Thursday, 12 January 2012

What to do in case of an earthquake


Today it's been two years. It was nearly midnight on January 12th 2010.   My older brother had posted a few messages on Facebook, announcing that the earth was rattling pretty badly in the Dominican Republic and the rest of our island.  A few hours later, I became aware that a terrible earthquake had taken place in the poorest country of the Western hemisphere.  It was impossible to read and watch the news about Haiti without feeling devastated. Almost paralysed of sorrow and horror, I called my parents back home.

“Ay mi hija, it is indescribable, so terribly sad.  If you can, send some money, we’ll find a way to help.There is not much more you can do just now”.  My parents said over the phone when I broke in tears.

My immense urge to give was greater than anything at that moment. I regretted living so far away. I wished that instead of being a teacher, I was a doctor, a nurse, a rescuer or a wealthy person so I could do something for Haiti. Still sobbing, I asked myself:  “What can you do for Haiti?  Think!  You can’t just sit and cry!”

By inwardly repeating this question, the few things I have learned in Buddhism revealed to me:  that clinging to our own sorrow or anger paralyses us from acting positively; that any problem or difficulty is an opportunity to practice loving kindness and compassion; and, as I once heard the Dalai Lama say: that one should never, under any circumstance, lose hope.  With these thoughts in my mind and reassuring myself that when I wake up I’d be calmer and more able to find an answer, I eventually fell asleep.

At the crack of dawn, I started to post messages on Facebook.  I was asking my network to donate money for Haiti, with the simple reasoning that whatever I could collect would surpass what I alone could give. "If I can give hundred euros, maybe I can triple that. I'd be more than happy with five hundred" I said to myself.

The response was overwhelming. An incredible domino effect followed:  after that fateful night, what started as a tear of powerlessness, anger and sorrow, turned into an unstoppable wave of donations that lasted for about 8 weeks. People started to drop money in my bank account, in my mailbox, in my hands.  Friends of friends started to donate and ask money on my behalf. Students and colleagues knocked on my office door with an envelope in their hands. Every extra cent was another update on my Facebook status, and a personal tag on the logo that symbolised this campaign (see picture). 

The donations were channeled through two Dominican-based emergency operations: Helping Hand Haiti (, set by my good friend Olivier Flambert and IBG Fund, a charity set by the Baptist Church, to which my mum and older brother belong.  Contrary to the negative media messages regarding the slow reach of foreign aid, these small donations were used inmediately and reached the victims directly. I could provide donors with visual evidence of how their money was being used by posting photographs of the emergency actions on my Facebook page. These constant updates contributed greatly to the credibility of my efforts. Before I knew how much more I was to collect, I had given birth to the IHAITI campaign.

I honestly never felt so humble in my life.  I learned that being a teacher was indeed the right profession to help Haiti: 95% of the donations came from my network of students, colleagues and alumni from The Hague University. Without their trust and genuine giving, the nearly 59,000 euros (yes, fifty-nine thousand!) collected would not have been possible.   I also learned that my students can become my heroes and inspiration. One of my heroines in this effort is my friend and ex-student, Lubomira Kirilova. She replicated  the campaign at the European Patent Office in The Hague. Her trust & selfless dedication resulted in collecting more than 50,000 euros. With a result like that, who dares regret being a teacher?

I also learned another valuable lesson:  choosing a spiritual path is not merely a question of faith, but of genuine practice of the heart.  Regardless of belief and vocation, we need to think humanly and act in harmony with our principles and with the planet.  With an increasingly interconnected world, every single action we take, every message we send out, every gesture we make can transgress borders and create a powerful human viral effect. As long as we act together for the cause of love and compassion for others, we can welcome the beautiful future we all can create. We only need to live day-by-day guided by our faith and by our innate capacity to give unconditionally, never abandoning our principles, our values and our ideals.

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