Corrections or additions?
These articles by Christopher Mario were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
dated Wednesday, December 23, 1998. All rights reserved.
Helping Hands, Class of ’98
We try to care. We try to empathize. But the cold
hard fact is that disasters are something that happen to other people.
Fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, mud slides, tidal waves, war,
and famine — with the rare exception of fires, these things just
don’t happen in Princeton.
So when disasters do happen, for most of us they are little more than
fleeting images on a television screen, electrons bouncing through
space from satellite to satellite. Isn’t that terrible, we think.
Maybe there’s something we can do to help. Maybe we even send a check.
But then the images are gone, the electrons fly away, and we get back
to our own lives.
Well that’s not the way it works for Princeton residents Jill Carpe
and Sanjay Sathe. Through their separate volunteer efforts with two
very different organizations, Carpe and Sathe translate empathy into
action. For them, news of a disaster isn’t just an occasion to feel
bad about the misfortunes of others, nor is it merely another reason
to be thankful for our lives in this privileged little corner of the
world. For Carpe and Sathe, news of a disaster means it’s time to
get to work, and that’s why we’ve chosen them as recipients of U.S.
1’s annual Helping Hands awards.
On October 30, the cone of a dormant volcano in
that had been filled with water by Hurricane Mitch exploded under
the pressure of its contents and caused Central America’s worst
disaster in modern history. The wave of water and rocks, mud and trees
released by the volcano wiped out four villages and killed as many
as 3,000 people.
But this spectacular disaster was just one part of the devastation
wrought on Nicaragua by Hurricane Mitch, which was one of the
hurricanes ever recorded. Across the country, winds, floods, and mud
slides killed thousands — just how many nobody knows. Leaders
in Nicaragua and neighboring Honduras, also hard-hit by Mitch and
like Nicaragua desperately poor, predicted that full recovery from
the hurricane could take as long as 40 years.
Maybe you saw reports on TV of what had happened in Central America
and thought, gosh, isn’t that awful. Jill Carpe, owner of the Salty
Dog crafts shop on Spring Street, saw it and got to work.
One of six active members of the Princeton-Granada Sister Cities
Carpe decided to collect food, clothing, and medicine to send to
Nicaragua, which has been a sister city to Princeton since 1987. With
the help of Jorge Narvaez, a Princeton Township police officer who
came to the United States from Nicaragua at age 14 and was one of
Carpe’s first customers when she opened the Salty Dog six years ago,
Carpe plastered downtown Princeton with flyers soliciting donations
for Nicaraguan hurricane relief. She wrote to community newspapers.
She worked the phones.
Within days, Carpe was inundated with clothes, rice and beans, baby
formula, and more clothes. In the morning, in the evening, and between
customers Carpe could be seen in the Spring Street parking lot behind
the Salty Dog sorting and packing and loading the donations and
them for their shipment to Nicaragua.
One person who saw Carpe in the Spring Street lot was William Besser,
a well-known Princeton gynecologist. For the people of Granada, that
turned out to be a very lucky thing.
"I was behind the store packing boxes," Carpe recalls,
Dr. Besser came up and asked what I was doing. So I explained we were
sending aid to the hurricane victims in Granada, and he immediately
took a bunch of flyers, E-mailed all his colleagues, and almost the
next day started bringing medical supplies over. The hospital
a huge amount of money and supplies, including antibiotics, which
they really need."
Carpe explains that although the city of Granada fared relatively
well in the hurricane, surrounding towns did not. As a result, the
city was quickly overrun with refugees from the countryside, all
to be fed and many needing medical attention. Large numbers of the
refugees sought help at the Women’s Healthcare Center, which the
Sister Cities Project supports. And that’s exactly where the aid Carpe
has collected will go.
By the end of November, Carpe had sent two shipments to the Women’s
Healthcare Center, including "tons of stuff," she reports.
"Powdered milk, rice and beans. All the medicines collected by
Dr. Besser and the hospital. The Township police donated 30 unclaimed
bikes they had had in storage for years. For the first shipment we
filled three pickup trucks. For the second, we had to rent a 15-foot
truck. We filled a two-car garage completely full twice."
The path that led Carpe from what she calls a
mainstream" childhood in Northern California to her volunteer
efforts on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Mitch began more than
15 years ago with a vacation.
"I discovered my desire to help through traveling," she says.
After junior college and some time living in Santa Cruz and Lake
Carpe decided to visit Belize, an English-speaking former British
colony on the southern border of Mexico, and use it as a base for
exploring Central America.
"Belize is pretty prosperous; there aren’t starving children,"
Carpe discovered. "But in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua —
seeing how people lived there, that they didn’t live like I lived,
I began to understand that it wasn’t fair. Not that I wanted them
all to live in condos or something. But I did want them not to have
to struggle to feed and educate their children."
Carpe had intended to explore Central America for a year. Instead,
she ended up opening a store on an island off the coast of Belize
and stayed for nine years. She married and had a son (Max, now 10).
But with Max approaching school age, she decided it was time to return
to the U.S.
Carpe came to New Jersey to be near her parents, who had moved here
from California. And she also brought with her an idea. Why not
her experience as a store owner with her desire to help the indigenous
peoples of Central America by opening a store to sell their
"Traveling around and seeing how the people lived in Central
I realized that the weavings and the pottery and all the things they
use in their daily lives were art," Carpe says. "I wanted
to bring that art to the U.S. as a way to help these people help
and I thought Princeton would be the kind of place where people would
appreciate this. My customers are people who have traveled and are
curious about the world around them. They’re interested in other
At the Salty Dog, Carpe sells handicrafts made by people not only
from Central America, but from around the world. Each summer, she
travels to a new country to buy directly from the people themselves;
so far, she has visited Nepal, Thailand, Morocco, Indonesia, El
Guatemala, and Nicaragua, among many others.
Known as Crafts with a Conscience at the Salty Dog, the store is part
of the Fair Trade Association, a loose-knit confederation of crafts
stores that buy directly from craft cooperatives and artisans around
the world, as well as through religious and other non-profit
set up to wholesale third-world handicrafts to Western stores. This
is how Carpe buys handicrafts when she can’t travel to buy them
"The goal is to eliminate the middleman and have more profit go
to the artisans," Carpe explains.
Among the many items now available at the Salty Dog, Carpe offers
wovens and embroidery from Central America, sterling silver from
and a variety of Tibetan items, from wool jackets to all manner of
mystical items used by Tibetan monks. The response to her wares has
been great from the very beginning, Carpe reports. And more than
a livelihood, the store has also enabled her to meet people and get
involved in community organizations.
Carpe’s involvement with the Sister Cities Project began when one
of her early customers invited her to join; her involvement with a
local group that supports political reform in Tibet started the same
way. But Carpe points out that politics is not what motivates her.
Rather, it’s a desire to help.
"My reasons for getting involved in the Friends of Tibet and the
Nicaragua thing are totally not political," she says. "That’s
just not who I am. My reason is grass roots. Women who can’t feed
their kids, whose husbands run off because there’s no work in their
villages, people who are struggling for their basic survival. I try
to stay away from the political. I’d rather work on feeding people.
If I can deal with one artisan or one very small village and buy
from them and sell their stuff, that makes a difference. I’m not one
to lobby or protest. I want to help hands on."
If you’d like to help Jill Carpe and the Princeton-Granada Sister
Cities Project in their efforts to aid the victims of Hurricane Mitch,
you can. Although they are no longer collecting donations of items,
they are trying to raise $10,000 to help the Women’s Healthcare Center
in Nicaragua buy needed supplies. Send your check to CAR/Sister Cities
Project, 32 Markham Road, Princeton 08540, or call Carpe at the Salty
Dog at 609-924-0455.
And one more thing: "I really want to thank the people of
Carpe says. "I’m glad I moved here."
American Red Cross
Unlike Jill Carpe, Sanjay Sathe took a very direct route
to his volunteer efforts on behalf of disaster victims with the
Red Cross. "I just showed up one day," says Sathe (pronounced
Satay). "I knew I wanted to do something, and the Red Cross had
the advantage of a brand name. But I had no idea what they did."
He soon found out. Although his work with the Red Cross started small,
with the occasional hour spent driving the elderly and handicapped
to doctor’s appointments in Princeton, within a few years Sathe would
find himself jetting off to disasters across the country. With just
a few days or hours notice, Sathe leaves work, home, and family to
spend up to three weeks at a time helping to manage major disaster
"I’ve been to Guam, Puerto Rico, St. Croix for Hurricane George,
and to floods in North Dakota, Ohio, and Mississippi. I’ve seen all
the garden spots of America," he jokes.
Contrary to popular belief, the American Red Cross is a private aid
organization unsupported by the U.S. government. Although it
major disaster efforts through its national organization, now famously
led by Elizabeth Dole, most of what the Red Cross does is local,
individual chapters like the one in our area, the American Red Cross
of Central Jersey, based at 707 Alexander Road. And most impressive
of all to Sanjay Sathe, nearly everything the Red Cross does is done
As he describes it, the American Red Cross is less an organization
than a network of literally millions of individuals with a huge
of skills and expertise all across the country who stand at the ready
to serve when called. When a major disaster strikes, the national
organization mobilizes these forces and within two days has what
to a good-sized corporation on the ground at the disaster site, with
thousands of volunteers.
Many of these volunteers are the nurses and drivers and helpers you
see on TV, working directly with victims. But behind the scenes there
are many other volunteers running the command and control
required by such a huge undertaking involving so many people. And
one of those behind-the-scenes volunteers is Sanjay Sathe.
"The amazing thing about it is that for the large-scale
the Red Cross creates the infrastructure of a mini-corporation in
a two or three days, runs it for three to six weeks, and then closes
it down," Sathe says. "And that requires a number of
We have the direct services, the interface with clients, and then
all the support services that are essential to get those services
there. Logistics, nursing, mental health, are all part of the
We bring in all these volunteers from different parts of the country,
and they all know their assignments, and they all have lodging. It’s
quite involved, and pretty chaotic. But it’s impressive considering
the conditions in which we operate and the shoestring budget."
When Sathe first arrived on the doorstep at the Red Cross offices
on Alexander Road in 1990, he was asked what he wanted to do. His
reply: What do you want me to do? And that’s how he ended up driving
people to doctor’s appointments. But the organization soon figured
out that in Sanjay Sathe, they had not a driver, but a numbers guy
and a manager. So today, in addition to coordinating records and
on the ground at national disaster efforts — "trying to keep
a handle on how, where, and what we’re spending" — Sathe also
chairs the committee for local disaster services in Mercer and
"I am one amongst many," he says diplomatically of his local
efforts, as one might expect from the son of a diplomat.
Born in India, Sathe, 45, spent his childhood in
around the world, as the family traveled with his father from posting
to posting. After college in India, Sathe went into banking, first
in Iran before the fall of the Shah, and later in Switzerland.
he ended up at Chase Manhattan in New York, where he was an early
participant in the interest rate swap market, a precursor of the
market. As his banking career progressed, Sathe specialized in trading
interest rate futures on the commodities market, and later served
as head of treasury at Irving Trust, and for the North American
of a Dutch bank called ABN.
"I guess I got tired of it," Sathe says of his decision to
leave banking in the mid-’80s to strike out on his own as a private
commodities trader trading interest rate contracts from his home in
Princeton. And more than anything else, that decision led directly
to Sathe’s volunteer work.
"When I set up my own business, I discovered I now had some time
and wanted to do some community work," he says. "I guess it
was just part of my upbringing as a child. When my grandmother was
alive, she required that all of us give our first month’s salary to
charity. I don’t know if my cousins did it, because I never asked,
but I did. So although it never really occurred to me why I wanted
to be involved, I guess it’s just a sense of duty and obligation.
I had come to the U.S., this country had been good to me, and it was
time to give something back. And then I discovered that it’s one of
most enjoyable things I do."
You might not think that spending three weeks crunching numbers for
12 to 15 hours a day would be all that enjoyable, but Sanjay Sathe
"People think I’m crazy to say this, but it actually is my
he says. "If I want to get away from things, there’s nothing
than a Red Cross operation." As for leaving his business for three
weeks at a time, Sathe says, "it works for me. I’m not one of
those frenetic traders. I put positions on and keep them for a long
time. So communications being what they are, with the magic of phones
and computers these days, it suits my personal style of trading."
But he hastens to add that while the national disaster efforts on
which he works are — from a distance at least — the glamorous
part of his Red Cross volunteerism, the really important work happens
right here at home.
"Ninety percent of what the Red Cross does is done at the chapter
level," he explains. "The attraction is always to major
but what we really focus on is the trauma of single family fires.
Next to losing a family member, that is the worst thing that can
For one week each month, Sathe is on call for fire services for the
American Red Cross of Central Jersey, which sends volunteers to fires
to provide food, money, clothing, and transportation to families whose
houses have been destroyed.
"A couple of months ago there was a house fire in Trenton, and
that was a pretty typical Red Cross response," Sathe says. "We
responded at 5 a.m. to feed them, shelter them, give them some money
to get some clothes. We can’t replace everything they lost in the
fire but we can buy them two or three days, a small window in which
they can focus on how to put their lives back together. And that’s
where the money people donate to the local chapter is being spent.
Not enough attention is paid to this part of our work. We are very
proud of the fact that our work is a gift from the American to the
American people on an individual level."
And they are also proud to be one of the most efficient charities
in the world. In 1997, the more than 1.4 million American Red Cross
volunteers responded to 62,000 disasters through an organization with
an incredible volunteer-to-staff ratio of 44 to 1.
"We like to pride ourselves on our responsibility to our
Sathe says. (The organization made national news on December 16 with
its rebuttal of charges about an alleged delay in disbursing disaster
relief assistance funds for victims of the Red River Valley flood.
It said that Minnesota’s Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III
"a lack of understanding of how the American Red Cross provides
"And it’s also terribly important," says Sathe, "that
the organization is run well, because that makes the volunteers feel
like the organization is doing the right thing. Whatever reasons
have for volunteering in the first place — obligation, duty —
the reason they stay is that they enjoy what they’re doing."
That has certainly been true for Sathe. And thanks to his example,
both of his children — a daughter at Princeton High School, and
a son in college — have made volunteering part of their lives.
"I think it’s a good idea for children to be exposed to
just as it’s a good idea for them to be exposed to Shakespeare,"
Sathe says. "They may find out they really enjoy it. And that’s
the key. When people say to me it’s noble of you to go out and
and do all these things, I say, not really, it’s just because I enjoy
If you would like to help the American Red Cross of Central Jersey,
you can send a donation to 707 Alexander Road, Princeton 08540. Or
to join as a volunteer, call Judy Gorman at 609-951-8550. And for
more information about the truly Herculean efforts of the American
Red Cross, go to http://www.redcross.org.
— Christopher Mario
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This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.