On his first visit to the small Haitian community of Frettas, Randy Decker couldn't help but cry.
Under the best of conditions, Haiti — which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic — is spare and unforgiving. After the devastating 2010 earthquake near the capital city of Port-au-Prince and subsequent hurricane damage, life there turned hellish, with many starving, homeless and in need of medical care.
But it wasn't the damage that left Decker dabbing at his eyes. In 2011, he and some colleagues from SandRidge Energy journeyed to Haiti to support rebuilding efforts. They went to Frettas, a valley community along the Montrouis River on the country's west coast.
“The first day that our employees got to go there, the community came out for a celebration at the church,” recalled Decker, 49, SandRidge's director of community relations. “All the students came out and were dressed in their finest clothes. … One by one a line of mothers and women in the community came down the main aisle of the church and began to place gifts there for all of us who'd come to help.
“There were coconuts and all sorts of different fruit and food. There was actually a live chicken. To see a people so appreciative that they'll give what little they have really moved all of us. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.”
Decker recently returned from his second visit to Frettas. He and four other SandRidge employees spent Nov. 8-13 in Haiti.
In all, about 20 SandRidge employees have volunteered in Haiti since summer 2011, when the company organized a way for them to help, said Greg Dewey, 41, vice president of communication and community relations. Additional trips are expected next year and on into the future.
Participants pay their own way, Dewey said, but the company allows them to volunteer without losing any of their vacation time. SandRidge adopted Frettas.
“The goal is to help meet basic needs: food, education,” he said. “Ultimately there may be opportunities to provide them with clean drinking water.”
Tom Ward, SandRidge's chief executive officer, “encourages people to participate because he knows we'll be better employees when we help other people,” Dewey said. “When we see how positive we have it here, we become even better people ourselves.”
Life in Frettas is primitive by most standards.
“The homes are scattered,” Stewart said. “There are a number of homes in the village and a school where the students attend. There's no electricity. No indoor plumbing or clean water in these areas. There are concrete structures, just four walls, that a whole family lives in. … Most of them are single rooms. All of the windows are completely open (holes) to allow for ventilation. It was probably 80 degrees while we were there, and it gets hotter in the summer.”
Even so, he said, “we see people who are optimistic. They're happy. They're content. … They don't have what we have here, but they're going strong. They still smile.”
Part of SandRidge's November trip was spent installing sidewalks and helping to rebuild a kitchen in the Frettas Child Development Center. SandRidge has worked with several nonprofits — Kids Against Hunger Northwest Oklahoma, Convoy of Hope, Mission of Hope and HaitiOne — to provide 270,000 meals for children.
Monte Stewart, director of Kids Against Hunger's satellite office in Cherokee, accompanied the SandRidge volunteers on the journey.
“We really see it as something that's needed: to send food all over the world,” said Stewart, 60, whose organization relies on donations to fulfill its mission. “There are starving kids everywhere.”
Kids Against Hunger fills bags with rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a vitamin powder containing 24 ingredients. Each bag is considered the equivalent of six meals.
“It doesn't look like much,” Stewart said, “but it gets bigger when it's cooked.”
In Haiti, the meals are distributed by Mission of Hope.
“We were told they've been feeding 60,000 to 65,000 people every day,” he said. “Much of that is Kids Against Hunger Food. … Starting this week, the people we worked with (on the trip) will start eating the food that came from Cherokee.”
The efforts have helped SandRidge and Kids Against Hunger build relationships with their Haitian counterparts — relationships that should continue to blossom as time goes on. Both sides are benefiting from the experience.
“It's amazing how far a dollar goes in Third World countries like Haiti. … Literally for a few dollars over there, you can change lives,” Dewey said. “It takes us getting out of our environment sometimes to truly understand how much we can help.”