Making a home

Posted 2/9/10

The youngest children in the group have moved into an existing orphanage, but the license prohibits the orphanage from housing children older than 12.

This week, the Wish for Haiti foundation leased a house nearby for Father Bien-aime and the …

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Making a home


{gallery}02_04_10/haitiyvena{/gallery}A young orphan, Yvena, displays the spirit and resilience the Haitian people are known for. According to the Wish for Haiti Web site, “Tiny Yvena is a happy little force among the children ... she's already up to her mischief...” Courtesy photo Non-profit group continues mission of helping Haitian orphansA long driveNear the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic — an arduous eight-hour drive from Port-au-Prince — Father Bien-aime and the orphans in his care are putting their lives back together after the devastating earthquake last month reduced their orphanage to a pile of rubble. In their new home just steps from the border, the kids of the House of the Children of the Lack are once again smiling and playing.

The youngest children in the group have moved into an existing orphanage, but the license prohibits the orphanage from housing children older than 12.

This week, the Wish for Haiti foundation leased a house nearby for Father Bien-aime and the older children. The foundation is led by the Gallagher sisters — Gina Woodson, Tracy Metzler and Leslie Christensen — along with their husbands, Doug Woodson, Nick Metzler and Jim Christensen. All but Doug are Powell natives.

About 300 yards from the new orphanage, the leased house has enabled Father Bien-aime to keep the children in his care together — something that's critically important after the earthquake that took so much from them. Father Bien-aime has also taken in several additional children since the earthquake ravaged the island nation.

“These kids could be in really dire straits right now, but, really, they're in pretty good shape,” said Leslie. “We're looking at it (the new location) like it's going to be a true home for a time. It makes it more special in some ways ... If we can provide a nurturing home where all their needs are met, they can be highly-functioning parts of their communities someday.”

And it's anyone's guess how long they'll be in the Ounaminthe, where their new home is located.

“We're envisioning it as a temporary place until Port-au-Prince is more settled ... for six months or a year.

Hopefully, that will be the case, and it will allow us time to buy land and build a structure. We'll rely on people who have expertise in building in the Carribbean to make sure the (new orphanage) is very safe,” Leslie added.

Help arrives

Doug Woodson left the home he shares in Oklahoma City with his wife, Gina, and daughters McCall and Haitian-born Sofi on Jan. 28.

The first of the extended family to befriend Father Bien-aime, he traveled to Haiti to help the children he had grown to love.

On Tuesday evening, Leslie said she had spoken to Doug earlier in the day and “he is ready to come home. He's been gone for almost a week now, and he's tired. He's been very busy crossing from the Dominican Republic (where he's staying) with goods for the rental home — sheets and bedding and 40 beds to put together.”

According to Leslie, Doug drives 20 minutes from where he's staying in the Dominican Republic to the border to Haiti. Once in Haiti, “It's extremely dangerous, and he's seeing all sorts of terrible situations ... amputees, people near death because they have no medication, no supplies.”

Doug walks through a refugee camp to reach the orphanage in Ounaminthe each day, and he reports that the orphans from the House of the Children of the Lack are happy and healthy.

“We're all amazed at how resilient they are,” said Leslie.

As Father Bien-aime reported via the Wish for Haiti website, “We are eating a good meal and everyone is smiling!” Leslie said, on Wednesday, Doug and the other benefactors who accompanied him on his trip were able to purchase a stove for the rental home as well as a generator to provide electricity.

Planning for the future

Wish for Haiti has received, according to Leslie, “Well over $100,000” in donations since the earthquake. The money has come from around 600 donors, spread throughout the U.S.

In addition, “we have a pledge from a donor who said when we begin construction (on a new building), he'll put $50,000 into our fund,” Leslie added.

“We've received a hug outpouring of support from Powell,” she said. “You see the importance of a community and see the significance of a small community. These are connnections going back years and years.

“We've received donations from teachers we had when we were young, classmates from Powell High School. (We want to) let people know how much we appreciate the support and how much the children will benefit from the donations.

“The Park County community should be so pleased with themselves for what they're doing. They may end up rebuilding an orphanage.”

Leslie said they don't yet know what it will cost to rebuild, or for that matter, where the orphanage will be located.

Father Bien-aime has a parish and a school in Tapio, some 45 minutes outside Port-au-Prince.

“Originally, he thought he may take the children up there, but it's a very poor area, there's no sewage or sanitation,” Leslie said. “We just don't know the answer...

“That's why it's so critical that we put together a real home for these kids, that they're educated. Father will take care of educating them spiritually, but the health care also becomes a real piece of it in this case.”

Since the earthquake, the Haitian government has put a halt to all adoptions, except those that were already pending, which also creates many questions.

“None of us really know what will happen, how the law will evolve and change,” Leslie said. “It wasn't unusual for an adoption to take two years (before the earthquake) when we knew the law. Now we don't know if there will be more legal requirements or less — especially when the government realizes it can't take care of the 500,000 orphans in Haiti.”

Kids helping kids

According to the people involved in the Wish for Haiti foundation, one of the most gratifying things throughout the ordeal has been the generosity of children.

Nick Metzler wrote, in an e-mail, that one youngster had been “saving for horse camp, but gave all her money to WFH. Jackson (Nick and Tracy's son) just told me he gave his $28 from his piggy bank ... with a smile.”

Leslie added that the Powell High School Student Council donated $850, and a high school in Castle Rock, Colo. set a goal of raising $5,000 for the Wish for Haiti foundation during their Make a Difference Week.

Several of their children's classes at school have organized fundraisers, such as the “Change for change in Haiti” drive in Haitian-born Linda's class — where students collected nearly $200 in loose change in a single week.

An elementary school in Thornton, Colo. raised $1,400 with a cupcake sale.

“Student involvement is so meaningful as kids are supporting other kids,” Leslie wrote in an e-mail. “Students are so inspiring and are always thinking and making a positive difference.”