Why Is A Nigerian King Visiting A West Palm Disaster Relief Nonprofit?

SEPTEMBER 01, 2017

Samuel Nnee, king of Nigeria’s Kpite people, right, with Peter Medee, professor at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, visited West Palm Beach’s Pathfinders Task Force, seeking help to coordinate massive oil spill clean-up on the Nigerian coast. (Tony Doris / The Palm Beach Post)

WEST PALM BEACH (THE PALM BEACH POST)-- Wednesday was a typical day at 514 14th St., an old warehouse on a sunburned dead end two blocks off North Dixie Highway, just shy of the railroad tracks.

The west side of the building houses a landscaping company, which puts food on the table when Scott Lewis and his nonprofit Pathfinders Task Force or its for-profit sister company, Disaster Solutions, aren’t out saving the world. In the eastern section, Pathfinders task force members prepped for deployment to Houston, where they’ll provide logistics support to the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort.

Upstairs, meanwhile, Lewis huddled with a Nigerian king in tribal garb, looking for relief from a massive Shell oil spill in the Gulf of Guinea. “Do you want to meet him?” offered Matt Campbell, Pathfinders task force leader, wiping sweat from his brow as he took a break from assembling radios and reflective vests for the Houston trip.

The nonprofit’s role will be to assemble and manage volunteers to go door to door in newly dried-out areas of the city to identify residents with special needs, such as diabetes meds or other prescription drugs, “or grandma’s oxygen tanks,” he said.

Then they’ll locate the needed supplies and deliver them, he said. “We’ll find the people who need it and the people who have it and marry the two.”

The only way to find these people is to knock on doors. “It’s not life-saving but life support” for people who’d be in trouble if they didn’t get what they needed within 24-48 hours, Campbell said.

He likened their mission, which will take one to three weeks, to taking patients “out of the emergency room and into the recovery ward.” Once the power comes back on, the eight-member Pathfinder crew will beat a path home.

He estimated that for every 10 doors the volunteers knock on, one person will have special needs. Others will sign up to volunteer.

That’s the idea — to grow the team of volunteers, from 10 to 50, 200, 500. Pathfinders has proprietary software, called Virtual Badge, that it will use to track and manage the team without relying on the Internet.

They’ve undertaken similar missions for years, from work on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to coordinating recovery efforts involving multiple agencies in the Bahamas, after 2016’s hit from Hurricane Matthew.

Samuel Nnee, paramount leader of the Kpite community in Nigeria, visited the unassuming offices Wednesday to plan for an upcoming clean-up of decades of oil spills that have contaminated much of Nigeria’s southern coastline and have had a significant impact on agriculture, fishing and health. The king’s people learned of the team’s work during the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, according to Campbell.

Shell is expected to disperse about $1 billion for the cleanup in the next three to six months and the king was consulting with Lewis about how Disaster Solutions might take a role in managing the project, Campbell said. The for-profit company would handle that work, because it deals more with years-old spills than with an immediate humanitarian crisis, he said.