Count the villages of Furcy and Les Cayes in Haiti as two more places that have friends and allies in Newtown. Newtown United Methodist Church members have been lending a hand to these villages since an earthquake ravished the Caribbean nation in 2010.
Newtown resident Amy Thomas is one such ally, who has volunteered her time and energy to assist the people of Haiti. She was one of nine volunteers who recently assisted the HELO orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti, in March.
Middlefield resident Elizabeth Kennedy and Pastor Jean Phares co-founded the orphanage, which consists of two homes. Each home provides care for 12 to 15 children and is managed by adult caretakers. Besides caring for orphaned or abandoned children, Ms Thomas explained that the orphanage is also dedicated to helping restaveks.
A restavek is a child who has been sold by his or her parents to wealthier Haitians and is expected to be a domestic servant. The privately funded orphanage buys the freedom of these indentured child servants and provides care for them. None of the children at the orphanage are available for adoption.
Ms Thomas said the main focus of the volunteers on their current trip was building a patio with a roof. Any extra room or space is greatly valued due to the crowded living conditions.
“It’s very crowded; the kids sleep in bunk beds, there are probably eight kids per room and that’s what their room is, their bunk beds,” Ms Thomas said. “There are no dressers or toys. It’s their beds, that’s it.”
The volunteers also built a goat pen, a rabbit hutch, and helped fix up a bathroom. Ms Thomas likened the volunteers’ role to that of day laborers.
“Our main task is usually hauling rocks and buckets of cement,” she said. “They have the knowledge of how they want to build, and we just do what we’re told.”
When they were not working, Ms Thomas said her group spent time with the children, playing games, teaching songs, and leading arts and crafts projects.
Ms Thomas’s most recent trip to Haiti was her third and she plans on going back to Haiti to assist the village of Furcy. That trip is scheduled for May 3-11, and is being organized by Mountains of Hope for Haiti (MHH), a taskforce set up and run by Pastors Tom and Wendy Vencuss of the United Methodist Church of Wethersfield. MHH has been sending volunteers, mostly from New York and Connecticut, to Haiti since 2003.
The seven volunteers going to Furcy in May will comprise members of Newtown United Methodist Church, including Newtown resident Don Singer. This is the second trip for Mr Singer, who said he plans on doing repairs to existing buildings such as the school, as well as provide food for the residents of Furcy.
“We’ll provide hot meals for the kids two days of the week and those meals will probably serve about 150 kids,” Mr Singer said.
Having done mission work in many locations in the United States, including the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mr Singer is drawn back to Haiti due to their extreme level of need.
“I have not been to one spot in this country, and I’ve traveled quite a bit, where conditions here are as bad as they are there,” Mr Singer said.
According to Mr Singer and Ms Thomas, many Haitians in the villages they visit do not have running water, refrigeration, or even access to school.
Ms Thomas said Haitian students must pay for their schooling, which inhibits attendance beyond a certain point. In one school in Les Cayes, for example, there are 72 children crammed into one kindergarten class. The students had no desks, only chairs. However, there were only ten students attending grade 12 in that same school. The attrition rate is mostly due to financial burdens. According to Ms Thomas even though the cost of one year of school is only $100, many Haitians cannot afford an education for their children.
Despite the challenging conditions, Mr Singer said the strength and gratitude of the Haitian people never cease to inspire him.
“You think you’re going there to help the people, but the people help you so much,” he said. “The cook there, her name is Madame Lulu, just sitting there all day long singing ‘Jesus Is My Savior.’ She sings it all day long content and happy with what’s she doing, at peace with the world, not sitting there crying over what she doesn’t have.”
Ms Thomas said her last trip to Haiti made her even more grateful for her life in America.
“It makes you very thankful and appreciative of where we live,” she said. “I came home late on a Saturday night in March and on Sunday morning my husband had the TV on and I heard the national anthem playing, and I burst out crying. People have no idea how good we have it.”
The scheduled trip to Furcy in May was funded mostly through donations and fundraising efforts, including a monthly breakfast held by the Newtown United Methodist Church. Ms Thomas said they are currently in the process of raising money for their supplies.
Anyone who would like to donate toward the group’s fundraising efforts for their Haiti trip can send checks made out to the Newtown United Methodist Church, with “Haiti Trip” in the memo, to 92 Church Hill Road, Sandy Hook CT 06482.
Ms Thomas warns people wishing to donate money to be careful about choosing an organization. She encourages people to donate through churches and said it is the best way “to get your dollars to the people.” She added that even small amounts of money can go a long way.
“In our terms of money it’s really inexpensive to send your child to school in Haiti, it’s $100 a year. That’s nothing to you and I, but to them, when you’re making less than $2 a day, that’s everything,” Ms Thomas said.