnson. “She had been saving them because she planned on buying a car.”

At the Ninth Grade Academy in the Rush-Henrietta district, students will get to shave Principal Christopher Barker’s head if the school raises $2,500 by the end of the month.

“One of the advisers asked me about it,” Barker said. “She asked if it was OK, and I said, ‘You’d have to ask my wife.’ It’s all in fun. Whatever it takes. I’m a little bit thinning in the hair anyway.”

Junior and senior classes at Bishop Kearney High School filled 20 bookbags and more than 20 grocery bags with school supplies being given today to the Rochester Christian Response Team, which will distribute them to students as they arrive from down south.

Some school districts are hoping to establish long-term relationships with the students they end up helping.

Byron-Bergen students in Genesee County are searching for a similar district in Mississippi, where they hope to initiate regular correspondence after sending books, music, video games, stuffed animals and “other things that may not be covered under Red Cross and the Salvation Army and so on,” said Loren Penman, director of learning.

Hilton High School is sending money to Louisiana’s Thibodaux High School north of New Orleans. Thibodaux, where more than 100 students recently enrolled with no supplies or belongings, is trading monetary donations for gift cards from Wal-Mart, which is matching the amounts. At a picnic during the first week of school, Hilton students raised $1,100 in less than two hours.

In Webster last week, Holy Trinity School sponsored a “Pay up, dress down” day during which students could donate $1 or more for the privilege of leaving their uniforms at home. Third-grader Baltazar Ortiz got to wear his favorite clothes — a T-shirt with a skateboarder decal and a pair of blue pants he wears to the skatepark.

“The thing was, we also had opening-school Mass, so the kids were not dressed for church too well,” said principal Christopher Meagher. “But it was going to a good cause.”

Students in kindergarten through sixth grade raised $236.40.

Many area Catholic schools are collecting at least $1 from students in response to a fundraising campaign by the National Catholic Educational Association, which is buying school supplies for — and aiding the placement of — displaced students in Catholic schools and religious education programs nationwide.

Skipping ice cream

At least once a week, children at Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School in East Irondequoit are forfeiting their after-lunch ice cream and dropping at least 60 cents into a container near the cafeteria freezer. One student gave $5 the first day of what has been made a yearlong commitment.

“It’s kind of easy, because I’d rather donate some money than eat ice cream,” said fifth-grader Zack Wilkinson, who has given about $3. “I would feel horrible with absolutely nothing.”

Even stranded pets are getting attention.

After Madeline McGrain Githler’s aunt, uncle and their Australian sheepdog escaped to her Pittsford home from New Orleans, the 10-year-old learned that the pets left behind in the disaster had plenty of donated food but not enough love. So she and her friends at Pittsford’s Harley Middle School collected bags of animal toys that her aunt and uncle are delivering to a humane society near New Orleans.

The students at Brighton High School, meanwhile, have a lofty goal: They want to raise $10,000.

“Who knows what the possibilities could be?” asked Craig, who took $150 from her checking account to buy the fundraising stickers.

“We have to start somewhere. I want to sort of use myself and my high school as an example that if we work together, we can make it happen.”

Friday, Sep. 16, 2005

Support for new UN emergency fund

Six countries have pledged almost US$150m (£80m) to a proposed new United Nations emergency fund.

The fund would allow the UN to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies within a matter of days rather than weeks it can take now.

The British government has promised almost half of the total sum.

The pledges came during the World Summit in New York, and the proposed fund will be debated by the United Nations later in the year.

Fighting ‘fires’

“When a crisis comes, it is to the United Nations that we look,” the UK’s International Development Secretary Hilary Benn told reporters.

“The UN presses the fire alarm; but in order to get the engine out of the station, it has to pass round the hat to put petrol in the tank and water in the hoses.”

The proposed new fund, known as the Central Emergency Response Fund, would replace a current arrangement under which the UN can give loans for emergency operations with one which disburses grants.

The total envisaged is US$500m (£280m) per year, 10 times the sum available now.

At the World Summit, six countries pledged a total of US$145m to the fund’s first year; Britain’s share is US$70m (£40m), and Sweden’s US$40m (£20m).

The other partners are Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Swift and certain

Jan Egeland, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, welcomed the move.

“Our responses are very uneven,” he said, “and it often takes time for us to get money to teams in Niger, to anti-locust teams, to Darfur before mortality goes up.

“Now we will be able to say ‘let’s go’ in three to four days rather than three to four weeks.”

Mr Egeland also said it would enable the UN to deal with crises which are currently beyond its capabilities.

The six countries anticipate further pledges of support before the end of the World Summit, possibly from African nations.

The proposal, which relates to a clause in the World Summit draft outcome document to improve “the timeliness and predictability of humanitarian funding”, will go to the UN General Assembly for approval in November.

About 45% of Russians give charity to orphans

About 45% of Russians offer help to orphans in one way or another, a state-run opinion poll center said Friday.

The poll, conducted by the Russian Opinion Research Center, showed that 25% of Russians gave money or food to homeless children and 18% occasionally made monetary or clothing donations to orphanages, but only 1%-2% adopted or sponsored orphans.

A total of 26% said they might adopt children in the future, whereas another 26% said their low income and housing and health problems prevented them from adopting children.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they did not need to adopt because they had their own children.

The survey was conducted June 11-12, 2005 and included 1,592 people in 153 cities and towns in 46 regions, territories, and republics of Russia. The margin of error did not exceed 3.4%.

Thursday, Sep. 15, 2005

NZ volunteer helps reunite Katrina victims and families

Lynne Pope woke up yesterday to find 191 emails waiting for her.

Now she is trying to figure out what to say to a family from New Orleans who watched police shoot a relative, and now can’t find his body.

And how does she reply to a mother looking for her 22-year-old son who is autistic and can’t communicate?

The Palmerston North City councillor, Peter Koch in Switzerland and Texan Jonathan Cutrer are the core of a group of volunteers who have set up a website, Katrina Evacuee Help Centre at www.disastersearch.org, to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Mrs Pope, who runs an internet design business, was participating in an international software development forum, online, when a pastor from Louisiana, who is in charge of the shelters in his area, posted a message asking for help with his website.

“When Peter got talking to him we found the problem wasn’t his website, but that there was not a centralised unified database for people to use,” Mrs Pope said.

“We actually thought that the federal Government disaster agency would have set something up before the disaster … so as nobody had done it, we did.”

In the first 24 hours more than 500 people visited the site and by the time it was launched 12 families had made contact with each other for the first time since the hurricane struck, she said.

“We didn’t even get to develop the site and test it before people were using it.

“The need is so urgent.”

The site contains the names of more than 300,000 people missing after the hurricane. While Mrs Pope receives a couple of emails a day asking to have names removed from the list because people have been found, she receives “dozens and dozens” asking to remove names because their bodies have been found, she said.

“There have been many tears.”

The team members, who do not get paid, have had hundreds of volunteers from all around the world, including web designers and software programmers, helping out and have been working flat out for 18 to 20 hours a day for the past 11 days, she said.

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A big problem was getting word out to people on the ground that there was a large website worth looking at, she said.

As well as missing persons, other features of the site include downloadable Government aid forms, a volunteer register, morgue listings and a job registry. The database can be searched via cellphone and one volunteer group has been distributing cellphones around the shelters and others have been setting up internet booths at the shelters.

Mrs Pope said they were now getting support from US senators and many agencies were contacting them to add their databases to one central location. “It’s getting bigger by the day.”

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Massive Local Volunteer Response for Katrina Aid

Red Cross volunteers usually have to take several courses before they can help out with disaster relief.

But, Hurricane Katrina has created a desperate need for volunteers. So folks interested in helping only have to take the basic mass care and shelter class before they get in line to head down south.

And there is no shortage of volunteers to take that class.

They’re tough.

Red Cross volunteer Tim Kuykendall says, “I think its a difficult road to volunteer for the Red Cross.”

They’re determined.

Volunteer Lindsey Sepp says, “I just really had a calling and felt like I really this was something I really wanted to do.”

They’re the newest batch of Red Cross trained volunteers. And they’re ready to face one of the biggest natural disasters in our nation’s history. Red Cross trainer Dallas Flener says, “We’re trying to tell them the housing that they might have, the conditions they’d be working under, what they might be doing.”

Dallas and Marji Flener spent Tuesday morning teaching these volunteers the basics of mass care and shelter operation. Sepp says, “I’ve learned just how hands on this really is. I never really understood that they do shelter people and feed people and just the basic necessities of life they really take care of.”

After completing the course, the volunteers will be heading down to help Katrina victims sometime within the next month. They’ll be in the disaster zone for two to three weeks… Donating their own time to help ordinary people.. Struck by an extraordinary storm.

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Kuykendall says, “I’m sure we all know somebody that has benefited from the Red Cross. I have personally. They came all the way out to Solitude, Indiana to help out our family when my dad’s house burned down.”

Sepp adds, “If we were ever in this situation I would want people like me and my friend and my aunt to come and help me.”

The Evansville Red Cross is running one mass care class every day.

Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2005

Students help Katrina victims

When Horizon High School English teacher Anna Royse talked about civic responsibility in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, her students immediately put to practice what she preached.

By the end of the period, the class had turned an empty vase into a collection jar full of hundreds of dollars in cash donations. That vase has since been passed around Ms. Royse’s other classes.

“We spent some time in class to talk about (Hurricane Katrina) and the students wanted to get involved,” Ms. Royse said.

While waiting for student council to mobilize fundraising efforts, her students initiated their own collection drive.

As of Sept. 7, Ms. Royse’s students have donated $370 of their own money, which will be added to the funds raised by the school’s student government and parent teacher organization.

“I probably would have spent the money on something stupid n they need the money more than I do,” freshman Noland Pieta said. “If I miss lunch, that’s just one meal. Some of those people have not eaten in days.”

Jason Nevins, who has relatives displaced by Hurricane Katrina, said giving up his lunch money is nothing compared to what some of his family members are going through.

“(My relatives) are all OK but they lost so much,” he said. “I really feel for them.”

Katrina left an unprecedented number of individuals homeless and unemployed; and displaced thousands of students only a few weeks into the academic year.

“It’s really sad n you see kids getting separated from their families,” said Elena Caputo. “It also makes us realize how lucky we are to have what we have.”

Classmate Connor Hopkins, who admits to sometimes complaining about going to school added: “so many kids would rather be in school than where they are now. I should be thankful for what I have.”

Like those in Ms. Royse’s classes, students throughout the Paradise Valley Unified School District are pitching in to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

At North Canyon High School, teachers, students and administrators raised $3,500 during the “miracle minute” organized by the school’s student government.

“Teachers took time to talk about (Hurricane Katrina) with their students,” student government advisor Laura Mayhew said. “The students were really affected by what they’ve heard and seen so far, they all want to volunteer and help however they can.”

At the school district’s elementary schools, parents are taking over the reigns of fundraising efforts.

At Desert Trails Elementary School, the parent teacher organization is donating a portion of the profits from the sale of school shirts and other “spirit” wear. The school is also collecting cash donations to be forwarded to the Red Cross.

“The support has been overwhelming,” teacher Kim Cox said. “We have a donation box that’s always overflowing.”

At Desert Springs Elementary School, students are encouraged to donate at least $1 each. The school’s sixth-graders also washed cars over the Labor Day weekend, from which they raised $1,300.

As of Sept. 7, the school’s PTO collected a total of $3,800, to be donated to the Red Cross.

Other PVUSD schools holding change or cash drives are: Vista Verde Middle School; Grayhawk, Boulder Creek, Sunset Canyon, Sonoran Sky and Hidden Hills elementary schools.

“Students and parents are really stepping up,” Horizon’s Ms. Royse said. “I’m sick of reading terrible things about teenagers, I see the best in them everyday and their response to this (crisis) has been amazing.”

Students in the Scottsdale Unified School District also have pitched in to help hurricane victims.

Desert Mountain High School’s Service Learning members collected more than $8,000 in two days to win a bet with their principal. As a result, Greg Milbrandt had to eat 12 hot wings in six minutes without ranch dressing or water to cool off his taste buds.

Service Learning club members at Chaparral High School began by collecting money to benefit the Salvation Army from fans during the school’s football games. Club members at Saguaro high are gathering clothes and personal hygiene products to construct care packages as well as making new blankets. The Saguaro branch is offering a prize to the homeroom that brings in the most supplies.

Parent-teacher organizations at both Copper Ridge and Cheyenne elementary schools have fund raisers planned, while the Laguna Elementary School Girl Scout and Cub Scout troops are collecting basic needs items.

Miracle brought them here

Arvette Carter held her 2-year-old granddaughter in her arms at the Superdome in New Orleans, convinced the little girl was dying.

No one in the family of seven had eaten for two days after Hurricane Katrina, and baby Sade was dehydrated, turning colors, vomiting and slipping in and out of consciousness.

“I knew we was losing her,” Carter said, shaking her head at the memories of shootings, fires, stampedes and people dying right in front of the four chairs the family had staked out in the overcrowded facility.

Sade’s mom, Shantell Jones, 25, said the scene was “worse than hell.”

Just more than a week later, Sade, her hair in four tiny pigtails, ran from room to room with her 5-year-old twin brothers in a home donated to them and filled with items to help the family start over in Iowa City.

A network of friends who knew Arvette’s husband, Warren, as an oyster shucker at the Bourbon House on Bourbon Street, worked to bring the family to safety.

“I knew of angels, but now I finally got to experience what angels really are,” said Carter, 43, whose family arrived Monday in Iowa City.

Warren Carter, 43, watched his three grandchildren explore the duplex in the Peninsula Neighborhood the family will call home.

The kids found beds, backpacks full of school supplies, books, clothes and toys they immediately tore out of the cardboard and plastic.

Sade’s eyes lit up when she saw a present wrapped in bright yellow paper on her new bed. Her first move was to hang a pink leotard and tutu on a white plastic hanger in her closet.

“You guys have just uplifted my family,” Warren Carter said, hanging back in the hallway.

The grownups had their own surprises. Stacked inside the refrigerator were containers of homemade cornbread, black-eyed peas, sweet potato pie, ochre and other Southern comfort foods to make the family feel at home in the Midwest. Hot sauce from Alabama sat beside the sink.

“Yeah, that goes on just about anything,” Warren Carter said.

The home and everything in it were arranged by a group of college friends, including LeAnn and Dave Tatman of West Branch, University Hospitals employees who enlisted the help of their coworkers.

It all started when one friend, Jeff Simpson of Nebraska, sent Warren a text message after the storm to see if his family was all right. It was the only message the family was able to receive because phone service was out in New Orleans.

“I continue to read that text message,” Warren Carter said. “It gave me strength. It gave me hope.”

After traveling to Houston and being turned away because the Astrodome was overcrowded, the family contacted Simpson.

Simpson and other friends put the family up at a hotel in Houston and arranged to bring them to the Midwest via a rented van and rides from friends.

The friends were able to secure two units in a new duplex so the entire family could have its own space, rent free, from the Greater Iowa City Housing Fellowship.

After the first night in his new home, Warren Carter called the help his friends offered a “miracle.”

“We were able to sleep again. It just felt good to smile and laugh again. Those are the things you take for granted,” he said. “Where we walked from was so dark.”

Arvette Carter, a lifelong New Orleans resident, said she and Warren won’t return to the city she said was overrun by crime before the storm.

Instead, there already are signs of a new life forming in Iowa City. The twins, Darrell and Darelle, start kindergarten today at Horace Mann Elementary School.

Warren Carter will start a job Thursday at Hy-Vee. There’s word that the twins’ dad, 26-year-old Darrell Williams, might have a job lined up at a lumberyard. Arvette Carter, who worked at the Ritz Carlton, probably can find a job at a local affiliate.

“They say the winters are cold here, but that’s OK,” Warren Carter said, adding that the family’s not even concerned about the material things it lost when their homes were submerged by floodwaters.

“We gained more. We gained friendship, trust. We pray every night for other people down there, that they get a miracle too.”

Man builds house, donates it to Katrina aid

As Steve Patrick watched television coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath last week, he got an idea.

A California woman was being interviewed about how she had sold some of her land and donated the money to relief efforts. The novel approach inspired Patrick, he said, and he immediately knew what he could do to help displaced Gulf Coast residents.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we go a step further and build a house and give the proceeds to the Red Cross?’” said Patrick, 55, a Waco home builder.

Patrick went to the local American Red Cross office Friday afternoon and talked with executive director RoseMary Mayes about his idea. Once he got the approval, he started calling companies he works with and asked for their help.

By Tuesday afternoon, Patrick had lined up 30 local businesses and people willing to donate or discount their supplies and services. They range from construction elements like plumbing materials and concrete work to things that will be needed after completion, such as title and realty services.

“It seems to be growing by the hour,” said Patrick, who owns Steve Patrick Builders. “I don’t mind asking for a good cause. We hope this is contagious.”

Patrick predicted the profits on the four-bedroom house will be $50,000 or more, all of which will go to the Red Cross. He also hopes to raise some money through a fundraiser he thought of to go along with the construction phase – allowing people to put their name on a stud, wall or window for a few bucks.

“They can just take a magic marker and go at it,” Patrick said.

The signatures will be covered up as finishing touches are put on the house, which will be located in Hewitt. But Patrick said he hopes the idea is innovative enough to draw donations. He plans to have the signing party Oct. 1, adding that the house should be completed in three months.

Mayes said Patrick’s donation will be the most unique that the local Red Cross has received for Katrina victims. It’s also a model of how people can make a difference by working together, she said.

“Not everybody can write a big check,” Mayes said. “But something like this people can do as part of a whole group that comes together and it is like a big check.”

Three heroes outwitted bureaucracy

KATRINA’S detritus will be months in the sifting, but what best reveals what went wrong may be found in the contrast between bureaucrats ensnared in red tape and three individuals who sprang into action as circumstances required.

Their names are Deamonte Love, Jabbar Gibson and Sheriff Warren C. Evans.

Deamonte Love is probably the most familiar. He is the 6-year-old who led a troupe of tiny refugees to safety after rescuers separated them from their parents. Deamonte was the oldest of the group, which included his 5-month-old brother, three toddlers in the 2-year-old range, a 3-year-old and her 14-month-old brother.

All held hands as Deamonte led the group along Causeway Boulevard in Baton Rouge, La., where he identified himself and his associates to authorities. In a sea of helpless victims, while heartier adults dithered or complained, Deamonte found the guts and fortitude to take care of himself, his family and friends.

Another victim of the storm, Gibson is perhaps better known as the 20-year-old who commandeered a school bus and drove 70 homeless passengers from New Orleans to the Houston Astrodome, beating the other 25,000 or so refugees awaiting evacuation from the Superdome by officials still trying to figure out who was in charge.

When no one is in charge, as seems to have been the case for too long in New Orleans, a leader eschews the clipboard and takes action. While city officials couldn’t find their way to use hundreds of available school buses to evacuate some 100,000 residents without transportation, Gibson “stole” a bus and rescued 70 strangers.

A photo of the abandoned and eventually submerged school buses has become an iconographic image in Katrina’s record — a kaleidoscopic history that would qualify as comedy if the results had not been so tragic. At times like this, bureaucracy isn’t just a frustrating boondoggle; it is a faceless accomplice to negligent homicide.

“No one is to blame because, sir, we were just following the rules.”

Not Warren C. Evans. The sheriff of Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, ignored his own governor’s pleas to wait for “formal requests” and put his leadership instincts to better use. While other law enforcement volunteers were held up for two to three days dealing with paperwork, Evans led a convoy of six tractor-trailers, three rental trucks and 33 deputies to Louisiana.

Explaining his pre-emptive action to The New York Times, Evans said: “I could look at CNN and see people dying, and I couldn’t in good conscience wait for a coordinated response.”

Meanwhile, other more obedient citizens and potential rescuers, as well as evacuation vehicles, medical and food supplies, even a floating hospital, were stalled or unused as officials and politicians bickered over territory and protocol and — in an indictment that speaks for itself — gender sensitivity concerns.

I wish I were kidding. Hundreds of firefighters who volunteered to help with Katrina relief were held up for days in Atlanta while they took classes on sexual harassment and community relations, all courtesy of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of coordinating federal relief. At the White House, concerns about overriding the female governor of Louisiana reportedly contributed to the decision not to take control of a national disaster that clearly had overwhelmed state and local officials.

There are other examples of such absurdities too numerous to list, but two stand out. Amtrak offered to evacuate people from New Orleans, but city officials declined and the last train left the city — empty. A Navy hospital ship, the USS Bataan, which was in the Gulf of Mexico through the storm, had 600 empty hospital beds and six operating rooms, awaiting relief orders while the injured and ill on land were without aid. Although the Bataan was among the first to help in rescue missions, federal authorities were slow to use the ship’s other resources.

Dozens of readers have reminded me the past several days about the proper order of things, that local and state officials are the first responders to a catastrophe and the federal government responds only as local officials make “formal requests” for help.

Noted. But sometimes the rules get in the way of what is right. The rules were for Sheriff Evans to stay put until the paperwork was processed, but Evans thought lives were more important. The rules were for firefighters to take classes on sexual harassment, and who knows how many lives didn’t get saved as a result?

The argument that we are a nation of laws is of course inarguable and admirable — as far as it goes. But we are also a nation of pioneers endowed with common sense, and catastrophes call for the talents and spirit of that heritage. Such as that we witnessed in Evans. And in a 20-year-old who stole a bus.

And finally, in a little kid named Deamonte whose can-do spirit exposed the sometimes impotent inhumanity of the United Bureaucracy of America.

Ghana gives “widow’s mite” to Katrina victims

The West African state of Ghana is giving its “widow’s mite” to the United States following the Hurricane Katrina disaster – a gift of cocoa drinks and chocolate.

Ghana, the poor West African country that is the world’s second largest producer of cocoa, said it was donating 100,000 dollars of cocoa drinks and chocolates to the Katrina victims.

“By this modest donation, Ghana registers her solidarity with the people of the U.S. as they struggle to deal with the tragedy,” the Ghana News Agency (GNA) on Tuesday quoted a statement from the foreign ministry in Accra as saying.

President John Agyekum Kufuor, who has met President George W. Bush a few times, said in a statement earlier that he had noted with deep shock the devastation of catastrophic proportions that had affected the lives, property and infrastructure in the stricken areas.

The term “widow’s mite” comes from a New Testament reference to a comment by Jesus that a poor widow who donates only “two mites” – or coins – has given a small offering that is large in the eyes of God.

The outpouring of aid for the U.S. disaster victims has included commitments of 5,000 to 100,000 dollars from such struggling countries as Afghanistan, Armenia, Bahamas, Cyprus, Djibouti, Georgia, Hungary, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

All told more than 1 billion dollars has been forthcoming from abroad to the world’s wealthiest country, which has staggered under the shock of finding homes and food for an estimated 1 million people displaced by the storm and subsequent flood waters, particularly in New Orleans.

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