By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Anyone who knows Sam Dunston, founder and CEO of Brooklyn based, National Allotment Insurance Agency (NAIA), knows him for his smile and friendly, ebullient nature. And if you know Sam, you also know that he doesn’t usually do interviews. He prefers to just do, and let his work do the talking. So getting this interview from Sam is an indication of just how gratified and happy he was to have played a role in taking the donation put together by Brooklyn Hospital staffers to Haiti.
To say that Sam’s smile was wider than usual - if that’s even possible - would be an understatement. When he returned from a weekend trip to Haiti, he was energized, animated, and very happy.
He left on Sunday, April 10, along with eight other members from Brooklyn Hospital’s board of directors, as well individuals from Florida and Canada. They flew into Port Au Prince to present a check for $36,000 -- funds contributed by hospital workers, who worked over time and pooled their pay to make a considerable donation for training in a Hatian hospital.
The fact that these staffers had donated their time, energies and efforts to put these funds together is absolutely amazing and heartwarming. They did it with no fanfare, with no publicity. They did it without bickering, hassling, or concern for who was doing more or less than whom. And the bottom line, is they did it from the goodness of their hearts and for the love of the people of Haiti. While other bigwigs and government agencies are rolling around having meetings and tribunals - panels and forums on how to help Haiti, these people simply banded together and got the job done.
When they presented the funds to the Board to be taken to Haiti, there was no big to do. It was just, “we raised this for Haiti, to be given to their hospital to help train more Haitians to help more Haitians.” That’s all.
Their biggest concern? Making sure the money got into the hands of the people they intended it for. Because of that, they bypassed the Red Cross, and all the other agencies that have purported to help Haiti, but have yet to build a single home, or come up with what is happening to the millions of dollars already donated to help rebuild the stricken country, and sought other means.
When asked if the hospital administrator was surprised at their visit, he responded, “She knew we were coming. We didn’t know where to send the money to to make sure it got in the right hands, and was used for the purposes intended. What happened with the community board, and Dr. Carroll met with the president and said we would take the money to the hospital and tell them what they are supposed to do with it. So that’s what we did. I went and Rev. Jones went. We paid our own way, and we enjoyed it!” He said it in a matter of fact manner.
The Haitian hospital, one of the few that remained standing after the devastating earthquake which took place in January 2010, has been the triage center for many of the victims, as well as the place most Haitians have to go to before embarking on travel to the US and other places.
According to Sam, Dr. Carroll takes a group every three months to work at the hospital and help the patients. He went there right after the earthquake and drove from the Dominican Republic into the hospital. He liked the people. So he went there and performed a lot of surgeries. He still does surgeries. He goes there every three months takes a team and they do surgery and volunteer work.”
“You had to plan for every eventuality“, he remarked, “but you would get more than that back in happiness and joy from there because of the people. They never had an attitude, because they’re just too poor to have an attitude. But most people in our area (New York) who are very poor have an attitude. Mad because they’re poor. But these people were not that way. The minister was nice; and also met a young man from California who donated some medical supplies to the hospital. He had send some stuff to this hospital and to the hospital in Port Au Prince. So that’s what we are going to do, as well.”
Most newspaper accounts give a totally different characterization of the Haitian people from the one Sam Dunston depicted. His statement of the people being nice, humble and grateful, is the complete opposite from the picture that’s being painted a lot of times about Haitians.
His smile got even broader as he recounted an incident where he was standing, and a little girl was sitting. “I gave a girl a dollar to let me sit down in a chair.”
When I remarked that getting the money must have made her happy, because an American dollar will pay for food for a month in certain parts of Haiti, he responded, laughing: “You know what got me? Both of us was happy. I told her to get up, she got up, I sat down - I looked at her and smiled. There were two of them. I gave both of them a dollar. They were so nice. It just shows that you should be humble. When you have problems, you should be humble. You got nothing to get mad about or ashamed about your needs. So they were so nice and I gave them a dollar; if I had sat there longer, I would have probably given her two. When I was there before, they were very nice to me, too! She got up and let me sit down, like folks. I told her that when I got to be her age, I would do the same thing for her. She didn’t know what I was saying.” (She spoke Creole, Sam spoke English, but the spirit of friendship and respect spoke volumes between them). He laughed heartily -- laughter is contagious around Sam Dunston, because he finds so much pleasure in life - the little things as well as the big.
Equally as impressive to Sam were the volunteers themselves. Having originated from North Carolina where Jim Crow was alive and well, as a youth his experiences had been less than congenial: “I’ve never seen white women be as happy to work on Black folks and smile and enjoy it. I never seen that before. Everybody there was jet black. Down where I come from (North Carolina), the (white) Doctor treated you for one thing - high blood pressure - he could tell that by touching your arm, they didn’t check nothing else. So, I had dinner with them (volunteer nurses) and breakfast with them - and they were so happy! They were glad to offer their services.”
It seemed to be a factor that both surprised and perplexed him at the same time. Little wonder, since his last interaction prior to entering the military had to have been during a time of segregation in the Jim Crow South. Most of his current interactions has been primarily for business, never at a level this basic and this close to life and death. Most of the volunteers had to travel half way around the world to provide their assistance, and they did so without fanfare, or funds. Just because they, like the volunteers at Brooklyn Hospital, have a basic love for mankind, regardless of race, economic levels, or status.
When yours truly lived in Haiti in the 70’s (Papa Doc Duvalier was still living and President for Life at the time), the dollar ratio to American money was 5 to 1. According to Dunston it has dropped to 7to 1. That also meant that the donation was the equivalent of $252,000 in Haitian funds, which should definitely go a long way.
In reference to the hospital, which had a very clean, modern appearance, Dunston stated, “This hospital had a line of people they had examined to go to the United States and other countries. Before they leave to go away, they have to be examined by the hospital. The hospital was full of people.”
When asked what they were going to the US for, he responded jovially: “I don’t know. Better life, I guess. If you see everybody sleeping in tents, and somebody told them that if you get to New York you can get a bed, and you’ve been praying all you life for things to be better, somebody said there’s a God on the other side, and you should try to get there; and you can get there in this life, not in the other life - then you go. That’s what I see. I don’t know what they say. That’s what they should have been saying. That was the whole thing that I think.”
Dunston observed the fact that there was constantly a great deal of hustle and bustle in the streets, which appeared to always be full of cars and vehicles going to and from the airport, “The streets are so full of cars and people all the way to airport. And the airport is packed. The plane held about 285 people - there were 250 people on the plane!”
He took a lot of candid shots during his trip. As we went through them, he commented on some of the things that stood out to him - not the least of which were the miles and miles of tents lining the streets, with families still living there a year after the earthquake - giving rise to concern over the fact that so little appeared to have been accomplished over the past few months, despite so many donations pouring in from the US and foreign countries.
My one attempt at getting Dunston to make a political commentary was when I asked whether he had observed any building going on while he was there, any kind of major construction. He commented, sagely: “There was a lot of building. The workers I saw were Haitian people. They were most likely building those cinderblock walls - make four corners and that’s a house. I doubt if any of the major contracts involved the local workers, though. I would assume and I think (outside) contractors would be involved in multi buildings over two or three stories where it would take some plans and stuff like that. But above the one room house about half this size - indicating his office - it doesn’t take any (major) plans. Just give him $500 and he can build a little house and put a top on it and it’s ready.”
(I will be doing a commentary on Haiti's reconstruction in upcoming blogs)
He continued, “So far as the trip I was concerned - the people were nice and appreciative. And when you can tell when people are appreciative, it makes a difference. You don’t owe nobody nothing, but they’re appreciative; you weren’t expecting that. So you did what your heart say do. I can say it was an enjoyable and warm trip because the people were so humble and thankful. They were thankful just for your presence. It was a good experience.”
The real take away from this is that all it takes is our own ingenuity, sincerity, and collaborative efforts, and we can move mountains. We tend to overlook the fact that it was through humble beginnings many of us have made it to where we are today. A lesson Sam Dunston and the staffers at Brooklyn Hospital have not forgotten. And a good example for us to follow - and teach our kids as well.
Stay Blessed &