Hotline to Haiti

Hotline to Haiti

An old parable may echo the feelings of former Mormon missionary, Rob McBride. As the story goes, a man observed a boy walking a beach area. The boy stopped often to pick up a stranded star fish and throw it back into the sea. Seeing thousands of starfish along the shoreline, the man exclaimed, “You can’t save them all!”

The boy kept moving down the shore, rescuing star fish. “Why do you keep trying, when most of them will die?” defied the observer. “You can’t make much difference.” The lad looked down, picked up another star fish and threw it into the foaming salt water. He turned to his guest and confidently observed, “I made a big difference for that one.”  Such was the effort of Brother McBride.

While the nation of Haiti is often in news reports because of the poverty and suffering of its citizens, there are few people in the western hemisphere who understand what would help lift the nation educationally, economically and socially. However, two young men learned intimately what Haitians want and need.  Years after living in the island nation, one of them would make a big difference.
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In 1990, Rob McBride and Tom Pallin had returned from their church mission in Haiti with an enduring love of the country’s culture and for its families. During ensuing years, Brother McBride thought often of ways to help his adopted countrymen. He made efforts to travel back to Haiti to investigate humanitarian aid possibilities, but the trips “never worked out.”
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Then in 2012, he read an article about a college professor who wanted to put smartphones in the hands of Haitians. With the professor’s connections, Brother McBride contacted schools in Haiti, and then negotiated with BlackBerry to donate 300 smart phones. It was not much to try to affect ten million people living in poverty, but it would be a big help.

In October 2013, Brother McBride returned to the land of his missionary service and this time with 300 Blackberry handlhelds. “After arriving in Haiti, we travelled many hours to reach the schools. Then we spent nine days training school administrators and teachers how to use the devices,” he says.

For technologically developed cultures, access to a smartphone may seem “handy, but for remote villages and schools on the island, the idea was life and culture changing.
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“It allows teachers to be better equipped to receive current and updated educational information,” says Brother McBride. Now, Google and other sources are available at their fingertips through the phone’s internet browser. Since most parents have simple cell phones, teachers can now communicate with them about their student’s progress and needs.”

With subsequent visits, and the deployment of more smartphones, the former missionary became ingratiated into the Haitian education system. “One person we worked with had been the minister of education in Ontario,” recalls Brother McBride. “We accompanied him north of the Haitian capital city, then met his father, a Baptist minister. Following many conversations about religion, I was asked to give a sermon to their congregation about ‘faith.’”

After that sermon, the men left early the next morning to drive into the mountains to the town of Kenscoff. There, they came upon a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse, and brought their guest into the chapel. Observing men and boys in white shirts and ties, one of the men declared, “Wow, you really dress up here!” The company of men was immersed into the meeting – a Fast Sunday meeting – where members waited in line for the opportunity to share their faith.

At another stop the men were introduced to a Baptist mission school. When the Latter-day Saint men were asked, “Why are you here?” Brother McBride explained, “We have the similarities of wanting to do good for these people.”

The “cell phone mission” was not a one-and-done, feel-good project. “We’ve been back five times now,” says Brother McBride. “They are impressed to see us back. Things have taken off. As the Church teaches, I think we build good relationships, by just showing good works of the Church.”