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Powerful images linger of mission to Haiti

MANATEE — An immense Haitian relief effort spearheaded by students moved by the plight of people they’ve never met.

Tent cities with thousands of displaced Haitians.

A transcendent church service amidst the destruction in Port-au-Prince.

They are images held by local people who participated in a recent Hope Outreach International trip to Haiti after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 150,000.

The effort involved physicians, Haitian clergy, the International Rotary Club and Out-of-Door Academy to name a few.

ODA students and families helped gather enough medical supplies, it took three plane trips to deliver it to U.S. military in Haiti for dispersal.

“People at school are fortunate, so the way everyone reacted was amazing,” said seventh-grader Jenna Sanborn, who accompanied her father, Ken, flying supplies on a company plane. “Being able to see supplies collected by your friends, peers and teachers, knowing your energies would be put to good use, it’s reassuring.”

“Many times you raise funds and don’t know what happens to it,” said her father, who also chartered a cargo plane. “They saw the stuff being delivered, saw what they did make a difference.”

“It’s been a great learning experience for our students,” said David Mahler, ODA’s head of school. “You don’t collect 15,000 pounds of medical supplies from just a school of 600. It became much bigger than ODA. We don’t need to go through a huge bureaucracy to make a difference, to try and ease the pain of the people in Haiti.”

The pain was widespread.

Take it from Margaret Tsai, a Bradenton physical therapist on the Hope Outreach team.

They’d waken at 4 a.m. by the camp rooster and set up a mini-clinic in areas like Afca, Citron and Carrefourfeille.

“I’ve worked in trauma hospitals before, but never a trauma setting like this,” Tsai said. “The tent cities were spread out with thousands of tents everywhere you go and there is no transportation.

“The military have set up large areas with scads of supplies, but getting it out there is a long process. There was so much there to take care of. I hated to leave.”

Richard O’Brien, a University of South Florida Sarasota/Manatee professor, was also with the Hope Outreach team.

He remembers Haitians holding hands in a circle, singing in a ruined church in Delmas.

“They’d lost everything, yet here they were singing their hearts out,” he said. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fl. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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