The 13-year Whirlpool Cleveland Division employee is one of 600 volunteers who arose this morning from a narrow cot before dawn in a tent city somewhere near Leogane to begin the task of constructing 100 Habitat for Humanity homes in the impoverished country’s Santo community.
The modest wood and concrete houses, which are being constructed as part of the 29th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, must be finished by late Friday.
Still reeling from the 7.0 earthquake that reduced to rubble its already primitive infrastructure on Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti continues its climb from a seemingly bottomless abyss. Since the terror of the quake that killed 316,000 people, destroyed 250,000 residences and 30,000 businesses, and left more than 1 million Haitians homeless, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation has relied on international aid to help it to its feet.
One of the organizations most involved is Habitat for Humanity International whose aggressive plans call for rebuilding 50,000 homes within a five-year period. The work began shortly after the quakes and will continue until the job is done.
This week’s J&RCWP is taking place in Leogane, a town located some 18 miles west of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Leogane is thought to be the epicenter of the quake, an area where 90 percent of the buildings were leveled.
Aubrey is a longtime Habitat for Humanity volunteer who previously worked a Carter Work Project on the Gulf Coast in 2008 shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and who also has represented his Whirlpool Cleveland employer in past Habitat building blitzes — known as Whirlpool Building Blocks — in Phoenix in 2007 and Atlanta in 2009. He also has helped to build several Habitat houses in Bradley County.
The Cleveland worker is a first shift group leader in materials at the new Whirlpool plant on Benton Pike.
Last Friday, less than 24 hours after enjoying a Thanksgiving gathering with his family, Aubrey traveled to Atlanta to hook up with three Whirlpool co-workers — two from Benton Harbor, Mich. and one from Knoxville — to join a 300-member U.S. team of J&RCWP volunteers who flew to the Caribbean nation Saturday.
Aubrey is one of four “ambassadors” furnished by Whirlpool to work with the Haitian recovery team.
Ironically, his quest to join the 2012 Carter Work Project began earlier this year as an individual volunteer, and not as a company representative. However, after identifying 21 of its global associates who had an interest in working the Haitian rebuild, Whirlpool selected four and is sponsoring their week of volunteerism.
Whirlpool is an avid partner to Habitat for Humanity and for years has donated new appliances for its homebuilds.
“I feel very fortunate to be in a country where we have this opportunity,” Aubrey told the Cleveland Daily Banner last Wednesday night on the eve of his Thanksgiving family gathering which served as a farewell for his samaritan journey. “But I feel even more blessed to be part of a company that has invested, not only in this country but in our own Cleveland and Bradley County community.”
Aubrey’s gratitude toward his employer doesn’t stop there.
“Whirlpool is a company that is a worldwide operation,” he said. “And for that reason, the company recognizes it must have a worldwide impact. And that’s one of the things I like most about working for them. That, and the fact that they give us opportunities ... and this Haitian ambassadorship, this is one of them.”
As thankful as the Cleveland husband, father of three grown children and grandfather is to Whirlpool for the chance to help the devastated Haitian people, he knows it won’t be easy. On top of long days in the Caribbean heat and humidity, he and his co-volunteers will also face increased health risks like cholera and malaria.
As required by J&RCWP leaders, and by Whirlpool, Aubrey and his three co-workers have received their vaccinations — tetanus, typhoid and cholera — and each is now on a daily regime of malaria pills that they started taking last Wednesday and will continue for two weeks after their return to the U.S.
Like the Haitian earthquake victims who have also endured hurricanes and extensive flooding over the past three years — the most recent of which came at the hands of Sandy — Aubrey and the Habitat volunteers are living through some fitful nights this week on small cots in tent cities.
Considering what the Haitian people have endured, the volunteer builders’ sacrifice is minimal, Aubrey said. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians have lived in tent cities and shanties since losing their tiny homes to the destructive quake.
Because of the vast destruction — much of which has gone untouched because of the nation’s already impoverished conditions — volunteers were urged to take along something on their trip that would encourage them, Aubrey explained.
“So much down there is still destroyed,” he noted. “A lot of debris has been moved over the last two years, and organizations like Habitat, the American Red Cross and many others are working to help with the recovery. But one of the problems is infrastructure. Right now in Haiti, there are areas that have no roads, no municipal services, no buildings and no [electrical] power.”
Knowing he was headed into a war zone, Aubrey never considered changing his mind.
“This is really what volunteerism is all about,” he stressed. “It’s not about creature comforts. It’s about meeting a need.”
Ironically, had he not already made the commitment to help with the Haitian rebuild, Aubrey might very well have found himself serving somewhere in the U.S. Northeast as an American Red Cross volunteer helping with recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy. ARC and Habitat are his two favorite causes. He has volunteered through both for years.
Asked if he was personally torn between remaining in the states to assist ARC with hurricane recovery or keeping his commitment to the Haitian rebuild, Aubrey said he kept his promise to the J&RCWP rebuild because he felt confident that Habitat, the Red Cross and other emergency relief organizations had the Sandy storm recovery in hand.
“One of our family traditions at home at Thanksgiving is to tell everybody else about something we’re each thankful for,” Aubrey said. “One thought that struck me is that we in this country have so much to be thankful for. I personally work for a company that cares about others, and I have the privilege of living in America which has a tradition of pouring its heart out to others while also taking care of its own.”
He added, “When I look at Haiti, I see a country that for three years their people have suffered in a way that we as Americans cannot imagine. That’s why I felt pulled to be a part of something this important ... and this is very important.”
Aubrey’s confidence in groups like his own Habitat for Humanity and American Red Cross, as well as hundreds of out-of-town utility companies that have sent crews to help restore the power infrastrcuture, is the reason he believes the Sandy-ravaged Northeast will recover.
“We have an infrastructure in the states,” he noted. “We have this level of support. But in Haiti, everyone is in need. When everyone is in need, who do you turn to? I really have not had a personal issue with going to Haiti because I know help is there for the people in need in the Northeast. And a lot of that help is coming from the same organizations that are working the Haiti recovery.”
As of last week, Aubrey was uncertain about the makeup of the 600 J&RCWP volunteers; however, he was aware that the 300 U.S.-based volunteers were all flying out of Atlanta. They were scheduled to land in Port-au-Prince Saturday. It is thought the other 300 members of the Carter Work Project team are native Haitians who are being trained by Habitat for Humanity to take the lead in housing rebuilds.
Sunday was set as an organizational day and the construction work was to commence at 6:30 this morning. Each work day was scheduled to end by late afternoon or early evening. The tent city teams this week are restricted in their movement and are not allowed outside the campsite areas at night. Aubrey said security is still a concern in the worst-hit areas of the island nation.
All 100 Habitat homes are to be finished by Friday night, and the J&RCWP team is scheduled to fly back to Atlanta on Saturday.
“How many people are given this opportunity?” Aubrey asked rhetorically. “This Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for my life, for my family, for my church, for my employer, for my community and for my country.”
He added, “I’ll get nothing out of this Haiti work project but joy.”