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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recent Storm Pummels Already Ravaged Haitian Nation

Recent Storm Pummels Already Ravaged Haitian Nation:
Southport Woman 
Provides Critical Aid
(Appeared on front page of Fairfield Sun 10/14/10)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Southport, CT – A sudden September 24 storm that carried with it damaging high winds and rain is the latest misery to strike Port au Prince, Haiti, an area still recovering from a devastating January 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000 people, injured 300,000 and rendered over a million homeless. The recent storm downed power lines, damaged buildings, caused widespread flooding, destroyed thousands of tents, injured hundreds and killed at least five people.

Southport resident Emma Taylor, 25, the co-founder of relief organization European Disaster Volunteers, who has been living and working in Port au Prince since June, helped provide an immediate response, working with local partners GrassRoots United to facilitate the distribution of more than thirty tents to those that the storm left with no shelter. Now Taylor is spearheading EDV’s efforts to further assess the damage to the local community, repair shelters and provide emergency shelter as needed. Taylor is also appealing for donations to cover the costs of tents, tarps and wood and raising money to house 47 Haitian orphans whose shelters were damaged.
Haiti is the first deployment for the group, which was formed by Taylor, her partner and Executive Director Andy Chaggar, 33, and two other experienced disaster response volunteer leaders in September 2008. EDV was officially recognized as an England and Wales Registered Charity in October 2009. Though based in Europe, their work is worldwide and volunteers and donors are welcome regardless of nationality.

“We pursue long-term, sustainable recovery, so rather than respond in the immediate aftermath, we give the dust a bit of time to settle so we can better see where the outstanding gaps in the response are and what we can do to bring about real, long-term change,” Taylor explained.

Chaggar described current conditions as “pretty desperate”, noting that there are still around 1.3 million people living in tents, unemployment is around 80% and many are unable to further their education. This latest storm hasn’t helped matters.

“It’s been tough,” said Chaggar. “Our base suffered a lot of damage and projects were badly set back. In our community, camps were very badly hit. Many people made homeless for a second time this year have simply lost hope. In one of the camps I visited, the atmosphere of defeat was almost palpable.”

Chaggar is the lead founder of EDV and holds a Masters in Social Development Policy and Management with a focus on disasters. He is also a survivor of the 2004 Asian tsunami and helped lead the construction of 67 permanent houses in Thailand after that event. Taylor’s role, as marketing and media director, is primarily communications and she holds a writing degree. A large part of her job is putting out clear messages that motivate people to get involved. The two met while Taylor was in Peru working in the city of Pisco with two other organizations following an 8.0 earthquake in August 2007. In her nine months there, Taylor led a demolition crew to take down damaged buildings, worked with a house and bathroom building crew and then helped construct a school.

It was there that the seeds for EDV were planted. Taylor explained, “While we had huge respect for the groups we were working with, those groups did not let survivors really participate in the process of planning or implementing the projects which affected them. We wanted to draw the community together and teach sustainable skills to survivors.”

During EDV’s set-up year, Taylor worked with children as an afterschool teacher at the Wilton YMCA and as a nanny. The 2007 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania now focuses on EDV full time.

About her initial impressions of earthquake-shattered Port au Prince upon touch-down there back on June 10, Taylor said, “When you are arriving off the plane, you’re met with dust, immense heat, totally unregulated traffic and, to add to the confusion, countless men in red polo shirts offering to carry your bag for a small fee.” But it was just the type of experience Taylor had signed on for with her fledgling organization. “The scale of destruction and need simply cannot be ignored.”

“Emma is incredible,” says Chaggar, “and is doing an amazing job as our media director. But her skills don’t end there by any means. She’s just as at ease unloading trucks of relief supplies or installing drains as she is writing. She’s also got a lot of practical experience with children and is running our weekly language exchange where English and Creole are learned between international volunteers and locals. In short, she can pretty much turn her hand to anything.”

To this regard, Taylor mentioned, “I work with the leader of a local community group called Rehabilitation to organize and fund a soccer league. I also spend a lot of time with the pastor of a church in the neighborhood keeping our community library running smoothly.”

For her efforts, Taylor has earned praise from the local population. Noted Chaggar, “Everyone respects Emma. The locals know her well and her name is often called out when we’re walking down the street. She’s developed an excellent relationship with many local leaders which helps our work hugely.”

As to how her friends and family feel about her work, Taylor said, “They are hugely supportive but also worry about my safety given that I spend my life in geographically unstable, and often politically unstable, developing countries. My mother sends emails worrying that I’ve perhaps contracted some kind of tropical disease.”

The group takes great precautions and Taylor never goes out at night in a group of less than three. Kidnapping is one of the biggest threats, so she tries not to look like a target, avoiding nice clothing and jewelry. EDV receives security updates from the UN with regard to political stability and warnings if any unrest is expected.

EDV has no dedicated vehicle, so Taylor makes her way around on public “Tap Taps” (pick-up trucks with benches and a basic roof). She also takes motorcycle taxis, about which she joked, “They are exhilarating at best and downright terrifying at worst as the traffic in Port au Prince would make even the most seasoned New Jersey driver reconsider his life insurance plan.”

Basic supplies are available but a challenge to find. Dust and mud are facts of life. There is a very limited power grid. “We take bucket showers here as we don’t have running water,” she noted.

Of course, the natives have the greatest hardships. About them, Taylor said, “I am constantly amazed by the warmth and resilience of the Haitian people, and there is a great deal of life even in the rubble of the earthquake.”

Taylor will be in Haiti until at least September 2011, a separation that is difficult on her family. “But in the long-term, my friends and family recognize that after about a month at home I start to get very antsy and stop being good company. They understand that this is the life that I need, and love. It’s a difficult process, but incredibly meaningful and rewarding.”

For more information about EDV, visit


European Disaster Volunteers to the Rescue

European Disaster Volunteers, which is hard at work with its first deployment in earthquake-shattered Port au Prince, Haiti, was founded two years ago by a group of experienced disaster response volunteers. One of the co-founders, Andy Chaggar, is a survivor of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Recently, EDV was named New Start magazine’s international charity of 2009-2010 and Chaggar tapped as Vodafone’s World of Difference winner.

EDV is unusual in the world of disaster response because the charity focuses on long-term, community-based recovery rather than relief in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. EDV’s mission in Haiti is to bring about sustainable recovery, leaving the community better able to meet its own needs long after EDV and other international assistance groups leave.

Volunteer numbers vary widely. EDV has at-home volunteers constantly fundraising, recruiting volunteers for Haiti and helping with EDV’s website development. Currently, the group is supported by 20 heavily involved volunteers based all over the world and maintains a volunteer mailing list of 700 members, some of whom are involved occasionally while others are awaiting assignments in their skill areas. In Haiti, the group has three on-the-ground volunteer leaders and is recruiting for more.

To make a tax-deductible donation to help EDV re-house those who, following a recent severe storm, now find themselves homeless for the second time in less than a year, you can give on EDV’s general Global Giving Page:

To make a tax-deductible donation to house Haitian orphans, whose temporary shelters were destroyed by the latest storm, please visit

To help displaced youths keep out of trouble, a community soccer program run by EDV also requires funding. For information, visit