The earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010 left over 300,000 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced. Aid from around the world poured into the capital city of Port-au-Prince however, very little was reaching the outlying islands. La Gonave, an island west- northwest of the main island, was known as the “forgotten island” until Sailors Without Borders (SWB) arrived in April 2010.
Cameron and Leighia Murray, full-time cruisers aboard S/V Tranquility, recognized that the only way aid was going to reach the outlying islands of Haiti was by sailing vessels. They immediately sent a message to their Oceanwatch.org members and other sailing friends in hopes of establishing a network of boats to deliver aid to these islands. Their message was well received and in February 2010 they established Sail Aid to Haiti.
To assure that the supplies went to the people who needed them most they worked directly with Nadal Damour and Samuel Michael, President and Vice President of Association Amis des Enfants (AAE). AAE is a non-denominational organization whose goal is to educate the people of La Gonave so that they become self sufficient and work towards the common good. When Nadal and Samuel began working on the island they immediately established a school for 15 children. After the earthquake the school swelled to over 300 children however, many of the upper level educators were lost in the earthquake. Their moto is “A hand up not a hand out.” They wish to build long term relationships with those who help so that they can provide a brighter future for the children of La Gonave.
Working in collaboration with foundations and businesses from across the world, SWB delivered four tons of medical supplies, generators, children’s clothing, food and 2,000 pairs of shoes from “Shoes of Hope” out of San Diego, CA in April 2010. Upon their arrival to La Gonave, the Murray’s instantly bounded with Nadal and his team and clearly saw his vision for the people of this small island. That initial visit set the ground work for what was to become a lasting relationship.
In April 2011, SWB made another visit to La Gonave this time with seven tons of donated relief supplies including 18 solar panels. Once there the humanitarians stayed for a month installing the solar panels, establishing a satellite network for communication, helping the children plant a garden, and continuing with the cleaning efforts. The trip, while challenging at times, was a huge success.
After leaving La Gonave en route to Key West, Tranquility encountered deteriorating weather conditions that forced them to motor sail using up precious fuel. Off the coast of Jamaica, their main sail blew pulling the rigging right out of the furler. With their fuel low and conditions forecasted to continue to deteriorate, they had no other choice but to head back to La Gonave. They were greeted on the docks by Nadal, Samuel and the children and teachers they have been helping. It was now time for this island to give back to those they now call friends. Within four days the people of La Gonave some how found 150 gallons of diesel fuel and hand repaired Tranquility’s main sail. In less than a week the eight crewmembers of Tranquility were safely back at sea.
The next trip to La Gonave is scheduled for the spring of 2012. For this visit SWB is seeking donations of computers, printers with refillable ink, hardware and software as well as treadle sewing machines. Donations can be sent to collection points in Maine and Virginia. For further information on how you can donate or become a bigger part of this organization visit their website.