It’s been a gruelling marathon of a project, but after two years Langford’s effort to rebuild an orphanage in Haiti is finally — finally — wrapping up.
Langford politicians and volunteers will attend the official opening ceremony in Haiti on April 26 that will honour two RCMP officers who perished in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
Over the past years the City has raised $250,000 for the building and a series of related projects. Last Saturday, it raised another $20,000 from developers and the business community during Langford’s economic forum.
“It’s a lot of money, but when we are done, we can walk away as a community that can be very proud of what they’ve accomplished,” said Langford fire Chief Bob Beckett, a key figure behind the humanitarian effort.
The orphanage project has been beset with delays due to red-tape and difficult logistics in the desperately poor Caribbean nation still struggling to rebuild from the quake. A team of volunteer Langford residents did their first recon mission in Haiti in March 2010, and had high hopes of rebuilding the orphanage within less than a year.
Reality sunk in as the team faced the inertia of working in a country with shattered roads and chaotic import regulations. Further, the singular goal of constructing an orphanage building quickly snowballed into a series of costly and difficult side projects.
Using local labour, Langford firefighters and other volunteers organized the building of a wall topped with barbed wire for security, and the installation of water tanks, a new septic system and new latrines. During an interview with the Gazette last week, Beckett took a phone call from retired Langford building inspector Dan Reynolds, who was monitoring the digging of a well by the Canadian military. They hit water at 196 feet.
“The wall, the water tanks, the kitchen, the latrines far exceeded the initial goal and expectations,” Beckett said. “But as we got working on the project, we found there was no sense of replacing the building unless the kids were safe. And if there’s no potable water, the health problems continue.”
The orphanage building itself, with a kitchen, chapel, nuns’ quarters and classroom, is effectively complete and on budget, although behind schedule. U.S.-based Shelter2Homes organized the construction in a $141,000 project paid for by fundraising in Langford. The Chinese and Italian UN contingents also donated tens of thousands to the orphanage project.
A few cleanup projects remain, such as levelling the site for water drainage, furnishing the building and a electrical and plumbing fixes. Local craftsmen will build the furniture on site.
The project was looking to raise about $15,000 for those projects and to provide volunteers Terry and Brenda Young contingency money for final fixes prior to the grand opening. That mark was far exceeded at Langford’s economic forum on Saturday with more than $20,000 raised.
Excess money will help fund an administrator job for the orphanage, giving some reprieve to the two elderly nuns. Langford Mayor Stew Young has committed $5,000 per year for three years from his annual golf tournament to fund the administrator position.
Beckett and other project volunteers have become regulars in Haiti. Despite the familiarity, they stay at homes of RCMP officers and are mindful of personal security. Murders and kidnappings for ransom are common.
“We are cognizant of where we are, but comfortable with the noise and traffic. We’ve become part of the people and the country,” Beckett said. “I’ve fallen in love with Haiti. With all its challenges, there is something special about the people and the country.”
On Beckett’s last trip, his seventh in two years, a high-ranking UN contingent and top Canadian police officials arrived in a motorcade at the orphanage site, planning a half hour stop.
“They spent an hour and a half meeting the kids, learning about the project,” Beckett said. “They were amazed at the partnerships and relationships this has created. They couldn’t get over this was spearheaded by the little community of Langford.”