Kiwanis Club of Lauderdale Lakes Aldy Castor MD Award speech At the 12h Annual Grand Charity Ball September 11, 2010
ALDY CASTOR, M.D. AWARD ACCEPTANCE REMARKS
KIWANIS CLUB, SOUTH FLORIDA
Thank you, Dr. Dr. Robert Hochstein, for your kind introduction. I am honored and pleased to be here tonight to receive your prestigious award. I accept it on behalf of the founders, staff and many volunteers of the Haitian Resource Development Foundation (HRDF) who have worked together for twenty-three years now, since the end of political dictatorship in Haiti in 1987. So I accept this award for them, too, and for their efforts to create and sustain democracy in the country where I was born.
We have come a long way in twenty-three years. But in a manner of speaking, Haitians still suffer from remnants of dictatorship. These are the dictatorship of blind faith, the dictatorship of denial, and the dictatorship of greed and corruption that have virtually destroyed life in Haiti’s countryside and forced millions of poor and jobless people into a few big cities where, unfortunately, nothing was waiting for them.
Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, Cap Haitien and the other big cities filled with slums are not the Promised Land. In fact, they are prone to disaster. So when the earthquake struck Haiti in January, the damages and losses were much greater than they should have been. The remnants of dictatorship bear the blame for this. The consequences have in a sense turned the clock backwards to a dark period of Haitian history. Ten million poor Haitians are now trying to cope with that reality. You can just imagine the stories parents tell their children when trying to get them to bed at night. Fairy tales do not answer their children’s frightened questions.
To a large degree, progress in Haiti has been due to the attention and generosity of overseas charities and civic organizations. It is certain that future progress will require similar partnerships. Over the years, for example, HRDF has been joined by the United States Southern Command, the United States Agency for International Development in the Department of State, the United Nations, the Ambassador and Embassy of France in Haiti, plus organizations and professionals from North America and Europe who have served as advisors, researchers, teachers and project leaders in emergency medical training, community emergency response, ecology, fishing, health and hygiene, water supplies, athletics, beekeeping, vocational education and other subjects. Working through HRDF, they have helped improve lives and conditions in Haiti, not only in the capital city but also in the southern coastal region that faces the Caribbean Sea.
To maintain and renew these partnerships, HRDF continually introduces new people to Haiti, relays supplies and equipment for them, brainstorms up new projects and proposals to make the most of the resources available. As I usually travel to Haiti for a week or so every month, it would be my pleasure if someone from Kiwanis would like to accompany me later this fall, perhaps October or November. If so, please talk with me and we’ll begin to make preparations.
Now, everyone knows that awards are given for accomplishments, not failures. Everyone also knows that the road to accomplishment is not smooth, but paved with failures, false starts and projects that have been started but not yet completed. No one gives awards for them, but learning from them is what makes accomplishments possible and every new project more likely to succeed. I can give you an example, this one concerning safe drinking water:
You probably are aware of the global statistics: contaminated water in developing countries is responsible for eighty per cent of the diseases, fifty per cent of infant mortality and twenty millions of deaths every year. That means five thousand children die every day, and most of these deaths are preventable.
For the past twelve years, HRDF has recruited a Belgian technology company to install purified drinking water stations in seventeen villages in Haiti’s central region. Through this work, approximately thirty thousand rural Haitians now have access to safe drinking water. The technology is fairly conventional but reliable, and integrates sand filtration with activated charcoal, coagulation, and chlorine disinfection. Unfortunately, supplies for these systems must be imported because they are not made in Haiti. There’s the rub. The result is clean water, but at a price that is more than most Haitians can afford.
Therefore, HRDF is seeking partners to help research, develop, test and commercialize an alternate community water system that is simpler, cheaper and uses less imported material. After looking at the internet and realizing that Kiwanis International Six Cents water campaign has a goal to “provide water to the 2.6 billion children worldwide who lack safe drinking water,” perhaps we can recruit you to join this project. If anyone is interested, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to share the details. As a physician, a less-expensive water system made with native materials has been a dream of mine. Maybe it is yours, too.
While it is tax-exempt, HRDF is a resource development organization, not a charity. In this way, we are able to coordinate and make use of charitable resources as they become available. I can give you an exciting recent case in point:
In Virginia, there is a fellow whose hobby is racing large, precision-designed yachts, the kind you see in the international race events held on the high seas every few years. The sails for these yachts are high-tech fabric, expertly made, and can reach seventy-feet high. For various reasons, the sails are discarded fairly frequently, either because they stretch, or rip or fail to give maximum performance. They go to dumps or pile up in boat houses, never to be used again.
After the Haitian earthquake, this fellow had the idea of using these discarded sails for making temporary shelters. He collected and sent some to Haiti but never followed up on where they went or how or if they were used, and he still has more than a thousand in storage in Miami, with additional ones being donated by people who want to help Haitians. HRDF discovered the situation and invited the fellow to Aquin where we are starting a fishing and nautical academy. Immediately, it became clear to him that his warehouse of discarded racing sails could be used on fishing boats, probably with minimal cutting and re-fabrication. This is exactly the kind of scarce resource Haitians have lacked to improve their conditions, in this case, the ability to sail into slightly deeper waters where much more fish of higher value typically live and migrate.
Estimates are that this offshore fishery could be worth a hundred million dollars a year, and could significantly improve nutrition for people living in coastal Haiti, a region that is a thousand miles long. This is literally a case of the old adage about “teaching someone to fish.” And being that the sails are right here in southern Florida, if Kiwanis Club could help us get them to Haiti, where they could be retrofitted for fishermen, it would be a great boost. Thirty-five thousand dollars would be enough to transport them, purchase sewing machines, generator and other supplies, and employ enough people for the next year to retrofit a fleet of boats. Again, if anyone is interested, please let me know and I will be glad to share the details.
Thank you again for your kind and generous award.