News cycles, except in-depth journalism, are an endless carousel of hazy snapshots of the world we live in, lost to today’s new bright shiny object.
Catastrophic events fire up our sympathies and sometimes calls us to action, but as the catastrophic event continues, our concern fades or is eclipsed by another headline.
For instance, what do we remember about the Republic of Haiti, the most populous country in the Caribbean and the only country to have defeated three European superpowers, and as author Gearoid Coleman wrote, is “the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave revolt.” Or that since 2004, floods, an earthquake that may have killed hundreds of thousands, hurricanes, cholera and food shortages, have devastated a country already suffering from unstable political regimes. Or, that it’s one of the poorest nations in the world.
But for Chestertown contractor Rob Comfort, Haiti became much more than a story left behind in the news cycle. He entered the story, and has lived it as part of an outreach program whose mission is to build houses, medical facilities and other structure, one by one.
Comfort is a team-leader for the Charlottesville, Virginia Building Goodness Foundation, whose mission is to “connects skilled volunteers from the design and construction industries with vulnerable communities at home and abroad.” Comfort and his team of three or four spend up to two weeks in the mountain villages of Haiti building houses for the impoverished. “It’s not like a house you or I would be living in—it has a dirt floor and no electricity—but for someone who was living without shelter or in a tent, it’s a palace.”
Shy of attention, Comfort felt it was time to introduce the project to others who might feel the need to be a small part of the solution in what seems to be a never-ending cycle of destruction. It’s not an easy week—it’s rough camping in harsh circumstances. But it’s hands-on and every nail that goes into a new roof means shelter for someone who had been living in a tent or under scrap wood lean-tos their whole lives.
“We can’t save Haiti,” he says. “But each time I leave Haiti, another family has a house.”
Comfort also volunteers in another suffering county—Nepal—for All Hands Volunteers. The organization, like the Building Goodness Foundation, rallies volunteers for its worldwide projects, from Detroit to Malawi. In April of this year a 7.8 earthquake ripped through Nepal leaving 9,000 people dead, 23,000 injured and total devastation to the infrastructure. Comfort and his team have been working to rebuild schools, shelters and community centers.
“It’s really tough there. The building that didn’t fall are now fragile. People are traumatized,” he says.
Comfort invites all to look at the two organization websites and consider lending a helping hand. “It will change your life as much as theirs,” he adds.