From bees to books, Florida group coordinates aid to Caribbean

A Fort Walton Beach man, who keeps bees as a hobby, visited Haiti recently and noticed that the village in which he was working had no bees and no honey. When he returned to the United States, he collected 20 hives and $2,000 to get them started in Haiti. But he needed a way to ship them there.

That's just the type of situation that interests a group called the Florida Association of Voluntary Agencies for Caribbean Action.

David Pasquarelli, the association's director, put the man in touch with a church group in Fort Pierce that ships relief supplies to Haiti on a confiscated shrimp boat that was once a drug runner.

Now that village in Haiti has plenty of beehives and honey.

Mr. Pasquarelli's association started just over a year ago. Its goal is to coordinate voluntary help for the poor island nations in the Caribbean.

The idea grew out of the plight of Haitian refugees who were willing to risk their lives traveling to the US in small boats rather than face unrelenting poverty at home. The government of Florida wanted to find a way to change conditions in Haiti to help keep the Haitians home.

At the time, Pasquarelli was working in the governor's refugee office trying to help find ways to deal with the thousands of Cubans and Haitians who had flooded ashore and were massing in south Florida.

While talking to relief workers in Haiti, he said he found that many of the things they said they needed could be supplied by charitable organizations in Florida. But someone would have to coordinate the needs with the supplies.

Pasquarelli said he started working out of his home during his off-hours to try to link the two.

Since July, the association has been working with a $156,000 grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the Reagan administration's Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Paul Maguire, USAID's director of private voluntary programs, called the Florida association ''unique'' in the US in its role as a coordinator for other volunteer agencies.

''The US government provides a lot of foreign aid to these countries, but we count on volunteer groups for closer people-to-people contact,'' he said. ''This Florida group is unusual in that it provides the coordination for help from the state, from volunteer organizations, and from businessmen.''

Pasquarelli has found a trucking company willing to haul relief supplies to port cities. It will then store them until a ship is available to take them where they are needed.

He has coordinated overseas shipment of supplies with a group known as Mission Possible, a nondenominational Christian organization in Fort Pierce, which obtained the confiscated shrimp boat and now uses it to ship supplies at cost to Caribbean islands.

Pasquarelli gives this example of how his organization works:

The widow of a dentist in Orlando heard about the organization, and she wanted to donate all of her husband's dental equipment. She called Pasquarelli, who arranged with Mission Possible to ship the equipment from Orlando through Fort Pierce to Haiti.

Pasquarelli is not just looking for equipment and supplies. He also coordinates volunteers.

''We're working on a way that teachers in Dade Country can go to Haiti to get a sense of where their Haitian students are coming from,'' he said. ''And we've got a group that's working to transfer an entire elementary school curriculum in Creole that has been developed in Dade County to a Haitian school system.''

A group of agricultural professors, businessmen, and state agricultural workers has formed a committee within the association to study how to create and develop an aloe crop in Haiti, he said, that could become a paying industry.

A junior college in Brevard County is offering scholarships to Haitian students, and the association is coordinating who will get them and how they will get to the US.

''And books,'' Pasquarelli said. ''The people in those islands need school books and professional journals.''

The association is setting up drop-off points in cities around the state and staffing each one with a volunteer who will check with libraries and schools for surplus books.

When enough books are collected, the Florida Movers Association will haul them to Fort Pierce where the church group will ship them to Haiti or Jamaica.

''You'd be surprised how many organizations and individuals in Florida want to do things for people in the Caribbean,'' Pasquarelli said. ''Everywhere I hear people tell me 'My church goes there, my doctor goes there, my kid went there.'

''There are literally tons of resources that either pass through Florida or originate in Florida that are directed to the Caribbean,'' he said.

''We want to bring some of these things together for relief efforts. We want to find businessmen who are also humanitarians. We want to find doctors and teachers who will volunteer their time.''

Pasquarelli now works full time with the association. Its board of directors includes Florida congressmen Don Fuqua, Dante Fascell, Earl Hutto, Claude Pepper , Sam Gibbons, and William Lehman, and Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixon, as well as doctors, professors, and businessmen.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.