Published February 17, 2010
My name is Gayle Peters and I live in Trilogy La Quinta.
As the world knows, on January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a massive earthquake. The earthquake devastated an already tragic country. Words can’t describe the conditions and helplessness that the people of Haiti are going through...especially the children. Haiti is a mere 700 miles from the United States. It is at our doorstep.
The earthquake has been extremely personal and devastating to me because of the many people I know in Haiti. I have been getting messages that many of my friends’ family members have been killed and their homes in Port au Prince destroyed.
Since 2003 I have been involved with Theo’s Work, an organization started by Father Marc Boisvert in1998. Father Marc was a chaplain with the US Navy. Since Fr. Marc was fluent in French he was sent to Guantanamo Bay by the Navy to help with the Haitian refugees that were fleeing Haiti in 1997. So disturbed by what he saw and heard from the refugees, Fr. Marc resigned his commission and left the Navy. He was honorably discharged from the military as a Lieutenant Commander.
On Christmas Eve 1997 Father sold everything he had and went to Les Cayes on the southwest coast of Haiti. The order he belongs to gave him an old seminary building. He used this building to begin taking in street kids. He gave them food and a roof over their heads. He called it Project Hope (“Pwoje Espwa” in Creole). Within a few years the building was too small to accommodate the large number of needy children. As a result of donations, additional land was bought outside of Les Cayes, and Vilaj Espwa (Village Hope) was born. The orphanage housed, fed and taught over 650 children before the earthquake. It is the largest orphanage in Haiti. Free the Kids (formally known as Theo’s Work) is the organization that supports the orphanage.
On the morning of the earthquake, a group of “Free the Kids” volunteers from the United States, having just completed a week of working at Village Hope, left Port au Prince for their return to the United States. They missed the devastating earthquake by a matter of hours. I have volunteered at Village Hope for the last 5 years. My last visit to Haiti was January 2009, exactly one year before this natural disaster. At the end of that trip we spent our last night in Haiti in the capital city of Port au Prince. We stayed at the Hotel Montana. I was horrified to learn that this hotel completely collapsed in the earthquake.
Since the earthquake, Father Marc has been inundated with requests. Over 100 orphans just arrived at Vilag Espwa from the town of Leogane, a town just a few miles west of the earthquake’s epicenter. Their orphanage was destroyed. He also agreed to take 83 children from the local area. In addition to the 650 children he and the staff already care for, he also feeds 1,200 local children, a total of 4,000 meals each day. For several days after the earthquake, food and fuel for electricity were scarce because of damaged roads. Finally, supplies are now coming in. One of the biggest problems now is that many of Father Marc’s children and staff have families that lived in Port au Prince, and those family members are coming to the orphanage in need food and shelter.
Before the devastating earthquake, poverty was so severe that families had to choose between offering their children up for domestic slavery or watching them die from starvation. The children that are sold are called “restavecs.” There are thousands of these children in Haiti. Many are sold to people in the US as domestic slaves. This is life in Haiti.
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