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The Haitis of Mitch Albom & Royal Caribbean

LABADEE, Haiti — One of our heroes is a man named Mitch Albom, a Detroit sportswriter-columnist-novelist-screenwriter of immense talent who for the last four years has taken a personal interest in this Caribbean island devastated by an earthquake that killed 150,000 people and left three million homeless.

Albom has made it his cause to help rebuild parts of Port-au-Prince, specifically orphanages, and he has done it not just with his heart and his fund-raising, but with his hands.

This Royal Caribbean enclave called Labadee is probably as far from "the real Haiti" as Labadee-welcomeyou can get, in every way imaginable. It is the playground of the cruise line's passengers, some of whom spend $100 for less than a minute of zip-lining on Haitian Labadee-ziplineshores on what is reportedly the longest zip-line over water in the world — a 14-second training run on land prepares you for 44 seconds over beach waters — and all of whom can disembark from Allure of the Seas (among other company ships that stop here) and sit in comfortable beach chairs watching the zip-liners go by.Labadee-beach

Passengers in Labadee can be Royal-ly entertained on spotless shores without being harassed by local vendors at every step, and most of the amenities from the ship (bars, restaurants, spas and shops) go with them.

Yet Labadee, like Albom, helps deprived Haitians. Many from this poor country — like Labadee-musiciansthese musicians on the beaches and the dancers on the dock — work at Labadee. The cruise line made an enormous financial donation to the nation after the quake. Cruise Labadee-dancerspassengers regularly spend money on the shores that helps raise the standard of poverty.

It's not digging holes to install plumbing like Mitch Albom does, his fingers lifting a shovel instead of punching out prose, but not everybody can do what this talented, thoughtful man can do…in more ways than one. In most cases, this is the only Haiti these cruisers will ever see.

And because they do, Labadee still makes a contribution Haitians wouldn't have if it didn't exist.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean and Asia

Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas
14 nights
August 31, 2014
LondonParisPortlandCork, ReykjavikBoston
Inside: $937
Cost per day: $66
www.royalcaribbean.com

Those Who Help the Haitian Cause

Once a sports writer, I still have a special appreciation for chroniclers of the games with a special gift for stringing words together. Like Mitch Albom (left), arguably America’s best sports columnist of his time. I love his writing but, far more than that, I love his humanity.

Haiti. All of us cringed when the earthquake ravaged Port Au Prince in January. Here we are again, this week, cringing at the thought of cholera attacking these poor, poor people who have so little.

Mitch Albom, a sports writer, did something about the first tragedy and it would surprise no one if the second becomes an extension of his mission. He did something with more than words. He rounded up a group of people in Detroit to go to Haiti; three of them the first trip, then nine, then 19. They came from many backgrounds and occupations but in Haiti they were all the same…volunteers who built buildings and dug toilets and slept on filthy floors to try to make a difference.

It is a world apart from the cruising we write about, but the cruising world — like Mitch Albom but in a different way — also cares. In particular, that caring revolves around Royal Caribbean. The school that the cruise line built, with earthquake-resistant construction materials transported to the island from Miami on cruise ships, is now open. L’Ecole Nouvelle Royal Caribbean covers 6,500 square feet near nine Haitian villages and towns. It has six buildings, 12 class rooms, a computer lab, offices and bathrooms.

Best of all, it has education for young Haitians.

The cynic will say that Royal Caribbean, which also donated $1 million to Haitian relief this year, cares because it has a vested interest in Haiti. Its cruise ships — along with those from Celebrity and Azamara — regularly stop at Labadee, one of those nine villages and towns, because Royal Caribbean has a private resort at the port.

Does it matter? Is it more important to help poor people get educated, or do nothing? What’s better, to show a poverty-stricken population that somebody really does care — and there are many others also making hands-on contributions, most visibly actor Sean Penn — or to make a financial contribution to an organization that may or may not apply it where it’s needed.

Maybe the cruise line will inspire others to help. Maybe it will inspire Haitians to help. Mitch Albom did both of those things in Haiti, and he’s just a sports writer.

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