It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since a team of West Shore volunteers stood on the ground in Haiti. A lot has changed in that time. A lot hasn’t.
But in the coming days a group representing the Rotary Club of West Shore will board a plane to once again help two orphanages and all the children they house.
“We’re ramping up and we’re ready to go,” said Rotarian and former Langford fire chief Bob Beckett. “It’s only two orphanages, it’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to Haiti … but I think it’s important not to forget.”
The Rotary Club of West Shore supports two orphanages near the Port-au-Prince area. They got involved with the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage after the 2010 earthquake, which destroyed the orphanage, leaving the children to sleep in tents in a swamp.
Since then, with the support of the City of Langford, the club has helped rebuild the orphanage and provide a safe, healthy environment for the kids to flourish.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to address a small project with them,” Beckett said, which could include some upgrades to their security wall or the addition of benches.
But the bulk of the trip, which will see volunteers leave on April 17 and return on the 26, will be spent at the Divine Hand Orphanage in Fond Parisien, which is a roughly two-hour drive outside of Port-au-Prince. Beckett will be joined by retired RCMP staff sergeant Bruce Brown, Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey, Rotarians Russ Lazaruk and Tim Stevens, and Hilary Groos.
Back in 2016 the orphanage’s director, Doris Abraham, chose to relocate, picking a site in the countryside town. She’s come a long way in the three years since the local Rotary club was introduced to her. At that time, Abraham was renting an 800-square-foot house and was weeks away from being forced to close.
That’s when the club stepped in, helping with everything from housing to security to school fees. Now, at their new location the Rotary Club of West Shore is looking to help Abraham and the children become self-sustainable, as well as continuing to help with their immediate needs. Part of this trip will be to evaluate how to best facilitate that, including continuing to raise funds to help them purchase the land the orphanage sits on.
“She’s always upbeat, always positive,” Beckett said of Abraham. “She never complains, she just reaches out and says ‘can you help me?’”
During this trip, the team will also be working on a number of projects including upgrades to the orphanage’s security wall, a massive overhaul of their water system – including a drip line for the fruit trees they plan to plant – as well as solar panels, a new battery system and the expansion of their egg production.
It’s an ambitious list, but Beckett said when they told Abraham what they were planning to do, she was overcome with emotion.
“We can only imagine … to haul water by herself, on a bicycle, for 52 kids, the chickens and the bakery, she was beside herself with gratitude,” he said.
Since their last trip a few weeks after Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, the club has sent funds for a number of things to help the orphanage support itself, including the purchase of a new bread oven. “She’s been doing buns and bread and selling to the community … It’s all part of the sustainability.”
The orphanage’s chicken coop has also received an upgrade and now is home to more than 60 chickens, with eggs providing protein for the children as well as a revenue source for the orphanage.
The team has also sent funds ahead of them to pay the school fees for all school-aged children in Abraham’s care.
Fees for tuition and books are due every year and are based on a sliding scale that goes up with the age of the children. Brown noted it costs roughly $3,500 US .
“It’s huge, especially with the UN pulling out,” Beckett added.
The United Nations’ Stabilization Mission – to train Haiti’s national police force – has ended, sending members of police forces from around the world home. While in country, a number of those officers found local causes to support and would help with funds, supplies and visits.
“Some of them would have fundraising efforts back in their home towns or cities and would donate that to her,” Brown explained of Abraham’s situation.
Before the team goes, they’ll be hosting a barbecue fundraiser at Glenwood Meats, 1245 Parkdale Dr., in Langford this Saturday, April 7 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. All proceeds from that event will go to fund the projects in Haiti.
“There’s a lot going on in the world and it’s difficult to choose who to help … [but] every penny you donate goes to help the kids,” Brown said. “We would like to thank the community for their support, without their support we wouldn’t be able to do as much as we do.”
The local club has launched a new website with lots of information to help with their goal of making the Divine Hand Orphanage self-sustainable by the end of 2019. For more information, go to helpforhaiti.ca.