Armando Salguero

Victorious road trip for Dolphins — to provide relief in Haiti and the Bahamas

The Dolphins’ travel party poses with students from the Ecole Mixte Priestly Sainte Claire of Assisi school in Port-au-Prince.
The Dolphins’ travel party poses with students from the Ecole Mixte Priestly Sainte Claire of Assisi school in Port-au-Prince. Courtesy photo

Terrence Fede’s work day starts when he pulls into the parking lot at the Miami Dolphins training facility at 3:45 in the morning.

Fede’s first assignment is to help load boxes and bags onto a bus, help transfer those onto a plane, and get on the first flight from Fort Lauderdale to Haiti where his parents were born and some family members still reside.

By the time the sun rises and sets again, the NFL defensive end will have traveled to the disaster ravaged country, met with its United States ambassador, visited a hospital, toured a makeshift water treatment project, lightened the hearts of school kids by gifting them backpacks and other goodies, survived van rides to all his stops courtesy the world’s most aggressive drivers, had his flight back to the United States diverted because of an airport closing, and sealed his commitment and ties to his ancestral home.

All this during a bye weekend for the Dolphins.

All this on Fede’s day off.

“It was good to get back home, back to your mother country,” Fede said around 9 p.m. when the day was coming to an end at Miami International Airport’s passport control section. “Obviously, like you saw, we need a lot of help. There are a lot of efforts from people trying to go there and do their part to help the country but it’s still not enough.

“It was just hard seeing the kids struggling. Like when we went to the hospital, that’s what hit me the most. When I saw that child on the bed struggling it was hard. I know in America we have medicine. We have equipment. They were saying they need ventilators.

“We have all that, but over there they have three or four beds and they’re treating like 50 people or more daily. It’s just tough seeing.”

The Dolphins sent a dozen people, including Fede and cheerleader Amina Daoud, who was born in Haiti and emigrated to the United States, to Haiti on Friday. They were accompanied on a commercial flight by half-a-dozen North Miami city leaders and police.

North Miami, where 33 percent of the population is Haitian or of Haitian descent according to the 2000 census, has a Haitian mayor, city clerk, police chief, and vice mayor — who is also one of two Haitian councilmen.

So, you get it, North Miami is invested in Haitian affairs.

But North Miami is along for this trip because assistant police chief Larry Juriga is also part of the Dolphins security personnel. And when Hurricane Matthew hit, he called the Dolphins to ask if they would do anything to help the Haitian victims of the storm.

“I thought a great way to show our compassion and our concern was partnering up,” Juriga said. “I’m glad to be a small part of both organizations — the Dolphins as well as the city — and the second I just hinted about doing something, both sides jumped on the idea.”

Club senior vice president Jason Jenkins expanded the vision to include the Bahamas and Cuba, which also were ravaged by Matthew.

The team chartered a flight to the Bahamas on Thursday and eight people, including president and CEO Tom Garfinkel, safety Michael Thomas, and former player and senior vice president Nat Moore, went to tour the hardest hit areas, including the West End of Grand Bahama Island.

That excursion, delayed when their jet blew out a tire, delivered $40,000 worth of building materials donated by eight team sponsors. It also delivered monies collected from, among others, Dan Marino, Bob Griese, Bob Baumhower, Jason Taylor, Moore and Dwight Stephenson.

“What I saw in Freeport and Grand Bahamas, that was some devastation,” said Moore, who was part of the Bahamas and Haiti missions. “But once I went down to Eight Mile Rock and West End, you saw homes blown away and tarps everywhere and no electricity. That’s when you get back to the reality we dealt with when we had Hurricane Andrew. So it’s always good to go and offer help.”

In Cuba, the Castros refused to allow any aid to be delivered to the people.

So the Dolphins made a $20,000 donation to The Miami Foundation Give2Cuba Fund, assuming those monies would go to organizations that can actually deliver help to the Cuban people rather than the government.

Haiti was different. Haiti was a challenge.

The Dolphins recognized early in the planning stages of this trip that most of the damage is in the south. Places such as Jeremie and Les Cayes are said to be unrecognizable.

The damage to Haiti’s so-called southern claw is so catastrophic it is visible from space — satellite photos taken by NASA the week before the storm showed green areas that have become brown and barren in images taken after the storm.

The Dolphins could not get to the south unless they rented three or four helicopters. Judging the cost, the inconvenience to the local relief efforts, and the dangers to staff and others, the team instead turned this into a fact-finding and relief effort in Port-au-Prince, which was touched but not really affected by Matthew.

The Dolphins instead are helping fund a mobile water purification system under construction in Port-au-Prince that will move to the affected areas once complete and provide drinking water for 10,000-plus people.

The team also purchased 150,000 water purification tablets to be used by 7,500 people. That’s important because USAID, for example, recently ran out of tablets that kill the bacteria that causes cholera.

The team also is donating hygiene kits, water filters, diapers and clothing in Haiti.

Those are factoids. Worthy. Important.

But that’s not how this trip felt.

It felt hot and raw and depressing and sad. It felt wrong that a people bedeviled by poor governmental management and poor living conditions, a bad economy and disease, would also be victimized by a massive hurricane … that followed the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.

“I went four years ago but I was where my parents are from and it was right after the earthquake but they had seen it bounce back,” Fede said. “But when we went to Port-au-Prince [Thursday], I wasn’t really expecting that. It was a lot worse than I thought it was going to be.

“I feel people need to go down there and see that and understand they need a lot of help down there.”

This day trip began with a visit to the United States embassy, where the Dolphins met with ambassador Peter Mulrean. Before he spoke about what to expect and how the storm has impacted the country, Mulrean made this announcement:

“I just need you to know I’m a Patriots fan,” he said. “I just saw all this aqua coming at me. I had to be honest.”

All kidding aside, the ambassador told the Dolphins’ travel party the United Nations is estimating 1.4 million Haitians have been affected by Matthew and 750,000 are in need of significant assistance. There are 180,000 homeless in the storm’s aftermath.

“It’s now over three weeks since the hurricane hit and the good news is there really is a pretty significant response underway,” said Mulrean, adding that the United States has brought $38 million in aid to Haiti with additional funding already requested. “It’s much better organized after the first couple of weeks and systematically it’s getting the assistance needed to the people in the hardest hit population areas.

“The bad news is we don’t know what we don’t know and there are areas we haven’t been able to get to yet.”

Mulrean said a major problem Haiti battled after the earthquake was cholera. Water supplies were contaminated or simply knocked out in some cases. The Dolphins, aware of that issue, teamed up with Haiti Communitere and Surge For Water, and together they are constructing a $100,000 mobile unit capable of going into the affected areas and providing clean water for people.

But before you think this unit is a new state-of-the-art transport please stop. It’s an old school bus that served in Asheville, North Carolina, decades ago. It cost $2,500.

Sam Bloch, the executive director of Communitere International, and Creighton Holley, the operations director for Haiti Communitere, are overseeing the upgrading of the old bus into a unit that will pump dirty or contaminated water out of a source, onto the bus, purify the water in the purification system, and pump it out the side of the bus for human consumption.

The unit has been outfitted with a sump pump, is getting solar panels because electricity is an uncertain energy source in Haiti, and will also carry a mini lumber mill in the back.

Oh, and the thing is painted all sorts of whacky.

Think “Partridge Family” bus.

“We’re making all this stuff custom from scratch,” Holley said. “Our idea is sustainability. So when all the relief organizations move on, we’re here to stay.”

Holley arrived in Haiti five days before Matthew hit. The reason he’s doing this work is because his family’s home in Texas was wiped out by a tornado in 2015. He had planned to take a job in Australia managing a bar on the beach before the tornado.

After so many people rallied to help his family, he called Bloch and decided he also needed to join the ranks of the world’s relief workers.

Bloch was already among that group because he was building luxury homes for people when the December 2004 earthquake and ensuing tsunami ravaged southeast Asia and killed an estimated 230,000 people.

“I had just finished building a $33 million, two-bedroom house that was going to get slept in two nights a year,” Bloch said. “I decided I’m going to go try and build a house or help build a house for someone in southeast Asia that actually needs it.”

After leaving the former junkyard that Haiti Communitere has turned into its compound, the Dolphins contingent headed off to Hospital Bernard Mevs which would deliver the most poignant moments of the trip.

But first the scariest part of the trip — and no, it wasn’t when the bumpy flight home was diverted from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Miami International Airport because a cargo plane caught fire in Fort Lauderdale.

The scariest portions of this trip where the van rides through the streets of Port-au-Prince. The Dolphins had something of a convoy led by national and other police. So it was safe enough.

Except the van drivers were very aggressive people. And the other cars on the streets were driven by very aggressive people. And because the traffic in Haiti’s capital city is apparently slow and the Dolphins were on a strict schedule, sometimes two lanes had to be turned into three lanes.

There were moments the Dolphins drivers went against traffic. They cut off other cars that wanted to become part of the convey. They pushed up against motorcycles and moped drivers apparently needing to be taught not to try to drive between or alongside the convoy.

One such moment sent a moped bounding onto a sidewalk when he and one of the vans bumped against each other.

“That was crazy,” Fede said when the day’s driving was done.

At the hospital, Dr. Joanna Cherry allowed the Dolphins’ party to see the pediatric intensive care unit and the emergency room. Neither was a pretty sight.

Fede entered the emergency room and came out only seconds later.

“I can’t do this kind of stuff,” he said softly.

Is it bad?

“It’s bad,” he answered.

This hospital has no blood. It cannot do transfusions. It has eight ventilators but only five are working now. The others are in need of repair.

“The purchase of one ventilator can save thousands of lives over a three to five year span,” Cherry said.

Hearing this and that each ventilator costs $8,000 to $10,000 the Dolphins on the spot committed to purchase another one for the hospital.

The tour proceeds to the pediatric unit where six or seven sick skinny children lay mostly quietly, parents or other family at their bedside.

One parent sees the approaching Dolphins party and she starts to whisper in English.

“Help,” she says.

“Help.”

“Help.”

I approach to talk but she doesn’t speak English. She apparently only knows one word.

“Help.”

Daoud, the cheerleader, autographs and hands out pictures of the Dolphins’ cheerleaders for the kids. She does this over and over. And then she suddenly leaves the room.

She’s weeping.

“It was too much for her after a while,” somebody says.

“It would make anybody sad if you go there. But especially me, coming from a Haitian background and whatnot, it’s hard to see your people struggling,” Fede adds. “That applies to any human being. It’s hard to see anyone struggling. But if you’re Haitian its more hard.”

Haitian or not, Fede didn’t have to go to Haiti. He could have written a check. Michael Thomas didn’t have to go to the Bahamas. Kiko Alonso didn’t have to volunteer to help with Cuba relief, had that happened.

Fede and Thomas could have simply enjoyed their days off during the bye.

“Yeah, I know,” Fede said. “But it feels a lot better going down there than sitting around doing nothing. If you’re helping your country, that’s something everybody should want to do. If they went through any natural disasters or not, it’s always good to give back.

“It wasn’t just me, we had a whole team of people from the Miami Dolphins organization going out there trying to do their part. I’m glad to be part of an organization that takes their care for people outside the country. Not all organizations do that.

“Us being located in South Florida it’s very cultural. You have a lot of people from different countries. I feel like we’re doing our part by trying to help people.”

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