Conditions in Haiti have deteriorated so much people desperate for assistance have issued a warning that it’s not safe to travel there.
The political unrest that has fueled violent protests and left at least 40 people dead has increased to crisis levels, said Bob Beckett, who has postponed to a trip originally planned for the spring as part of ongoing efforts to assist children at two orphanages.
“Security and safety issues have always been a concern but conditions have really deteriorated,” noted Beckett, the former Langford fire chief who has been part of 17 humanitarian missions since an earthquake ravaged much of the poverty-stricken country. “We’re always aware of the fact that we could be targeted simply because of the level of poverty. Because we’re white and have assisted two orphanages, people assume we have money. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s been a couple of close calls.”
Enel St.-Fleur, the administrator at Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage, said in an email to Beckett that protesters have thrown rocks at the orphanage’s vehicle, blocked the streets with rocks and set fire to tires. The children at the orphanage haven’t been able to attend school, which should have started on Sept. 9.
“No one can walk out in school uniforms lest they tear them off the children,” St.-Fleur said. \The orphanage has been without gas for the truck for six months, propane to cook for six weeks, and they are down to one bag of red beans and two bags of rice.
Beckett first travelled to Haiti shortly after the earthquake in 2010 to assess where help was needed most in response to a request from Langford Mayor Stew Young. Beckett co-ordinated efforts with RCMP members stationed in the country to assist the 45 children at Baby Jesus of Prague who were sleeping on the ground after the ramshackle building that had provided limited shelter was destroyed. A massive outpouring of support from businesses and communities throughout the Capital Region and beyond raised $250,000 in a few months, money that went toward building a secure facility. Subsequent trips have added an outdoor kitchen, a well, security fence and other essentials. Some of the funding was earmarked to hire St.-Fleur, who oversees administration and serves as a teacher.
The City of Langford has continued support through funding the cost of his annual stipend.
During a trip to Haiti four years ago, the Quebec Provincial Police approached Beckett about taking a look at another orphanage in dire need of assistance. There were 52 children living in a ramshackle, 800 square foot house.
“The orphanage was about to close,” Beckett said. “Doris Abraham, the woman in charge of The Divine Hand Orphanage, was absolutely desperate.” Beckett did an assessment with Dan Reynolds, a retired chief building inspector with Langford and part of the original team sent to Haiti. Beckett, who’s been involved with the Rotary Club of West Shore for many years, asked the organization to get involved, and they agreed to take it on as an international project about three-and-a-half years ago.
Rotary has raised $30,000 for the project so far, making it possible to move the children to a safe, secure facility on an acre-and-a-half of rented property where site improvements, well capacity, water storage tanks and an outdoor dining area have been added. “It’s bare bones, very humble, but a much better space to accommodate 52 kids,” Beckett added. “Every time we go down, we assess the situation at both orphanages.”
Efforts include purchasing 200 egg-laying hens and a commercial bread oven as part of Rotary’s efforts to fund projects with a focus on self-sustainability, Beckett said. “To Doris’ credit, they sell bread and eggs at the local market to try and achieve that. Our long-term goal is to purchase the property for her for $80,000 US.”
With the situation the way it is now, though, there are more immediate issues to address, Beckett stressed.
“Given the dire situation and the shortage of food country wide, we’d like to be able to stock the shelves with enough food for the next couple of months at both orphanages, as well as provide a few gifts and a nice Christmas dinner for the children,” he explained.
“We are blessed to live where we do. I realize this is the time of year where people are inundated with requests to help tons of worthwhile causes. All I can do is stress that the need in Haiti is critical, and ask the community to step up again. There are no administration costs, and every dollar donated goes directly and completely to helping the kids at those two orphanages.”
Visit helpforhaiti.ca/to make a donation or for information.