Niagara Gazette

September 17, 2012

LEADERSHIP IN ACTION: Traveling to Haiti requires strength of conviction

By Molly Anderson
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Three years ago I was faced with a dilemma. During my first month as director of Leadership Niagara, one of our class members called to notify me that she would not be attending our health care session.

As many know, the Leadership Niagara program draws people from all walks of life who are looking to build their leadership skills and network with other leaders.  Each year a new class of leaders signs up for experiences through our program and we work together through a variety of experiences to evolve together as stronger leaders.

This classmate had a great fear of the medical industry due to the way she felt her mother was treated before her death.  She experienced a lot of anger and fear about entering the facility.

Immediately I understood her fears and I wanted to provide comfort and tell her it was okay not to attend.  However, my understanding of leadership set in. I knew this was a challenge for her and one I needed to see her succeed through. Ultimately she found the courage and confidence to participate in the day and thanked me for it.  The class pointed to this as an example of personal leadership in action and it helped set our organization in a new direction.

To me that is what leadership development is all about — keeping our class members fully engaged, trying new things, acting boldly, and making a difference.  I know that leadership demands sacrifice and risk and I don’t expect others to take greater risks or sacrifices than I am willing to make.  So when I was asked last month to travel to Haiti to explore a potential leadership partnership, I jumped at the opportunity.

In the two weeks I had to prepare for the trip I was questioned as to why, as a mother of four children, I would want to travel to Haiti and to leave what is comfortable and familiar. 

During my preparations I I had to begin taking anti-Malaria medication, receive vaccinations for Tetanus, Typhoid, and Hepatitis A, and arm myself with antibiotics and mosquito spray.  I watched the weather channel knowing my flight was scheduled to arrive right at the tail end of a hurricane in what was already one of the worst environments in the world, severely impoverished, and where dozens of things could go wrong.   And I was being asked exactly why I needed to go to Haiti.

Difficult and frightening as it may have seemed, I had a strong sense that I was supposed to be there and I was ready to experience the good and the bad.  

The trip really gave me a heart for Haiti and its people when I saw the devastation that exists in Port-au-Prince.  Most people there live in extremely grave and serious conditions with food scarcity and disease in tent cities as far as I could see.  I quickly realized there was nothing to be afraid of and began meeting beautiful people who were determined to help Haiti.  One person I met was Brad Johnson, the founder of the organization, Mission of Hope, who started with a barren piece of land in 1989 and a vision to change an entire generation of Haitians. His organization provides nearly 100,000 meals a day, educates 3,000 students in three different locations daily, runs an orphanage, a medical facility and a church while also operating a prosthetics lab for amputees from the earthquake.  They started a micro-enterprise for women who are “deemed worthless due to their physical disabilities” called “3 Cords” which trains, employs, and empowers amputees.  And since the earthquake, Mission of Hope built over 300 homes and employed 150 Haitians in their construction.  A new hospital on the compound is being constructed and will be ready to be staffed by medical professionals from Haiti, Western New York, and North America.  Their mission of “life transformation for every man, woman, and child in Haiti” is well under way.

Experiencing Haiti was life changing and reaffirming for me.  I’m fortunate to work with a network of Leadership Niagara graduates who value personal and professional growth and support each other in doing so.  The learning that comes from believing in yourself and others is what leadership really comes down to.   I plan to share what I learned to provide new ways to nurture leadership skills and connect people around the world to our mission.

Molly Anderson is executive director of Leadership Niagara. For more info log onto



Molly Anderson is executive director of Leadership Niagara.