Supplies stuck in customs for eight months
It was a bittersweet moment for Rich Davis. He was finally delivering the supplies he collected for Haitians following the January 2010 earthquake.
“It was a sigh of relief to finally get it into their hands,” said Davis, owner of Davis Capital Group in Cornelius.
“But it was also a mixture of emotions because I was standing there in Haiti port and there were so many supplies that were being held up by customs.”
Davis collected supplies in a 53-foot shipping container, which he sent to Haiti last spring. He wasn’t able to get the container out of customs in Haiti until December.
“It took me seven or eight months to get in there, and other people had been trying for equal or even more time,” Davis said.
The container was supposed to be sent as humanitarian relief, which would have been free to pass through customs.
“The rule in Haiti is, if it gets held up for 12 months and no one comes to claim it or take it out, then they’ll seize it. They’ll take it,” he said.
So to make sure the supplies got to those who needed them, Davis was forced to claim the items as personal belongings – a move which cost him $18,000 in taxes and shipping.
“So it was bittersweet because it felt great to get it to the people that needed it, but they basically taxed us and it cost tens of thousands of dollars to get it out.”
Davis, 34, lived in Haiti 20 years ago, and his adopted brother, Ricardo, is Haitian.
He was finally able to travel to island nation in late December with his mother, Linda Gibson, to claim the container.
When he got off the plane in Haiti, he met up with Ricardo’s mother.
“The first thing she said to us is, ‘Haiti has changed,’” Davis said. “I didn’t know what she meant until I got to go see.
Haiti wasn’t the place he remembered.
“The families are so humble – or humiliated, I don’t know which word to use. There was always this little flame in their eyes that there was hope that things were going to change and get better.”
Davis said that flame is all but gone.
“It was a very hopeless place. It’s very sad that we live so close to Haiti and for them to be decimated,” he said. “They’re almost beyond Third World, it’s almost like looking at Sudan or Darfur.”
Davis likened getting containers out of customs to a game of Tetris. The containers are shuffled around, as some are removed and more are brought in.
“If yours gets moved to the front,” Davis said, “then you need to get down there and try to get it out as fast as you can because it could be moved back to the back and could be another two or three weeks to get it back out.”
But if getting the container out of customs was hard, turning the supplies over to the Haitians was even harder.
“The despair and the hopelessness that you see, that even though you’re there to give joy and try to help out, they just want to leave, just get away,” Davis said. “There was no time where I felt like I had done something great. It felt like a Band-aid for a bigger problem. I almost felt hopeless because I don’t know how to tackle something so large.”
Davis wasn’t the only local donor with trouble making the delivery.
First Baptist Church-Huntersville collected a bus full of food and medical supplies after the earthquake. Jim Smith, who coordinated the effort, said while the church didn’t have nearly as bad a problem as Davis, it took much longer than expected to get the supplies to Haiti.
But Davis’ experience didn’t completely discourage his aid efforts, and Smith said the church plans to send a mission once they’re sure it’s safe.
“We want to help more,” Davis said, “but we’ve got to figure out how to get that done on a humanitarian basis. We walked in an I could see some of the places that there were obviously some relief efforts happening in the past, and those were all abandoned or knocked down.”
Looking to help?
Queens Landing and Pure Fitness 24/7 are hosting a cruise on the Lady of the Lake yacht on Feb. 4 to benefit relief efforts in Haiti.
The team hopes to raise $5,000 to cover the cost of rebuilding two homes.
Tickets for the cruise are $30 per person or $50 for a couple.
The cruise will board from 7:30 to 8 p.m. and returns to shore around 11.
For more information, call 704-664-6996.