LEAP(S) of FAITH finally composed on LEAP YEAR DAY: 2/29/16
Organized by: Suzi Brehmer
Okay - here goes: (DEEP BREATH!):
To FAMILY, FRIENDS, SOON-TO-BE FRIENDS and FELLOW TRAVELERS and friends of all of the above who will sympathize with the most astounding travel nightmare I could imagine: being robbed of all your (more than $4000) cash, your credit cards, your driver's license and the final spirit crushing blow of discovering that your delayed bag, which caused the PERFECT STORM of horrendous events was irreparably broken and more than $2000 worth of additional, much anticipated gifts were stolen from bag when it did arrive the next day (no thanks to American Airlines.) All this after 36 hours of inexcusably interrupted travel (originally 7 hours) and, sadly, AA has YET to resolve the baggage claim for the missing and destroyed bag which created the theft in the first place or given any compassion for the cash robbery after all the travel nightmares suffered by their mistakes. They have yet to fulfill a single promise to resolve these things 3.5 months down the road.
I THANK YOU IN ADVANCE for taking a LEAP OF FAITH WITH ME to contribute to wonderfully good causes in two countries that don't have even close to the advantages that all of us have in America and Europe... where daily life is a challenge but in my experience, everyone keeps a light, happy and generous heart, sharing what little they might have with friends, neighbors, strangers....
The money that comes in will get deposited directly to a dedicated bank account which is entitled: Jamaica/Cuba Fundraising Project: People helping People. My 87 year old mother Caroline gave the first donation when I opened the account last month in anticipation of launching this campaign to seek worldwide help from this abundant and generous universe and those of you who read this and pass it forward. She was heartbroken that all the year of hard work to personally save for the projects listed below - which increase every time I look around - was lost in two minutes of inattention. It was the single most devastating event of my life - and one that made me quite literally sick for two months.
I must thank my dear, dear friend Aimee who was so concerned about my health and did beautiful energy work to release the darkness that had descended upon my heart, soul and mind and turned me right side up. I was, quite literally, Upside Down on all levels: emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically and couldn't sleep or eat, losing 10 pounds in the first two weeks - and that same night, 60 days exactly from the date of the robbery, she suggested that I watch the Pixar film Inside Out. That brought me back to JOY - (after living with 'Sadness' 'Anger' 'Disgust' and 'Fear') and quite literally saved my spirit. I am blessed and energized to reach out and seek assistance in bringing that same JOY to as many Jamaicans and Cubans that I can in 2016 and beyond.
I have been humbled by the thanks that I have already received from friends who have donated money prior to the launch of this fundraising effort for giving THEM the opportunity to GIVE to a worthy cause. It is exciting to think about what can happen when this gets going...
The wages earned in both Jamaica and Cuba are shockingly, frustratingly low even for skilled labour. The cost of groceries, conversely, is much higher. It is a challenge for so many people to exist much less thrive in these environments and I often hide tears when I see firsthand how little people have.
The projects every dollar of donations will help complete include:
*assisting in the support of a friend (only 42) who needs to travel to Florida for much needed medical assistance, having very recently been diagnosed with a serious heart condition (Tasheeka is pictured below)
*parts and labour costs to repair a motorscooter so a friend doesn't have to walk or taxi to work 6 miles each way every day to earn a living (scooter pictured below)
*adding solar panels to houses: electricity is so, so dear in Jamaica and though solar costs up front, it is so worth it in the long run! Ironically, solar equipment in Jamaica isn't costly by US standards but it is often unattainable as a goal for many Jamaicans who struggle to pay the electic bill each month in smaller increments because they can't afford the start up costs of solar panels. A bonus for the solar projects is the decreased environmental footprint - something so many of us hold dear.
*delivering instruments and musical equipment (small digital sound systems and items as simple as headphones) to Cuba for SUCH TALENTED MUSICIANS - who have to play on old, long past their prime broken down instruments; this includes one of the bands of the Buena Vista Social Club who has such an outdated music system it's amazing that they can sound as brilliant as they do! (see pictures). What they give to the world in their gift of music is priceless and I so much want them to have instruments worthy of their skills and passion.
*installing water containers on the roofs of two houses so that those families don't have to constantly carry water but instead can have a few months' supply delivered in one pick up truck bed (see picture)
*indoor plumbing in three houses that have outdoor latrines
*parts and labour to fix a small truck that is currently undriveable so that a father can support his children more easily with transportation 'at will'
*building at least one additional room in a house where a family with several children is lives in a single room: labour (unfortunately) is very 'cheap' in Jamaica but building materials are very dear. This project and the one listed directly below, can be accomplished with concrete blocks and mortar - something so simple but can change their world to such a large degree
*building a 'shop' (many rural families who farm - and for three years there have been serious summer droughts all over Jamaica which had left people going to bed hungry many, many nights - can set up a very small building in which they can sell produce and small amounts of canned goods and food staples to their neighbors walking by) for a friend who so much wants to support himself by having a small business
*funding passport/visa costs (approximately $300US per person to leave Jamaica for the first time): visas are good for up to 10 years. The current US administration has been very open to granting permission and 2016 might be the best opportunity for several families looking to visit relatives who have long lived in the US so time is of the essence
Before the backstory of the AA nightmare/catastrophic robbery, I want to assure you that between my mother and my brother Lars and myself, we have over 400,000 airline award miles. They have generously donated them all to this cause so that I can fly to both countries for next to nothing every time I come to help. I also have a place to stay in exchange for work on the farm in Jamaica and housework in Cuba.
I do realize I cannot do this alone and I am so grateful I know so many peope who aren't dinosaurish like I am and (please!) can pass this on to their far reaching social network connections. The thought of what 1000 people can do fills me with hope and joy. I really believe that everyone who reads this knows that the GIFT is in the GIVING and that the rewards of updates of progress made and projects finished will be priceless.
And finally, the backstory of the robbery:
The theft occurred in Black River, Jamaica the day I arrived at Montego Bay airport on November 14, 2015 from a route taxi of what totalled 4000 US dollars. Had my bag arrived with me, I would have picked up the one day rental car I had reserved to transport the almost 150# of gifts that I carry every trip out of the US to distribute to friends, children, schools (pencils and paper are precious in Jamaica.) I was exhausted from the arduous travel and decided to forgo the car and take taxis since my checked bag failed to appear. That bag would have prevented me from taking public transportation (five mostly compact vehicles and more than 3 hours of additional travel to St. Elizabeth.)
Through a LONG "SERIES of UNFORTUNATE EVENTS" and horrendous travel issues starting on Friday the 13th (yes, I will never travel on that date again!) of November, I lost my personal chance to help many people in Jamaica and Cuba after saving for that purpose for all of 2015. It has been the most frustrating and heartbreaking situation with long term effects that I have ever experienced: I have completely failed to follow through on so many promises made. The causes are all individual - and were promised throughout the year in advance of this particular arrival. I NEVER carry cash - even at home. I had it all in one place and in the heat had stuffed my fanny pack inside a back pack inside a carry on bag. The woman next to me watched me pay for each taxi and encouraged me to go in the market the next to last stop to get a bag to hold three blouses I had in my hands to drop on that taxi ride. I was inside the shop two minutes and thought she would watch the bag at our feet. Instead, she peeled everything open and took everything I had. All my dreams were dashed in two minutes. I didn't know how to cope with all of the aftermath, including 9 hours with the Jamaican police trying to get her to give it back (even offering to give her some of it) but she had had five hours to hide the traveler's wallet containing US dollars, JD and Euros (for Cuba and my long awaited trip to join the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to do massage for them at the International JazzFest in Havana.) I had to wait for a credit card to be mailed to my brother, get the digits verbally on Skype and charge 'cash' to it at the hotel (Jake's) of my friend Jason in Jamaica so I could even go to Cuba, having committed to the trip in early May.
All the intended receipients have been unfailing gracious and kind and believe 'more will soon come' - but for me, disappointing such lovely friends and people who are so grateful for any assistance in daily life was devastating. To a person, they have all smiled and told me 'Don't trouble yourself, Suzi - we can wait': I have come to love so many people in both places and the causes I wanted to donate the savings to are all very worthy ones. I have postponed posting on this site that I respect so much because it isn't easy to ask for monetary contributions. I ran a marathon for the American Stroke Association years ago and raising $3500 was daunting even though it was a very worthy cause.
It has filled me with anxiety to realize that I am getting further and further behind in my quest to help. I wholeheartedly believe that a large number of people can give small dollars quickly and virtually painlessly and with your compassion and love we can get this back on track: I keep encountering more and more ways I can help so I am going to make this a 'woman on a mission' goal and try to raise more than double what was stolen from these wonderful people --- sometimes I picture the money raised going to 5 digits! There is no limit on how you can make a difference and there is nothing I would rather do than help these Jamaican and Cuban friends succeed with a little help from people with generous hearts willing to trust me to do this right.
February 29 is a BONUS day that we only see every four years: it is the perfect day to make the final decision to ask people I love and respect to 'domino effect' this fundraising opportunity (dominoes are very popular in both countries, by the way) by passing it through to those on THEIR list of loved ones via social media and word of mouth, emails, etc. Thank you for taking this LEAP YEAR 2016 LEAP of FAITH with me. I will keep everyone posted in any way I can (including personal and individual emails which is my old school and only way of contacting you!) on the success of each and every project and the journeys that are yet to be. I vow to make each and every one of you proud of results. I will continue to save money myself to bring and invest blood, sweat and tears in manual labour in accomplishing this goal.
Even though you will all see this further into March, I want you to know that on 2/29/16 I have rededicated myself to all that CAN BE with a little (well, it's a LOT of, no matter what your donation can be) help from each of you ....every single dollar will be a blessing and much appreciated. There is power in the *amount of people* in whom this touches a chord of compassion, not necessarily the *amount of dollars* any one individual can share. Thank you for passing this along to anyone who can relate to a "traveler's worst nightmare" that no one, no matter how strong and resilient, can endure without major distress. I am grateful beyond measure to CrowdRise for the opportunity to bring the ability to come full cycle back to giving where it is so needed.
A special thanks to Diane and Barbara (and Jennifer from Ireland who was such a blessing during my CouchSurfing trip to Cuba because she was so convinced that raising funds for such simple projects with far reaching effects was a passion for me that can become my next and rest-of-my-life 'profession') who have been unfailingly supportive in their confidence that this will be the success and miracle we all envision it to be. You have given me so much joy and my life has been enriched by your friendships!
One Love and bless you all for the blessings you are. Suzi