Archive for February, 2010

Giving back tirelessly: Shannon Mulholland

Posted on: February 28th, 2010 | No Comments

Most people would embrace their relatively carefree upbringing in the Bay Area – not Shannon Mulholland. After finishing high school, she completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Dublin’s prestigious Trinity School, working as a coffee barista to make it through. Shunning the 9-to-5 life, Shannon knew that others needed help. This is a path familiar to those in the non-profit world, but Shannon has been far more entrepreneurial than most.

Traveling to Kenya with UNICEF, after a period of time she sought a more challenging and impactful route, rather than the somewhat cushy life afforded by being a UN civil servant.  She joined the non-governmental organization International Rescue Committee and went for one its most challenging assignments – the Emergency Response Team. Like a global fire brigade, the team is ready to go at a moment’s notice to the worst places on earth. They don’t stay for just a few days but actually take up life alongside those suffering and then, at a moment’s notice, they travel to the next crisis. Carrying one bag, a laptop and a mug of coffee, Shannon has handled operations and ensured that start-up projects run efficiently.  She first worked in Pakistan’s troubled tribal region, then moved to Myanmar after cyclone Nargis killed so many, then to Sudan, then to Georgia after its brief war with Russia and finally to Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Even thought cherishing the instant impact of emergency work, after some time, Shannon wanted to make a more lasting effect in one of her favorite countries: Kenya. She founded Rural Development Connections whose goal is to provide rural income-generation opportunities to small holder farmers through better business practices, and direct access to local and international markets. These efforts result in the farmers’ incomes increasing by over 1000 percent, farmers learning environmentally friendly farming methods from organic certification and becoming self-sustainable … never needing a handout again. Shannon’s tireless efforts- socially concerned and global in scope – make her a person Neverest loves.

Exiting Haiti through the Dominican Republic

Posted on: February 17th, 2010 | No Comments

It’s been a month since the earthquake, and it’s time to head home. The work has been rewarding, the friendships developed deep, and the experiences will last a lifetime.

In Port-au-Prince, economic life has slowly returned, and along with it traffic that turns any trip around town into a long one. Fuel shortages are largely gone, and restaurants are starting to open again for dinner (it is still too early for traditional nightlife). People still sleep outdoors in makeshift tents, not trusting their homes. The economic vulnerability continues and will continue. Haiti will remain the poorest country in the Western hemisphere—earthquake relief will not end that.p10402271

Two days of R&R are in order. I’ve made my way to the coastal hotel in the Dominican Republic filled with tourists, mainly European, seemingly oblivious to what is going on a few hours away. I sit at dinner alone and for a moment have the feeling I’m at the center of the cinematographic technique where the camera focuses on one person in a crowd and everyone else goes about their lives in time-lapse.

I had taken a shower, but my skin still has the dirt and dust from the camps in Haiti. My clothes are even worse. Someone looks at me as if I’m a scrappy visitor who belongs somewhere else. Maybe I do.

Just crackers

Posted on: February 7th, 2010 | No Comments

Before leaving home, I overheard a little boy talking to his mother at my local grocery store. She was explaining their plan for the afternoon, and then he asked with raw excitement: “And then can we have crackers?” That resonated with me—I hoped I could find such Zen-like joy in simple things.

In Haiti, this outlook comes up repeatedly. The 18-hour days continue, the work taxing each one of us. In setting up and managing assistance projects for earthquake victims, we find that full meals are hard to come by, so we sometimes reach for surplus MREs. Inside are those nearly stale military-issue crackers with either a packet of peanut butter or processed cheese. Dirty-faced and exhausted, I visit Shannon at a camp outside Port-au-Prince. The hot sun is going down, and it’s time for a break. She takes out a packet of crackers and smiles: “Want some?”

So many Haitian kids have nothing left. They live in absolute squalor. Many have lost parents. Their schools are destroyed, and there is nothing to do. One of the activities we’ve set-up is called Child Friendly Spaces (CFSs). These are places and activities in the camps where kids can play, interact and engage in normal kid activities. After the earthquake, kids here did nothing until CFSs. Being kids again is critical to healthy recovery. We put together a budget that includes snacks … I smile when crackers are put on the list.