Nearly 1 ½ years after a 7.0 earthquake ravaged portions of Haiti, the island nation continues to struggle.
“They have a 70 percent unemployment rate,” said Mark Stansberry, an Edmond businessman who recently visited Haiti. “There's 70 percent illiteracy. Of course, they're suffering from cholera, malaria and other diseases. The average life expectancy for a man is 29. For a woman, it's 30.”
Stansberry is the chairman of People to People International, a Kansas City-based nonprofit. He went to Haiti on June 15 to deliver 2,500 school supply kits as part of an expansion of Operation International Children.
Port-au-Prince, the capital city, looks desolate and broken, Stansberry said. The earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and left more than 1.5 million homeless. Power remains unreliable. Driving paths have been cleared of rubble, but only barely. Piles of broken concrete and garbage grow alongside the streets.
He saw long lines of people waiting to get medical help at an American field hospital.
“There are 30 doctors and nurses serving hundreds each day,” he said. “I think the record the day before I got there was 1,700 patients in a single day.”
All of this is happening 600 to 700 miles off the Florida coast — much closer to the U.S. than Oklahoma City is to Las Vegas.
Despite the poverty and misery, Stansberry said, there is room for some small measure of
“What gave me hope visiting the schools,” he said, “is these children would clap and smile at receiving the kits. Even though some are troubled, there's hope and someone who believes in them. ... These children may be future doctors, engineers and teachers, people with skills who can help their country.”
About the program
People to People was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 “to promote international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities,” according to a news release.
Operation International Children is the brainchild of actor Gary Sinise and “Seabiscuit” author Laura Hillenbrand. It was formed in 2004 as Operation Iraqi Children but later expanded to include Afghanistan and, now, Haiti. The goal is to help children in war-torn or otherwise devastated areas and support American troops.
During a visit to Iraq in 2003, Stansberry said, Sinise found a whole classroom of children sharing a single pen. Around the same time, a soldier emailed Hillenbrand photos of Iraqi children to whom he was reading her book. She was
People to People has administered the program since 2004. Distribution of school supplies is supported by the military and corporations, including American Airlines and FedEx.
More than 300,000 school kits and a million toys have been distributed in the past seven years, along with thousands of blankets, backpacks, shoes, Arabic-language books and sporting goods.
People to People has chapters in Oklahoma City and at Oklahoma Christian University.
Stansberry said the groups' efforts to help Haiti's children will continue. After meeting the children, he can't imagine turning away.
“One little boy, as I was getting ready to leave a classroom, said, ‘I'll pray for you,'
HOW TO HELP
Operation International Children
• Make a tax-deductible donation. Every cent will go to buying school supplies and sending them overseas.
• Build and donate school supply kits. Each kit should include blunt-end scissors, a 12-inch ruler with metric markings, a dozen new pencils with erasers, a small pencil sharpener, a large eraser, a box of colored pencils, a package of notebook paper, a composition book, three folders with inside pockets and a zippered pencil bag.
• Start a school supply kit drive.
• Help assemble shipments at the OIC Warehouse in Kansas City.
See a video of Mark Stansberry talking about his trip to Haiti online at NewsOK.com.