Haiti-blog-imageYou could almost say that Paul Rwankole’s whole life changed in the space of a sentence.

Paul had volunteered to be part of a 10-day emergency relief mission to Haiti in May 2010. Four months prior to that, one of the deadliest earthquakes in recorded history had shattered the Caribbean country.

On the second-last day of that mission, one of his Haitian contacts told him: “You can leave Haiti, but Haiti cannot leave you.”

“Those words still ring in my head,” he says.

Those words also acted as the catalyst for an inspirational, company-wide Long View initiative — an initiative called Playgrounds for Haiti.

The next time he heads south, on May 24, Paul will be leading a team of 17 of us that includes mostly Long View staff, along with some of our friends and family members, on a nine-day Playgrounds for Haiti assignment. Our team will be getting our hands dirty by building three school playgrounds around Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, on behalf of Haiti Outreach Ministries.

That’s not all. Our amazing Long View staff from across North America have raised the $18,000 needed to purchase the playground equipment in the first place. In fact, those three months’ worth of fundraising efforts were so successful that we raised an extra $7,000. That money will fund an educational summer camp project, called The Long View Summer Camp, organized by Calgary-based charity Reach Haiti.

Now, that is something for us to be truly proud of.

Paul, one of our consultants based in Calgary, has already been to Haiti four times, leading medical, construction, and mental-health teams. He believes Long View’s Playgrounds for Haiti fundraising effort has been nothing less than “incredible.”

“It’s just been a fantastic response. I’ve spoken with (CEO) Don (Bialik) about it, and I’ve told him that he has a lot of people with what I like to call unbridled enthusiasm,” says Paul.

The $25,000 was raised, in part, through an online auction of authentic Haitian art, a raffle involving NHL hockey tickets and a one-hour helicopter tour, a bake sale, and a payroll deduction program.

Above and beyond the fundraising effort, our team travelling to Haiti to volunteer for the playground-building project will be doing so at our own expense.

Joanna Birrell is one of the travellers. She’s a project manager at our Calgary office, and she has a degree in international development. She also spent two years in Thailand, helping relief efforts following the southeast Asian tsunami of 2004. She says experiences such as Playgrounds for Haiti make her take a step back, look at her life, and value what’s important.

“Children have an amazing resilience when it comes to tragedy and disaster, but they’re often forgotten as aid focuses on the big items like housing, sanitation, and livelihood assistance,” she says. “Just seeing those smiles as the kids enter the playgrounds for the first time will be more than enough of a reward.”

I see Playgrounds for Haiti as a perfect example of Long View’s “culture of caring.” Our people consistently show a level of commitment to social responsibility and community involvement that goes far above and beyond traditional corporate standards. What’s truly special about this initiative is that it started from one of our staff speaking about his experiences in Haiti — and then, in the moment, offering to take a group of people with him if they were interested.

Paul says he can clearly remember Haiti Outreach Ministries suggesting a playground-building project, and telling him the price tag was $18,000 for two playgrounds.

“I went back to Long View for a meeting with the project committee, thinking this was a really big sum of money,” says Paul. “The response I got was: ‘Is that it?’ ”