The Aid Still Required Story
Little did I know that my suggestion to Hunter that he produce a CD compilation to benefit tsunami victims would turn into our life’s work and the founding of Aid Still Required.
In the days following the tsunami in December 2004, we were devastated by the stories we were hearing. It was quite incomprehensible: Hundreds of thousands had been killed and millions were suddenly homeless and without food.
We had friends who were vacationing in Phuket, Thailand when the tsunami hit. I’d spent the holidays there with them several years before so I knew where the beaches were and that there was a strong possibility that they or their children could be in danger. We were on tenterhooks for four days before an email arrived saying they were fine. As it turned out they and other hotel residents had commandeered hotel vans, bought up food and supplies, and were driving around the island delivering aid.
Well, we got very inspired, but wondered what we could do ten thousand miles away that would make a difference. We didn’t know much about international aid at the time other than perhaps writing a check.
The following week we were scheduled to begin a class at Landmark Education (‘The Self Expression Leadership Program’) for which each participant designs a community project to be of service. Hunter was thinking of marketing his new record “Nailed” as a charitable CD but it didn’t really fit the service aspect of the course properly. Lightbulb! I suggested he put together a CD compilation with songs donated by many of our talented indie-music friends. We thought we’d raise $10 or $20K and send it over to Southeast Asia. Voila!
And then Hunter got to thinking, “If I were Sting or Paul McCartney or somebody else famous, maybe I’d want to donate a song…” Hunter started sharing his idea with the guys at his twice-weekly basketball game. One of them had been an ambassador for President Clinton and we thought, “Wow, how ’bout adding a sax track from the former Prez accompanied by the Harlem Boys Choir? Then we could raise $100K for the tsunami survivors.”
Well, Bill said, “No.” (later we learned he was getting ready for heart surgery), but his United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Tsunami Relief kindly offered a letter of support to the project. (see letter)
Another basketball buddy of Hunter’s knew the head of Concord Records who became so enthusiastic about the compilation he gave us the pick of any Concord label track he wanted. So we chose our first track for the compilation — “Here We Go Again” by Ray Charles and Norah Jones, winner of the previous year’s Grammy — and we were off!!
And it just got more and more magical. Nearly every artist we contacted said yes and nearly every one of their record labels agreed as well (a minor miracle in the music industry!). Five months later we had tracks donated by 16 major artists, including Paul McCartney, John Lennon (estate), Eric Clapton, and Alanis Morissette (for full list, see link).
While we were getting permission from the various labels, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. One of the record labels requested we change the CD’s mission to benefit Katrina survivors. We wanted to do something for Katrina, so we considered it seriously — the stories emerging from Louisiana were so terrible (and still are) — but at the time we felt that A) the U.S. government would take care of Katrina survivors (well, we were wrong about that), B) it would be a tremendous amount of work to contact all the artists and labels again to request a change, C) the magnitude of the loss of life and the devastation in the tsunami region was so huge (230,000 lost, millions displaced), we felt we should keep our focus there, and D) we could do something else for Katrina in the future.
During the subsequent months, in between my moving, our getting married (to each other) and other life events, we started getting mixed reports from various NGOs about the need for funding in the tsunami region. With so many millions of people having been affected, we wondered, “Could the devastation there already be fixed?” We didn’t think that was possible, so we decided we needed to go to Southeast Asia to see for ourselves how the rebuilding was going.
We traveled there in April, 2006, 16 months after the tsunami, and were shocked at how little appeared to have been done. Hundreds of thousands were still living in tents or IDP camps, debris was everywhere, and there was an obvious lack of jobs and opportunity. We came back to the States recommitted and re-inspired to release the CD and raise the most money and awareness possible.
With a year and a half having passed since the tsunami, and media attention about it was non-existent, we wondered who would care about the CD compilation. We also realized that it had been a year since Hurricane Katrina and, though we’d heard from friends that the situation in New Orleans was still awful, the media wasn’t covering that story either. At that time we had also been meeting a lot of people working in Africa and were thinking we might be able to help there. Specifically, we were hearing about a three-year old conflict in a region called Darfur and we wondered why that story wasn’t being covered either. The fact that those critical areas had been largely forgotten was shocking to us — and it was giving us our mission.
In February of 2007 I read an article in The LA Times about what was going on in Sudan. I sent the article on to several dozen people on my email list who I thought would be interested. One of the recipients (who happens to talk 90 miles an hour!) asked me to send the information on to his “guy Ira,” who I assumed from the rapid-fire conversation was an accountant living in Brooklyn. I soon found out that Ira was Ira Newble, an NBA player with the Cleveland Cavaliers who was deeply concerned about what was happening in Darfur.
After getting my email, Ira took it upon himself to learn more about the situation. Amongst other things, he discovered that China is both Sudan’s largest trade partner and its largest supplier of weapons. Ira then wrote a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, asking the Chinese government to use its considerable leverage with Sudan to do whatever it could to end the violence in Darfur.
12 guys on Ira’s team signed the letter. LeBron James, the most well-known player on the team did not sign, however, stating that he didn’t have enough information. When the media heard that LeBron had refused to sign, dozens of newspaper articles and blogs appeared about it. Hunter and I looked at each other and said, “Maybe this is the way to get the word out about Darfur!”
Hunter started contacting other NBA players and found a lot of interest in their speaking out as well, so the NBA player Darfur initiative was born. A few months later we were asked by Participant Media to help with the PSA campaign for their upcoming documentary, Darfur Now. Here’s a link to the Darfur PSAs from Participant and ourselves.
During this same period we went to NYC to meet with one of the UNDP officials from President Clinton’s office who had been tremendously helpful in educating us about the tsunami region and supporting our CD project. At this time, through our membership in the visionary environmental organization Bioneers, we were also learning about innovative solutions to crises and were looking for long-term sustainable solutions for the tsunami region, Darfur, and Katrina survivors. To paraphrase the old adage, we wanted to teach people to fish, not just give them a fish.
As we discussed things at the UN we realized that the name our colleague Mikee had given us for the tsunami CD, ”Aid Still Required,” also described our mission — to bring awareness to forgotten issues and to support sustainable projects in the field to restore lives in those regions.
As a result, we founded Aid Still Required on these principles:
- We believe everyone, everywhere is entitled to live in dignity health and peace
- Just because an issue left the headlines, doesn’t mean it left the planet
- Disasters and crises offer opportunities to build back better and build back green
- There is great power in grassroots movements to transform life
Over the years we’ve learned that we have no idea what impact our sharing can have on another person or what the person we’re sharing with may wish to contribute in any number of creative ways. We’ve learned that hearing people’s concerns and being persistent do matter! We’ve learned that “No” doesn’t always mean “No,” it can mean “Not right now.”
Most importantly, we’ve experienced first-hand the power of an individual to make a difference, and the power and strength of our communities. Every day we see first-hand people’s desire to be generous and to make a contribution to others. This continues to inspire us every day.
Andrea Herz Payne