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Nine years after Haiti earthquake, a couple continues transforming lives

Nonprofit has ties to Brattleboro community and needs our help

Ann Newsmith is a world traveler and retired educator who lives in West Brattleboro. She also sponsors a child at the Foyer Evangelique Orphanage and volunteers locally with H.O.S.T., Groundworks, Hospice, and Girls on the Run. For more information or to make a donation, visit orphelinatfoyerevangelique.org or contact Sheila Humphreys at hostvermont@gmail.com.

Brattleboro

Shortly after a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, tens of thousands of children were left homeless, abandoned or without family.

In Croix-des-Bouquets, Pastor Duckens Janvier, and his wife, Madame Deslourdes, opened their home and their hearts to 40 orphaned and homeless children. Duckens and Delourdes are Mami and Papi to these children, who live with the Janviers and the couple’s three biological children on less than half an acre of land.

By chance, Brattleboro resident Mariam Diallo met Duckens during a visit to Haiti six months after the earthquake and witnessed firsthand the pastor and his family’s remarkable work, as well as the extraordinary unmet needs of these children.

Learning from Duckens that “the lack of capital and the extreme poverty” in his community made it impossible for him to continue his work, Diallo spearheaded a fundraising campaign in Brattleboro to help provide food, medicine, education, and other essentials for these children.

Diallo’s organization evolved into the nonprofit Haiti Orphanage Sponsorship Trust (HOST, a division of the Trusteeship Institute), and under the leadership of local resident Sheila Humphreys and a board of directors, all volunteers, the group works to identify the children’s most pressing needs, to raise funds to meet them, and to promote collaboration with other organizations in Haiti.

With 34 children currently in residence, ranging from 9 years old to late teens, HOST is committed to supporting them through high school graduation, and therefore its mission is about halfway completed.

Currently HOST has 60 sponsors, a dozen of whom live in southern Vermont, who each contribute from $5 to $150 per month for a total of $40,000 per year. Nevertheless, only 65 percent of the orphanage’s needs are being met through HOST’s sponsorship program, and Duckens and Delourdes contribute money from their own salaries each month, in addition to caring for the children in their home, to make sure that all the critical needs are covered.

HOST is actively seeking additional sponsors to join the network of support and help meet all of the needs of the children.

Humphreys, who will be making her seventh visit to Haiti next month, says: “It is incredibly inspiring and humbling to witness how these children’s lives are being transformed.”

She will gratefully accept donations to purchase bedding, tools, books, tools for after-school carpentry classes, and other needed items during her visit.

* * *

Humphreys outlines some tangible results of this work:

Health/nutrition: Over the past eight years, we’ve seen the children go from eating only one meal a day of rice or corn meal to eating three meals a day, which now include beans, eggs, milk, peanut butter, meat, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

They’ve gone from drinking contaminated water that had to be carried in buckets from a community well down the road to having their own well and water purification system on the property.

Their caregivers have overcome the need to make impossible decisions about paying for medical treatment for one child or buying food to feed all the children to knowing that HOST’s medical fund will cover everyone’s medical needs.

Education: We’ve seen the children progress from being illiterate and unable do basic math to performing well and sometimes even excelling in school.

We’ve seen their opportunities grow through after-school tutoring and a vocational training program where they are learning sewing, carpentry, English, and other skills to prepare them for the workforce.

We’ve seen them gain confidence and pride through a grant-funded music program that has provided instruments and music instruction for the past three years. The experience of learning to play music has been profoundly healing for the children, and they are becoming talented musicians who perform regularly for their community.

Comfort/safety: The children have gone from sleeping on the concrete floor of an empty classroom to having several rooms in a dormitory with their own bunk beds with sheets and pillows. Latrines have been replaced with composting toilets, and coal cookstoves converted to propane.

Love and support: These children suffered tremendous losses as a result of the 2010 earthquake, and over the years we’ve seen them form new bonds with one another and with their dedicated caregivers, not to mention their sponsors in Vermont.

On Dec. 23, the oldest girl at the orphanage, now finished with high school, married her fiancé. Their wedding was held on the grounds of the orphanage, and Duckens and Delourdes helped her celebrate her special day as if they were her true parents.

Delourdes made her a beautiful wedding cake, and all of the children were in attendance, along with members of the community.

It was beautiful to see the love on everyone’s faces as they celebrated together.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #496 (Wednesday, February 6, 2019). This story appeared on page D3.

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