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A Million Miles From Paradise City: Tommy Stinson Goes to Haiti

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A Million Miles From Paradise City: Tommy Stinson Goes to Haiti

Like many musicians, Tommy Stinson—bassist for The Replacements and Guns N’ Roses—gave some money to Red Cross in the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquake earlier this year. But for him, it didn’t seem like enough. He wanted to find a way to get directly involved—no strings, no bureaucracy. He heard about the Timkatec Schools, which provide vocational training and shelter to homeless children near Port-au-Prince, and auctioned off some memorabilia to help raise money for the schools. After visiting the children, a little fundraiser turned into a newfound purpose. Here’s his diary from the trip.

DAY ONE – JULY 29, 2010

Flying into Haiti, I have to admit I’m a little nervous. I have no idea what to expect. We drive from the crumbling airport through the rubble-covered streets of Port-au-Prince to our hotel. I was in Los Angeles for the Northridge earthquake back in 1994, but there’s simply no way to compare that to what I’m witnessing here.

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Amongst all the rubble and countless tent cities are over a million people walking, running and riding in the backs of Tap-Taps. These pickup-trucks-turned-buses are beautifully painted with colorful religious overtones, and are more often than not overflowing with people hanging from the bumpers. They’re called Tap-Taps because when a rider wants to be let off he taps his coin on the outside of the truck to signal his stop.

I’m immediately struck that the “disaster in Haiti” was most likely a disaster long before the earthquake and the media coverage that finally came with it. I guess there just isn’t much of a market for reporting on one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world until it has a major disaster. Even then, the attention is fleeting.

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DAY TWO – JULY 30, 2010

This morning, we’re introduced to the director of the Timkatec Schools and our host, Father Joseph Simon. You can tell immediately from his handshake that he’s possessed with kindness and love—he’s instantly inspirational.

We share ideas among our traveling party and local hosts about how we can best help Timkatec—and Haiti in general. We address Father Simon’s wish list, and make some short-term goals. I’d like to help to get at least 50 more students into the Timkatec program as soon as possible. Long-term, I’d like to help get a third floor on one of the Timkatec buildings that could provide schooling and shelter for many more of these wonderful kids.

Later, we drive through a torrential downpour to tour the Timkatec schools. The energetic Father Simon, who at 81 is surprisingly hard to keep up with, takes us through all of the classrooms and boarding facilities. It’s great to see how the kids are actually learning their trades through the use of old shoe-making equipment, sewing machines and the like.

We’re then treated to a show by a small group of young girls performing folk dances with the accompaniment of two young men. One is a Timkatec graduate named Stevenson, who plays the recorder while a current student drums along on a large bucket. A younger boy does an awesome pop-and-lock dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Then we all sit down together to eat a fabulous home-cooked meal with Father Simon, his staff and a few students. It’s a beautiful moment—one I’ll never forget. For as much as these kids have been through in their short lives, they seem proud, wise beyond their years, happy and hopeful.

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DAY THREE – JULY 31, 2010

At the Timkatec graduation ceremony, the students, along with a small handful of parents, family members and some press, were greeted by the very proud Father Simon and his staff. I can hardly put into words how incredible it is to be a part of such a momentous event.

As one of the guests of honor, I hand out diplomas to 10 or so students. Having not graduated high school myself, this is a particularly nerve-wracking moment until I deliver the first one. The young man gives me a pleasant smile and a firm,
appreciative handshake. My nerves quickly vanish and are replaced by an unbelievable feeling of gratitude.

Later on in the evening, I’m outside where the students are running around trying to find a bit of shelter from a sudden storm, and one of the boys comes by to speak to me. The language barrier prevents any real conversation, but he shows me his diploma and gives me a friendly bear hug. I’ve never felt more empowered than at that moment, like suddenly my life has another unsuspected purpose, and he was the proof. I want to thank Father Simon, Patrick O’ Shea (founder of the friends of Timkatec in America) and Ben Perlstein (one of my managers and good friends and my travel companion) for helping my find this purpose.

Stinson is holding an online auction through Oct. 12 at CharityBuzz.com to raise funds for Timkatec. Items include a signed Fender Precision and Ernie Ball Sterling bass guitars that Tommy used in Guns N’ Roses; two retired custom-made plaid suits from Stinson’s GNR tours; a week-long stay at The Reef Atlantis in the Bahamas, including airfare from anywhere in the world; an art package from former Replacements drummer Chris Mars; two VIP passes to Coachella 2011 courtesy of Goldenvoice; two tickets to a sold-out Arcade Fire show in L.A. courtesy of Goldenvoice; a First Act guitar signed by Stinson, Paul Westerberg and Chris Mars; 4 tickets to any show on the current Guns N‚ Roses European tour, including a meet’n’greet with Tommy; and a Soul Asylum memorabilia package.

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