Wednesday, January 20, 2010

CYC Donates Tents to Haiti

Chris-- a friend from the Fulbright program in Morocco-- called me Friday before last. He said he knew some doctors who were headed down to Haiti. They’ve been going for years and had actually booked a flight to Port au Prince before the earthquake. Their pre-earthquake plan was to go down, stay at a hospital, and do some humanitarian work. When the quake hit, plans changed but they were determined to get down there. The hospital-- St. Damien’s-- was still functioning despite sustaining serious damages; but it no longer had rooms for the doctors. They needed some tents.

There was a catch: the doctors had been rebooked for the following Sunday, just three days later. Seeing as the Colorado Yurt Company doesn't stock light weight tents, I regretfully told Chris to go buy tents at an unmentionable big-box store.

Later that day I stopped by Colorado Yurt Company owners' (my parents') office yurt. Jennie, our marketing manager, was in there and the three of them were putting their heads together, trying to find a way to be of some use in Haiti. We often dream of sending tents to disaster zones but the logistical difficulties always seem insurmountable. The Haiti Earthquake is case-in-point: As multiple governmental and non-governmental organizations geared up, the airport in Port au Prince jammed-up. Without proper coordination we feared that the tents would end up in warehouse in Miami. When I told my folks about Chris's doctor friends, they were excited. These doctors were gearing and going themselves! They would sling the tents over their shoulders, fly them down, set them up, live in them, and then hand them off to locals when they were finished. And these docs know Haiti. The University of Scranton Medical Alumni Council has sponsored a trip through Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos ( for years. Logistically speaking, it was perfect. I called Chris back.

The docs' flight had been delayed again: Tuesday or Wednesday. It would be a stretch to build the tents by then but we got to work anyway. On Saturday my mom and dad drew-up the plans.

They decided on a simple design: six vertical poles, guy-ropes, and overall dimensions of roughly 7ft x 7ft x 7ft. All the poles would be of the same length-- 3.5 ft-- the verticals at the front and back would each be two 3.5' poles, fitted together. The exterior was to be a light weight synthetic material that could be rolled up to expose screen walls. The whole thing would fit into a duffel bag.

By close of business on Monday, we had worked out the design and the first tent was done.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Yurt Crew would finish the remaining four and they'd make it to the East Coast and onto the flight to Haiti by mid-day Wednesday. Or so we hoped. But by Tuesday morning are hopes were dashed. We got word that the docs had been booked on a flight from New York to the Dominican Republic at 6:00 on Wednesday morning. There was no getting the tents to them by then. Unless...

As the crew scrambled to finish the tents, my mom booked me a flight to LaGuardia in NY City with free miles that my father had accumulated. My plane flew at 1:40 PM. The last stitch went into the fourth tent at 12:55. We dashed to the airport. I told the United ticket agent our story and she checked the bags for free. I made the flight and landed in NY at 10:00PM. Chris had driven down from Scranton. We met, hugged, and handed-off the tents.

Then he rushed them across town to JFK where the doctors were checking in. The four tents made their flight to the Dominican Republic and overland to Port au Prince. They're now functioning doctors’ quarters. We’re told that after several rounds of doctors use them, they’ll be handed off to Haitian families for semi-permanent housing. The fifth tent went out on Fed Ex that afternoon and will find its way to Haiti with the next batch of doctors in the coming weeks.

As for me, I headed into New York City, met a friend, and a bar tender who bought me a few drinks for my efforts. I was back in Montrose by noon the next day, less than twenty-four hours later, tired but overjoyed.

The crew here showed remarkable skill and agility in learning to make a new tent and being willing to do so. Chris and the folks at Scranton University were 24 hour support in making sure we got the right tents to the right people. The United Airlines agent was a huge help. And, of course, gratitude to a bartender in Brooklyn! Working with these people and being able to help in Haiti, even in this small way, was a great privilege for us.

Haiti is by no means secure. People are still being pulled out of the rubble. Others are in need of food, water, and medical treatment. Disease is an emerging problem. I’m sure you’ve given or heard about plenty of opportunities to do so but some of my favorites are: Partners in Health ( and Mercy Corps (

There is also still a great need for shelter. In the New York Times, Niurka PiƱeiro, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, said, “Tents, tents, tents. That’s the word we want to get out. We need tents.” Colorado Yurt Company has the capability to make a modest number of tents. We are currently setting up a partnership with a relief organization that can put our tents to immediate use. Stand by for information on how you can help.

--Sam Kigar


  1. How much does one tent cost to make? I want to sponsor a tent (or half a tent, depending...).

    I'll check back often- thank you!

  2. This is awesome! So great that you could actually do something palpable to help with the Haiti situation! I gave money, but it all seems so vague. Definitely let us know if we can sponsor more tents that will get this kind of awesome treatment -- I know I, for one, am in!

  3. When a hero is on a true mission, He or she gets help - sycronistic help, mysterious help, but help.
    Good for you. Good for your family. Good for the Company. Good for your crew. Good for America. Good for Colorado. Good for those wonderful Doctors.
    There is not a tipi, yurt or any thing else you want to make that wont be my choice for the rest of my career as a designer. Thank you for doing what you did. Lonnie Hanzon, Museum of Outdoor Arts

  4. Thanks so much for your comments and offers for donations. We feel very honored to have been in a position to get the tents to Haiti. We are working on deleloping a partnership with another partnership to send a few more down. We'll keep everyone posted.

  5. I know you guys have been thinking about disaster relief tents for a long time. What a grand gesture. Design AND build in a short time frame. Wonderful. I am thrilled and proud to know you.

    But Sammy, since when are you drinking?

    Love, Louis