Volume 7 - Issue 07
July 2009
Other Articles

Sai Care to the Hurricane Hit Caribbean

…The story of how the Sai devotees in Puerto Rico and Venezuela planned and executed a moving service initiative, all by His Grace, for the devastated people
of Haiti and Cuba in September 2008

The Caribbean region consists of nearly 7000 islands. Commonly known as the West Indies, some of the notable islands in this region are Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Haiti and the Dominican Republic actually share one common island, the eastern two-thirds of this is occupied by the latter while the western part belongs to Haiti. And to the east of Dominican Republic is Puerto Rico.

And in all these regions, the Sai consciousness is growing amazingly and sanctifying thousands of lives. In an earlier issue of H2H, we had the story of the Sai Movement in Puerto Rico which has a history of nearly three decades even though the formal Sathya Sai Organisation of Puerto Rico came into being in 1987. And since then, this committed group of devotees has engaged in a variety of social welfare and spiritual activities, often reaching out to people outside of their borders. And in all of these sacred endeavours they have experienced the Unseen Hand of Sai. The current story is one such amazing tale.   

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Haiti is located in the Caribbean next to the Dominican Republic

Hurricane Alert for the Poor of Haiti

Every year, from August through October-November, there are very strong hurricanes in the Caribbean Sea. This made the Service Coordinator of the Sai Organization in Puerto Rico think that perhaps 2008 too would be a difficult one for the islands. He was particularly concerned about the poor people, especially those living in Haiti, who are usually the hardest hit by these hurricanes. 

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The port of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic,
where the emergency aid first landed

The Government building at Puerto-au-Prince,
the capital of Haiti


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Haiti has one of the poorest standards of living in the world
Rubbish picking is an occupation for many of Haiti's poor

Puerto Rican Sai Devotees Send Emergency Aid

Among all the Latin American countries, Haiti has the lowest standard of living, hence the heightened concern. So the devotees from Puerto Rico started collecting clothes, and food items with the idea to take them directly to Haiti.  They had never done this service before, but they contacted the devotees at the Sai Center in Puerto-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, and asked them if they would receive the articles and help to distribute them to the needy. 

The answer came back affirmative, but also explaining that a detailed list of everything arriving would have to be given to customs with a letter showing that it was a donation.   The items were collected from all the centers in Puerto Rico, and packed in boxes. An inventory was prepared and the idea was to take a ferry across from Mayguez, Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. And from there to travel overland to Haiti and deliver the aid to the Sai Center in Puerto-au-Prince. 

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The Puerto Rican devotees who transported the aid...

...are happy to be at the Santo Domingo Sai Center


Everything was packed into a van belonging to one of the devotees, and passage was booked on the ferry, which makes the crossing in 8 hours. There was no storm and seas were calm. So on the last week of August 2008, the devotees from Puerto Rico arrived at Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. But to their surprise, they were informed that the government officials in Haiti would not let them proceed because some paperwork still needed official seals of the government and this could take weeks. 

Official Snags Delay the Gifts

Also the government officials at the customs in San Domingo were not in agreement to let them even unload the shipment in the Dominican Republic while waiting for the permission from Haiti. It almost seemed like they would have to board the ferry and return with all their humanitarian aid. Just when the obstacles seemed insurmountable, one of the customs officials allowed them to deposit the goods at the local Sai Center while waiting for the permissions from Haiti. The devotees knew it was Sai who had come to their rescue.

Just when the obstacles seemed insurmountable, one of the customs officials allowed them to deposit the goods at the local Sai Center while waiting for the permissions from Haiti. The devotees knew it was Sai who had come to their rescue.

Even though the two nations of Haiti and Dominican Republic share the same island, they have not enjoyed good relations for more than 200 years.

No surprise then that the Sai Organization has emerged as the only diplomatic light in this bleak situation, for they have held joint Sai Spiritual retreats in Santo Domingo, where the pervading spirit of Sai love erases all geographical or political differences. 

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With customs approval now gained, the Puerto Ricans...
... are overjoyed to unpack the aid at the Sai Centre

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They are quite sure it was Baba's Hand ...
...enabling them to overcome customs clearance

Since the government officials were dragging their feet, the devotees from Puerto Rico had to return home, having brought the service offering only half way.  Then the devotees from Dominican Republic took over. They decided to add to the provisions and kept collecting more items until there were 48 large cartons.  Everything was put in the inventory, but still there was no permission from Haiti to proceed. 
       
Hurricane Gustav Makes the Aid Indispensable

Then, in the second week of September, hurricane Gustav roared through the Caribbean, hitting many islands but the worse damage was done in Haiti and Cuba. Winds were gusting at 150 miles per hour and torrents of rain flooded everything. When the government of Haiti saw the need to help their people, the paperwork that had taken so long to seal was ready in a day! But now there was another problem. The road leading to the border had been washed out and no transportation was moving. 

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These four pictures depict the flood devastation...
...that Hurricane Gustav caused over the Caribbean

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A roof is blown off in Cuba
In Haiti harbours were wrecked

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A lady is helped across a road to safety. ..
Extensive tree damage paralysed Cuba

The devotees in Santo Domingo were frantically looking for a truck to take the load of aid to Puerto au Prince, but all the transport companies wanted a fortune.  Finally through friends, a bus company was contacted. They offered to transport the goods, but for $2,500. The devotees then explained that this was humanitarian aid and no one was making any money so could they give a discount.  A call was made to the owners of the company and they asked who was shipping the goods.

Finally through friends, a bus company was contacted. They offered to transport the goods, but for $2,500. The devotees then explained that this was humanitarian aid and no one was making any money so could they give a discount.... When they heard it was the Sathya Sai Service Organization, they said they would only charge for gasoline which would cost a mere $185.00!

When they heard it was the Sathya Sai Service Organization, they said they would only charge for gasoline which would cost a mere $185.00! Swami again showed His glorious Grace and by the next day the floods had receded enough to let the bus, loaded with supplies get through. 

Hundred Joyful Families Receive the Emergency Gift Packs

Finally, when the 48 cartons reached Puerto au Prince, the devotees at the local Sai Center in Haiti were ready.  They didn’t just put everything in plastic bags and hand it out to the needy people.  Instead, they gift wrapped all items making a total of 110 beautiful gift packs with essential food items and clothes for families who had lost everything. When these were distributed, the recipients had tears in their eyes because someone cared enough to have come to their rescue in the darkest moments. 

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The emergency aid receives the final touch
of love in its journey...
...as the Haitian devotees gift wrap
110 beautiful looking cartons

Who else but the compassionate Sai could have made this delivery so timely, in less than a week after the hurricane had struck!

Hard Hit Cubans Celebrate after Sai Intervention

The same storm, hurricane Gustav also hit Cuba. The damage to life and property there too was as serious as in Haiti. The Sai Organisation Coordinator from Cuba informed that the government had to use all of the available food to help residents in the flood ravaged area, especially Alquizar province, leaving very little food for the people in the capital city of La Habana.  Because this disaster hit shortly before Swami’s Birthday, the Sai Organization in La Habana decided it would be impossible to celebrate His Birthday that year.

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It was the same story of joy after the storm in Cuba...
...as devotees gathered to celebrate Swami's Birthday

However, a very generous devotee from Venezuela immediately sent 15,000 cases of food items to the government of Cuba for distribution. In Cuba, the Sai devotees are not allowed to participate in distribution of this nature as the government does everything. He also sent $2000 for the Sai Center for helping those devotees who were in difficulties, and for celebrating Swami’s Birthday. 

The money was just in time for helping many who did not have enough food in their homes, and a grand celebration was held with over 300 devotees. The sevadal volunteers were trying to keep things in order for the bhajans and cake distribution in a house which can normally accommodate only 50 persons. Sai videos were also shown and also present was a most honoured guest - Her Excellency, The Indian Ambassador to Cuba.

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Marcos Verdugo (performing arati) is the
country coordinator for Cuba
The Indian Ambassador to Cuba (with dark glasses) enjoys the festivities

Where ever there is a pure intention and sincere desire to engage in selfless service, Sai is always there. And this story which unfolded thousands of miles away from Prasanthi Nilayam, only reinforces this fact. With Sai everywhere, Sai devotees have no fear. It is only loving and sharing, selflessly.

We are grateful to Jaime Marizan, of the Dominican Republic for sharing this story with us.

~ Heart2Heart Team

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