Black Press reporter Katherine Engqvist followed a team representing the Westshore Rotary Club as they travelled to Haiti to assess the needs of two orphanages. The following is the third installment in a four-part series highlighting some of the people they met with along the way.
Sitting in a restaurant in Port-au-Prince, RCMP Sgt. Stephen Dibblee looks at ease as he speaks French to the waiter, ordering a diet Coke and a cheeseburger. This is Dibblee’s second time in Haiti, serving under the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission to train the national police force.
But before he’d ever set foot in the Caribbean country, Dibblee was the detachment supervisor in Woodstock, N.B. It was a position that caused him to cross paths with RCMP Sgt. Mark Gallagher, who was later one of 96 UN peacekeepers killed in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
It was that bond, Dibblee said, that caused him to ask to be Gallagher’s replacement on the Haiti mission. “I was so touched by the experience … I had to come back.”
Since his first mission in 2010, Dibblee has seen drastic changes. Tent cities that sprung up after the earthquake have vanished, and there seems to be more income in smaller villages and towns. Road systems outside the main cities have started to take shape, although those within the capital city of Port-au-Prince are falling apart.
“The greatest improvement has been the Haitian police force … There’s a night-and-day difference,” he said. Not only has it grown in size, but also in terms of responsibility, vision and pride. “The onus is now on them … and they’re stepping up.”
But RCMP officers aren’t just helping the local police; many have taken a special interest in supporting orphanages. It was through a connection with the RCMP that the Westshore Sunrise Rotary Club and City of Langford were connected with the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage after the earthquake.
It was also through the RCMP that Westshore Rotary was connected with the Divine Hands Orphanage. On a previous trip, one of the officers asked Rotarian and Langford Fire Chief Bob Beckett to take a look at another orphanage while he was in the area. Fifty-two children were living in an 800-square-foot house. It was a sight Beckett said they couldn’t turn their backs on. Now the Rotary group works closely with the RCMP and other UN-affiliated police in Haiti to help meet some of the needs of both orphanages.
Const. Kim Deniger is also serving in the UN’s training mission. Even before arriving in Haiti, she knew she wanted to help children there. A co-worker introduced her to the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage and she immediately developed a special connection with the children. “They’re happy and they’re smiling … They have a good spirit,” she said. Since then, she’s taken the lead in organizing support for the orphanage.
There was a learning curve, Deniger noted; the accountability of where funds were going was very different than what she was used to in Canada. At first, the RCMP officers were providing weekly payments for food, but they discovered it was only going to buy rice and some children were suffering from malnutrition. “It makes it difficult. It’s not that they have bad intentions, it’s just that they’re not communicating,” she said.
The officers changed their approach and started going once a week to make lunches for the children. They also started to host a fun monthly event and secured an inflatable structure for the kids to play on. “One time we were able to bring a pool,” Deniger said, adding the children were enchanted by the experience.
Dibblee and Deniger are at the end of their year-long commitments and were planning to return to Ottawa on Nov. 17. However, due to the delayed election caused by Hurricane Matthew and the civil unrest that notoriously accompanies elections, they’ll stay until the end of the month.
Once they leave, Const. Samoza Celestin will take over the lead. Celestin was born in Haiti and through an RCMP sponsorship program, he worked in Surrey, then Ottawa. “I was with Interpol; hopefully I will get to go back … I really enjoyed what I did. I was solving problems from all over the world,” he said.
All officers that go on out-of-country missions must give up their position back home. It was a thought that didn’t seem to faze the three RCMP constables.
“I wanted to come, I pushed for it … my story is different,” Celestin said. “Moving to Canada and becoming a Mountie, it’s surreal … I was lucky, I learned so much.”
The UN is preparing for the end of the mission, although it has now been extended until April 2017. But that doesn’t mean the UN’s presence will completely vanish. “It’s just going to modify and be a different mission with more specialization,” Dibblee noted.
Single-mom officer sets the bar higher
In the final weeks of a year-long mission in Haiti, RCMP Const. Kim Deniger recalled, “it was my dream when I entered the RCMP… there’s a waiting list for people to go on missions.”
Before Haiti, Deniger was assessing the files of new RCMP applicants. “I just needed a change,” she said. But it wasn’t an easy decision. “When I said I wanted to go on a mission, there was a stigma,” she said of being a single mother with three children and what that would mean for her. “But I did my homework.”
After researching different missions, Haiti seemed like the best fit due to its proximity. Since officers work more hours on missions, they are able to travel home every month or two and as Deniger noted, it’s a direct, four-hour flight back to Montreal. If there were an emergency back home, she could just hop on a flight and be there in no time. “I can be a model for a single mom or any woman to go on a mission.”
Deniger left her children 365 letters, accompanied by 365 pictures of them together. She also left small gifts for them to open during their video calls, such as stories or music.
“They understand the work I do here and they gave me some toys to give to the orphanage,” she said.
For more information on the Westshore Rotary’s work in Haiti, go to helpforhaiti.ca. You may also be interested in part one of the series, which features the Divine Hands Orphanage, and part two, which features the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage.