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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Memories from Haiti 2010

I remember being a little kid, sitting in school, feeling like the days crept by and summer vacation seemed like an eternity away.

I can remember so many different adults telling me to enjoy the time while I can because when you get older time moves a lot faster.

I did not believe them then, but I sure do now… I cannot believe 4 years has passed since Reach Out World Wide made its inaugural mission into Haiti to help with the Earthquake recovery.  In honor of this anniversary, I thought it would be fun to share with you all a few memories I have from those days as well as the days leading up to Haiti.

I have included several pictures below with a little story that goes with each.  I have more pictures from Haiti on my personal Facebook page if you ever wish to check them out, here is a link ( Jesse Brisendine Facebook page ).

Paul first told me about his dream to start a charity called Reach Out World Wide on June 21st, 2009.  I can remember the exact date because it was the Sunday after my friend had committed suicide, and Paul chose then to share his dream with me in hopes that it would lift my spirits.  

Periodically over the next 7 months leading up to Haiti, whenever Paul and I would hang out, ROWW would always be a topic of conversation - how it would run, what it would grow into, and the difference it could make in the world.

When the decision was made to go to Haiti, as fate would have it I happened to be in Costco, and so I immediately started running up and down the isles grabbing what I thought would be essential provisions: calorie dense food, medical supplies, and toilet paper.  I remember my heart was beating so fast; I was nervous, but more than anything I was excited because I knew I was going to get to be a part of something very special.  

Over the next several days Paul and I made runs to REI, the military surplus store, several different sporting goods stores, as well as various medical facilities.  Paul wanted to make sure we were prepared for anything, and that we would be self sufficient; meaning that we would not require resources or supplies from any other agency.  In short we could fully take care of ourselves, which would make us more effective and able to help others.  

This is also the reason that you will see us all wearing "military style" outfits in the pictures below.  You see at the time, the media was reporting about how people, desperate for help, were showing up at various aide areas with machetes and having confrontations and taking supplies.  We felt that if we looked like American Military, people would be less inclined to mess with us and try to steal from us.  

Our "costumes," ended up becoming a running joke for us all while in Haiti because we never encountered anything remotely violent while there.  I felt like we were G.I. JOE and we had showed up to scare off COBRA, but COBRA didn't get the memo to come.  hahaha.

Anyways… before we could get into Haiti we were in the Dominican Republic at a shelter helping to pack up supplies to be sent over to Haiti.  The below picture captures just a small amount of the activity that was going on and the effort that was being put into helping the Haitian people.

It was time to cross the boarder and we wanted to check supplies one last time, see picture below.

At the center of this picture was my proud contribution to our supplies.  Toilet paper :)  There is nothing scarier than to be stranded without toilet paper.

The below picture was from the helicopter ride into Haiti from the Dominican Republic.  This was the first time I had ever been on a Helicopter.

Much of Haiti looked like the below picture… absolute total devastation.  This picture is powerful because it shows how in need of help much of the world is, especially after a major disaster strikes.  All of us can always do a little more to help others.  Whether is is going there directly, donating money, or raising awareness about charities, like ROWW, all of these actions make a difference in helping others in need.  

The spot where we set up camp looked like this when we go there.  People sleeping out in the field, bunched up together, with a small tent or two to help with the more severely injured.  

I will never forget the below moment: the guy giving the thumbs up, came up to me and said, "Sir, sir will you record my picture please."  I happily obliged and took this picture, which I still have on my wall today.  I remember thinking, "I bet he has never had his picture taken before..."

One night  we were woken up by a bunch of big semi trucks that showed up filled with supplies.  In addition, two UN mobile medical trucks also showed up.  It caused quite the commotion.

In the above picture I am wearing "Dog Tags," Paul and I got these made to commemorate ROWW's inaugural mission.  The below picture is a close up of them.  I have been wearing them this week to honor ROWW,  Haiti, and remind myself of my experiences there.  In addition, I have been wearing these camouflage pants a lot the last seven weeks as they remind me of Haiti and of Paul.

Note: you will see on the id's that it says "REACT."  REACT was the original name of ROWW, but we later learned that there was some legal mumbo jumbo that would prevent us from using the name "REACT."  Because of this "legal stuff," ROWW became ROWW.  :)

There were more wounded than we had supplies to accommodate so we had to make do and use things like mattresses, as pictured below, as makeshift stretchers.  People would be moved from the initial assessment area to a separate section of the field based on the severity of their injuries.  

Like I said we did not have a lot of supplies/modern technology to make certain jobs easier.  So this left us to do things the old fashioned way and make a human assembly line.  You can see me below holding the box.  There are probably another 6 or 7 people inside the truck on the left, as well as another 6 or 7 completing the line going into the building on the right.

This guy (pictured below), and I did not share a language, but really formed a bond and mutual respect for one another as we unloaded this massive truck.  The entire process took over 3 hours in the nearly 90+ degree heat.  After we finished we exchanged high fives.

When we got to the spot that we camped at in Haiti, everyone was sleeping out in the fields.  Eventually we were able to get ahold of a bunch of tents.  The below picture is the beginning of setting up "tent city."  As they say: "Team work makes the Dream work."

Below is a picture showing the fruits of our labor.  When we first arrived at this spot we were 5 friends who wanted to make a difference and help people who were less fortunate.  When we left we were Reach Out World Wide, a group of people who knew we could make a difference.  

What difference did ROWW make on its' inaugural mission?  To give you an idea: when we first arrived in Haiti the area we were based out of had about 40 people there all sleeping outside, with minimal supplies.  By the time we left there were over 400 people, tents to house most of them, a well stocked supply room, and an accelerated system of treating patients.

Every single human being has the ability to make a difference in the life of another.

The below picture is me, one of the doctors, and a few of the kids who helped out as interpreters.

The original 5.  From left to right, Lucas, Dave, Me, Brandon, Paul.  Also pictured a couple doctors who were there volunteering as well as a few new friends.

Four years later Reach Out World Wide has grown by leaps and bounds from our initial trip into Haiti, AND, as long as you all continue to support it, spread the word about it, "share" it with your friends and family, ROWW will keep on growing.

Paul had big dreams of what he envisioned ROWW becoming.  He and I would have those "Rocking Chair" talks… You know the ones where you imagine that you are old men sitting around in your rocking chair talking about the "good ole" days.  When we would have these talks, we always talked about how cool it was going to be to see how much ROWW had grown and to know that we were there at the beginning.

With Paul gone, it is now up to us all to pick up where he left off and keep ROWW thriving so that it can continue making the global impact that it is.  Each and every single one of us has the ability to make a difference.  Remember the smallest of gestures, a smile, can change someone's life.  

I hope you all enjoyed this trip down memory lane, I certainly did.

Carpe Diem,



  1. your trip is amazing, particularly because lots of volunteers aren't self- sufficient when they arrive. I am curious about your experience... how did you all decide where to set up camp, did you have any contacts before you arrived?

    an amazing story... I am glad ROWW allows a recurring donation option!

  2. What a great memory !
    We often forget that great accomplishments always start with a few dedicated passionate people who truly believed in what they were doing. What is true is that it surely must have taken some guts to set that foot on the plane not knowing that you had a big NGO to watch your back, how excited and scared you guys must have been while landing there and how fulfilled you must have left leaving on your last day... I bet that's one of the best decisions you've ever taken, right ? We'll done :-)

  3. Amazing! You can be so proud of yourself. Thank you for sharing, and most important: thank you for saving so many lives!

  4. Thank you for sharing your story Jesse - so inspiring!! There is more good than bad in this world!!

  5. Thank you Jesse, Thank you for sharing this amazing trip with us all. To be involved in something so powerful and much bigger than anyone imagined. That is definitely one of the best and the biggest decisions to be able to make and be apart of. You were apart of something beautiful, and I'm sure you still are. These great accomplishments were started by one passionately dedicated person, Paul, who made it all happen. He just needed a few more passionately dedicated people to help. And he found them. Such an amazing story! I am very thrilled that you decided to share this with all of us! This story just shows that no matter how big or small, how rich or poor you are, or what your "status" may be that everyone, and I mean everyone can make a HUGE difference in someone's life. Most of the time, that difference is made just by being there for them, being a friend, lending a helping hand to someone in need.
    Once again, Jesse, thanks for sharing such an amazing story!
    XOXO :)

  6. This is amazing and I want continue to be a little part of this by donation and talk around me about ROWW and think if I could do something more to help. Congrats Jesse and all other members of ROWW. You have my respect and admiration.

  7. Amazing story! Keep up the good work!

  8. Dear Jesse,
    Thank you so much for this generous story. ROWW is apart of your heart. And our hearts, as long as they beat are our true compass. We, who live in relatively stable economies, should all pull our weight to help other's worldwide. Our brother's and sister's need each citizen of the western countries to act on their behalf. If everyone saw the truth like you do, then we would have a better world. Leading by example is a powerful tool. Every time I get in to a deep state of sadness about the world and some of my life experiences, I am reminded that there are good people who do care, especially when I stumble across stories like your own. A few good men, would be apt here. There always has been. There are just some crazy systems where good people get lost for many years, in a maze of confusion lead by the ego. That is why the heart is the only truthful motivation we should follow. Paul passed the baton to you when he passed over. His acting life was of course the illusionary circus that has the world caught up in a merry dance of consumerism and denial. (I liked his films, but it is what he was beyond the films that is where his soul truly was). In that the entertainment industry is built as a clever distraction tool, an opiate for the masses, to lead them away from the truth of what is going on in the world. I went to drama school in London in the 90's, worked in film, and I am a writer, but the arts and entertainment industry are only meant to play a certain part in our lives. But the Hollywood industry has become so powerful that world-wide, people take more notice of the illusion than of the harsh realities facing the planet. Your friend Paul did something in real life, ROWW, that was more important than any film he starred in. I feel that at this time people need to become their own advocates of change in the world. The challenges that we all face need people who are awake, like yourself, to lead other's away from the storms. Every month people pay tax in their salaries that go towards the military and the government, and as we have seen in disasters like New Orleans, and other's, the help people need may not always come from governments. Even the UN has a flawed history, and where they turn up so do brothels and corruption. The facts all spell it out, people need to galvanise and strengthen their connections to one another. I didn't watch all Paul's films. I didn't really know who he was. But when he died I looked into it all. I can recall seeing him in a few films from years ago, but over the holidays I looked at them. Along with interviews. His humanitarian side is what has now made me a fan of his work.

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  11. Thank you Jesse, for this walk down memory lane and a wonderful insight on how ROWW was started. I support ROWW in the capacity that I can, and will keep spreading the word. Many blessings to you and team ROWW, you all are doing amazing work!

  12. Jesse,
    Thanks for sharing; it's amazing and inspirational to be given details of how ROWW began. It was very brave of your friends and you to travel so far with so many unknowns to help others. My husband has been to Haiti on Medical Mission trips many times and he loves the people there and has such a burden for them. It's nice to know that others feel the same way. As you continue your adventures and honoring Paul make sure you continue to doing daring things to help others :)

  13. Thank you for sharing Jesse. I have had a link to ROWW on my blog for sometime now and will be keeping it there as long as I am blogging!

    I think it's really important people see how important ROWW was to Paul before his passing as it was just as important then as it is now. I'm sure he is extremely proud of all the attention it has gotten, but we can't forget why it was started and the fact that it was so important before his passing and not because of it! Thanks for sharing, hope you are doing well!

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  15. Jesse, thank you for sharing this wonderful memory of you and Paul helping those that were in need.

    ROWW was Paul's dream and now that he has passed, the best way to keep Paul's memory alive is to keep ROWW moving forward and strong.

    God Bless you, Paul and ROWW forever

  16. Thanks for Sharing Jesse The world needs a lot more people like you and Paul. I will try and help any way I can. You are both very inspiring. It's up to everyone to keep Paul's dream alive. Much Love Jeannie

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  18. Thanks a lot for sharing your memories with us!
    It's an amazing and inspiring story of what can be accomplished if you put good will in it. A role model for all of us.

    A former colleague said you dont have to speak the same language...if you really want to understand someone you do.

    I dont know much about Paul I hardly know all of his movies. But after all I've heard and read about him made clear how important it was for Paul to be realized as the person that he was and be treated normal like everyone (and every actor).

    Thank you for giving us the opportunity to see the human behind the actor!

    Much love, Nele

  19. Wow, i met you and Paul at the medical store in Pasadena right before you guys left to Haiti. I dont know if you remember. I was atar strucked , i think you took some pictures of me and Paul. I have pictures of you guys leaving the store if you guys want them i can email them to you.