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 second installment in a four-part series highlighting some of the people they met with along the way.
The air immediately feels cooler as the truck climbs towards the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. While the temperature is somewhere in the low 30s C, it feels like a sauna when combined with roughly 80 per cent humidity.
A homeless woman living outside the front gate passes the truck, barefoot in the mud, harmoniously yelling to herself. Langford resident and Glenwood Meats owner Rick Fisher points to where her home used to be, made from garbage and mud. Recent rains leave no trace of the structure built on the side of a ditch. Enel Michel, who grew up at the orphanage and owns the truck the group of Westshore Rotary volunteers are riding in, noted the rain has washed away two parked cars.
Tucked on the bank of a steep hill, the orphanage was exposed to the elements after the 2010 earthquake.
“It was just swamp, there was nothing left,” said Westshore Sunrise Rotary Club member and Langford Fire Chief Bob Beckett. “They were sleeping in tents.” It took 108 truckloads of fill to fix those drainage issues.
The first purchase the Westshore club made was two containers for security. The red and blue structures are still visible, tucked in a corner of the compound behind coconut trees, and are now being used to store tools and food. Beckett looks at them, reminiscing over past trips. “It’s been such a journey for me … We built all this.”
Fisher takes off towards a building behind the chapel; he had a hand constructing it on a previous trip and it still gives residents somewhere to prepare meals. Inside, a group of women are cooking chicken drumsticks the team sent the night before with Enel.
At 28, Enel continues to call the orphanage home and helps out wherever he can. He arrived when he was about three and was raised by the two nuns that operated the orphanage, taking Sister Gerada Michel’s name as his own. She has since passed away, but Enel still beams with pride when asked about the woman he considers his mother and the place he still calls home.
When the West Shore volunteers first got involved, Beckett noted, “there was 45 to 50 kids here … It was a beehive of activity.” Now, there are 19. “It’s not a perfect situation … The leadership is a challenge,” he added. “There’s some immediate things we might be able to do.”
Of those, addressing dwindling food supplies and the lack of communication coming from the orphanage take top priority on his to-do list.
More conversation with the orphanage’s leadership, Beckett said, will help the facility’s long-term goals become more clear to those who wish to help. While volunteers have worked hard to rebuild the orphanage, he added, “we don’t want to forget about the needs here.”
The City of Langford pays the wages for an administrator, Holita Jean. She would like to start a business that would provide an income for the orphanage, to make them more independent. She nods to their well, which contains contaminated, non-drinkable water. They truck water in, but with a reservoir they’d be able to store water and sell the excess. “It’s all starting to take shape,” she noted through translator and Victoria resident Hilary Groos.
The chime for dinner interrupts the conversation and the children shuffle into the dining hall, standing patiently in front of their plates, waiting to pray, their eyes growing large at the sight of chicken in front of them.
The director of the orphanage, Ricardo Michel, meets the Westshore team after dinner. He was raised at the orphanage and like Enel, shares Gerada’s name.
You’re always welcome here; this is a part of you,” Ricardo noted as he nods to the familiar faces in the group, introducing himself to the new ones.
Sitting down to have a serious discussion, he told of some of the hurdles they’re facing.
“The first problem is food for the next year,” he said, adding that supplies are extremely low. The second is school fees for the older children. For the year, it’ll cost $2,000 US. Normally the first payment is due in September, but Ricardo was able to get an extension. He still has to come up with $500 in December and $1,500 in January.
Beckett nodded, “that’s critical,” and later commits the much needed funds.
The orphanage is able to handle 36 children. Ricardo would eventually like to sustain the orphanage at full capacity, but in the meantime, he’s worried about taking on more children and the costs associated with them. “The ultimate goal would be to become fully independent,” he added in Creole French.
His vision for that is the purchase of an 18-seat mini bus that would transport the kids safely to and from school, but could also be used as an alternative source of income. He figures they’d be able to make upwards of $700 to $1,500 US a month.
“When you put your heart into something, you never know what you’ll get out of it,” he noted, beaming with pride as he nods to Enel and some of the success stories that have come from the orphanage. “In order to do this you have to give time and your families have to make sacrifices … (But) it’s well appreciated,” Ricardo turns to the group. “The door’s always open to you.”
The man behind the tap tap
Traffic on one of the main roads in Port-au-Prince is completely stopped. Haitians stand on the top of Mack dump trucks trying to see what’s causing the delay. Stanley steers the tap tap, a truck with two wooden benches under a canopy, around broken-down vehicles and others up on rocks with missing wheels, but the traffic only gets worse.
Enel Michel, who owns the tap tap, is in the back with a group of Westshore Rotary volunteers and is eager to get them and their supplies to their hotel safely. He directs Stanley to take a back road around the congestion but they get stuck in a traffic jam that makes the Colwood crawl look like a European autobahn.
Enel takes matters into his own hands and heads towards the centre of the congestion, jumping in front of vehicles to direct traffic and get his friends moving. His tap tap passes but he keeps directing, making sure they can move further down the road. A few blocks down, he takes a running jump into the back of the truck, brushing the dust from his jeans and baby blue converse shoes so he’ll look presentable.
“I can’t imagine going down there without the help of Enel and Stanley,” said Langford resident Rick Fisher, noting the team relies on them for much more than transportation. Enel dotes on the group, making sure phones and cameras aren’t easy targets for pickpockets.
He met the group at the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage and it was there he bonded with the team, leaving such an impact that five of them pooled their own money together to buy him the tap tap.
But the group didn’t just stop at helping him with a source of income. They also gave him some money so he could purchase a piece of land that overlooks the orphanage. “It’s not a done deal,” Enel said in Creole French, but he’s not worried. The owner is waiting to have an eye operation and in the meantime, Enel has started to pile building materials on the land to build a home to live in with his fiancée once they marry.