After all the fundraising, all the volunteer work, all the trips, all the tragedy, tears and sweat, the Haitian orphanage that the City of Langford vowed to rebuild two years ago is complete. It’s now open and once again helping some of the hardest-luck people in a hard-luck country.
On April 29, most of the major players involved in the project, including Langford Mayor Stew Young and fire Chief Bob Beckett, gathered in Meyotte, Haiti, to celebrate the completion and opening of the orphanage.
About 200 people gathered for the celebration, which included speeches from the project leaders, performances by some of the children in the orphanage and even a cake, which Young served. About 40 children are back in a sound facility that, from all accounts, is far better than what they had before the earthquake.
“Everybody was pretty excited,” said Young. “It’s as good a building as you’ll ever see in Haiti, I can tell you.”
The original orphanage was destroyed in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit the nation in 2010, killing thousands (the exact death toll is not known) and leaving just as many homeless.
Two years ago, Langford decided it needed to help out and chose this project.
Since then, staff from the fire department and the municipality, along with volunteers from the community, have paid their own way to Haiti to help put up a new building, install a municipal water line and tank, rebuild a security wall, repair latrines and dig a new well.
To pay for the materials and to hire U.S.-based Shelter2Homes to carry out construction, Langford raised about $250,000 from the community and partners, including Chinese and Italian agencies connected to the United Nations.
“Every dollar goes (to the orphanage). You pay your own way down if you’re going to go. You volunteer. So every dollar got spent on the project,” Beckett said. “What a model for other communities in Canada to emulate.”
During the ceremony, the orphanage was dedicated to two RCMP officers who died in Haiti during the earthquake: Sgt. Mark Gallagher and Supt. Doug Coates. Gallagher’s daughter and Coates’ son attended and spoke at the ceremony.
“It was a very, very moving ceremony,” Beckett said.
“There wasn’t a dry eye at times in the room, both because of the excitement but also because of recognizing there was a lot of tragedy, and personal tragedy for Canadians as well.”
Young and Beckett agreed that one of the most noticeable features of Haiti right now is the lack of government structure. There are very few police around and virtually nothing in the way of local government agencies on the ground helping people.
Despite the lack of structure, and recognizing that violence and crime are present in certain areas, the Canadians who made the trip said they were still impressed by how people are coming together and helping each other to create order and rebuild.
“This is the life they live and they know that’s what they’ve been dealt and they try and make the best of it,” said Young. “The people have found a way to exist, survive and help each other.”
Even now that the project is complete, Young is determined to raise $7,000 per year through the fire department to continue to pay for administration and any incidentals.
Members of the fire department plan to go down once a year to check on things, make necessary repairs and continue the connection to the orphanage and its people. There is also talk of taking on a new project.
“If people from other areas didn’t lend money or help, this would be a really bad, serious situation,” said Young. “Without that help coming in, that place probably would be one of the most destitute places in the world.”