After arriving in the Dominican Republic, I started trying to figure out how to get to Haiti. I met a Spanish-speaking journalist who told me about a Dominican Navy boat willing to take volunteers to Jacmel. We hitched a ride with a few other volunteers headed to the port town of Pedernales and the next morning boarded a boat, "La Tortuguera," along with several hundred tons of food, water and supplies. Six hours later, we arrived in Jacmel and were met by the Mangines, who picked us up and graciously invited us to sleep in a tent in their yard. Due to the aftershocks, it was too dangerous to sleep indoors.
I speak often of "guerrilla aid"—the idea that anyone can do something anywhere—but I've never seen better examples of it than watching the Pyes and Mangines in action. It all started when Nick and Gwenn tried to send their kids back to the United States until things calmed down. They went to the small local airport—which, until recently, handled about a flight per week—to bring in a pilot who could take their kids back to Florida. There was just one problem: The pilot couldn't get clearance to land. "That's because there's no one here!" Nick told him over the phone.
"Just make it over the mountains," he said, "and you'll be okay." Minutes later, a plane was rolling down the runway after a successful landing. That's when Nick and Gwenn realized they could do more than just send their kids home.
In the days that followed, the Mangines and the Pyes took over airport operations. They landed one, then two, then up to 100 planes a day. They even authorized the U.N. planes and dignitaries to land. They hired (out of their own pockets) 25 local men to unload supply planes (pictured here unloading relief supplies in a "bucket brigade" line) and were the main point of contact for the Canadian military, which set up its headquarters at the airport. When the Canadian Disaster Aid Relief Team (DART) arrived, they set up their base on land that Joy in Hope had planned as a school for 800 orphaned kids. Several days ago at the DART field hospital, a healthy baby was born.
By the time I got here, hundreds of little planes were arriving with international goodwill provisions—but with no plan for distributing them. So the Pyes and Mangines called local groups and pastors to get lists of everyone in the region. They hired trucks and more workers, and before long, the U.N. World Food Program was asking them to take over the entire region east of Jacmel. To date, they've distributed some 100 tons of aid—more than any other private group in the area.