How it all started.
When my family dropped off 11 boxes of donations at Rotterdam harbor on 4 January 2021, I never expected what happened next. Murphy’s Law states, “Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.” I am optimistic by nature and always believe things will work out. This time however my patience was tested, time and time again. I learned the true meaning of the saying patience is a virtue.
So now, let me tell you the story of the donations that arrived 4 months late.
Finding funding is where you start.
In August of 2020, I wrote my first-ever grant proposal to Awesome without Borders. We were overjoyed when we received confirmation of a grant of USD 1,000—the money we needed to pay for the shipment of all the donations from the Netherlands to Dominica.
This set the wheels in motion with my family starting to gather everything and smartly pack all the boxes. As you can see, we had so many different items coming—lots of beautiful new books, paint, paper, gel pens, stickers. And also, toothbrushes, toothpaste, baby bottles, baby onsies and many stuffed toys. Actually, that is not even scratching the surface.
On it ‘s way from Rotterdam to nowhere?
With a huge thank you to my cousin Hanneke and her husband, René, for properly packing every box, sealed with duct tape and cling foil. I had contacted a shipping broker here, and with the necessary documents, all 11 boxed were delivered to Rotterdam.
And then, dead silence, for 4 weeks, I heard nothing. Suddenly, I received a notification that Breadfruit needed a specific number to confirm we could export out of the Netherlands. I am still not sure why it took them 4 weeks to contact us. Fortunately, with the help of my network, I learned what the number was and gave it to the shipping company in Rotterdam.
Another 3 weeks passed, nothing happened. The shipping company reached out to me again and told me the number is incorrect. I started feeling a little annoyed and contacted the tax office in the Netherlands. And to my surprise, the lady was very forthcoming and understood my challenge. Within 15 minutes, I knew what to do and how to apply for an export number.
Can you believe this?
Take a wild guess what the number was? Yes indeed, it is the number that I had already communicated with the shipping company. By this time, it was already early March, and all that time, those eleven boxes were in a warehouse somewhere at Rotterdam harbor.
Even though the shipping company usually only communicates with other agents, they now seemed to make an exception; when I asked them why nothing was on its way to Dominica after another few weeks had passed. Apparently, the number had to be validated, and I failed to do that; even though I thought I did, something must have gone wrong.
Finally, I could see our shipment in a track and trace on the website, ready to sail to Miami. Which is the first leg of the journey. In Miami, everything goes through customs and will be transported to a different company for the final trip to Dominica.
You cannot make this stuff up.
Everything finally seemed to move in the right direction. I kept watching the track and trace like a hawk until the website kept giving an error message. Being optimistic, I thought, oh well, that is just a glitch. Let me come back to it tomorrow.
To my horror, I kept seeing that same error message, and at that time, I felt desperate and angry. Here we were, it was already April, and I had no clue. Was our shipment on its way, and if not, what reason did they come up with this time? I wrote an email to the shipping company in my utter despair and included every person involved both in the Netherlands and in Dominica. It is not my style to Cc everyone in emails, yet I did not know what to do anymore.
Finally, someone replied that the shipping company in the Netherlands was the victim of a cyber-attack. I am not making this up; of all the things that could happen, I never thought of a cyber-attack. Their entire website and attached admin systems were down. The person confirmed that our shipment would be on its way as soon as everything was up and running. And he promised to confirm the date of departure with me.
Yes, finally crossing the Atlantic!
On 12 April, over3 months after being dropped off in Rotterdam, our shipment was finally on its way to cross the Atlantic. I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew this was a significant step forward.
I received confirmation of the shipment arriving in Miami and going through customs. The next stop was Dominica. And once again, total silence, but I remained patient, having faith in the process again. And no news is good news, to a certain extent, that is.
On Thursday, 29 April, I got a little restless and tired of waiting, and I decided to call the broker here in Dominica. They confirmed that the ship had left Miami, but they could not confirm the date of arrival. You can imagine my surprise when the next day, Friday 30 April, my friend Tina Alexander from Lifeline Ministries, who is helping me with all this, told me she had received a call confirming the arrival of our donations in Dominica. Everything was in the port and ready to be cleared!
The finish line was in sight.
Hearing this news on a Friday, right before a long weekend, meant I had to wait till Tuesday to go and pay the bill and fill out the necessary forms for customs. It started with a cue outside the broker’s office.
And totally in line with Murphy’s Law and testing my patience, there was an error with the invoices. I waited for 1.5 hours before it was resolved. The next step getting customs forms stamped and delivered to the person clearing everything from the port. Unfortunately, a glitch in the computer system on the port meant another delay of a few days.
Low and behold, on 14 May, I got a phone call to ask if I was home and within the hour, all 11 boxes were delivered and carried into my living room. I was happy, grateful, and even a little emotional. None of the boxes were damaged, and the unpacking was about to start.
Paying it forward.
I have to say it is a bit overwhelming unpacking and sorting everything in plastic containers. My home is jam-packed with half-empty boxes and half-filled containers. There are many beautiful items: stickers, paint, books, helpful tools to spark a conversation with children. Interesting craft books from the Netherlands, educational aids, toothbrushes, the list seems endless.
My friend Sandra, from Help for Dominica, does a fantastic job at a school in Castle Bruce. I decided to pay it forward by donating some of our giant stack of items. Together with another friend Patti, she invited us to visit the school and one of the classes. I brought several books, and the children could not wait to start reading. It feels humbling to be able to do this, thanks to all our wonderful donors and supporters. I will be looking for more ways to Pay it Forward in the future.
The children of our 3rd program are graduating soon.
With all the donations received, I can make sure that we offer different and interesting materials during the last sessions of the program. As I described in an earlier Blog, it is invaluable to provide materials in good condition. And what better way than brand new and from another country.
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See you on my next Blog.
From the Nature Island,
A great story with a fairytale ending! Well done Marieke
Thank you Simon, yes the end made it all worthwhile.
Great story and I recognise every step… Just keep doing the good work you do.
Thank you Lies, I will certainly keep going.
Your patience has been rewarded, Marieke. That’s one of the lessons you teach us by your blog. It’s amazing what you are doing, I think this country needs someone like you, full of love, peace and a warm heart.
Thank you for your kind words Mieke.