News Articles

Orphanage refuses to turn people away

CABARET, Haiti (BP)–“When people come to us we cannot cross our hands” at the Cabaret Children’s Home, 30 miles north of Port-au-Prince, a Haitian worker there told the Jacksonville (Fla.) Baptist Association.

What Haitian worker Pierre Prinvil was saying, as interpreted by church and community director David Garret of the association, was, “When people come to us, we cannot cross our arms, meaning, we cannot turn them away.’ I got the visual of that. And he’s right.”

Despite the upheaval and aftershocks of the Jan. 12 earthquake, a newly built coastal highway route is clear all the way from Port-au-Prince, and communications and electricity at the children’s home are intact thanks to a satellite dish and solar panels.

But the only visitors to the compound -– who are arriving with their hands outstretched in need –- are hundreds from surrounding communities who lost their homes in the earthquake.

“Obviously feeding is going on for displaced folks [at the compound],” Garrett told the Florida Baptist Witness. “They are sharing their food with people who have nowhere else to be.”

Garrett said he initially told Prinvil, who works as the Jacksonville association’s onsite coordinator at the Cabaret compound, to “take it slow and budget” funds he had there for purchasing food. “I don’t know how soon I can get stuff to you,” Garrett recalled telling Prinvil in an e-mail.

Then came Prinvil’s response. Many of the older students at the school on the children’s home compound, for example, left classes on Jan. 19 to feed 160 young orphans gathered about a mile away in a nearby town that the earthquake had turned to rubble. The students made sandwiches of pita bread and peanut butter and cut them in pieces to distribute to the hungry younger children. This was likely their only meal of the day, Garrett said.

Members of nearby Bercy Baptist Church, meanwhile, have helped provide supplies for the orphanage and school. Garrett said he is not surprised by their response, yet he realizes that many could be giving away all they have.

“They are such a resilient people,” Garrett said. “They really do respond and recover and move on…. These are things that would make Americans throw up their hands and give up and say, ‘I can’t.'”

Even immediately after the earthquake, Garrett said he heard stories of churches getting together and singing, lifting the sounds of believers’ voices throughout the countryside, praising God.

In an answer to a query late Jan. 20 about food supply at the compound, Garrett said, “They haven’t mentioned the food today. I know the church pooled their money and bought more food supplies. I assume that won’t last long.”

Garrett said Prinvil, who served 23 years in the United States, has pulled together a seven-person team to prioritize the needs in the community. “And he’s never had a single class in disaster relief,” Garrett quipped.

Joking aside, Garrett said he is hopeful help can be provided to the Cabaret community soon. He plans to leave Jan. 27 with his wife Donnie along with a construction worker and a trauma nurse to assess what needs future teams can meet at the compound and in the community. Garrett said he believes the compound might prove a valuable site for teams needing shelter and communications facilities from which to stage operations for ongoing work in Haiti.

There are a number of reasons there are so many orphans and orphanages in Haiti, Garrett added. Citing AIDS, a high mortality rate, health conditions, large families, sex trafficking and abandonment, Garrett said some families simply cannot care for children and so orphanages take them in.

The Jan. 12 earthquake tore up a perimeter fence at the Cabaret compound and knocked over everything on the property that wasn’t fastened down. The compound’s buildings, however, were reported to be only superficially damaged.

The rolling boil of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake and its dozens of aftershocks sent screaming children and panicked adults running out of the three steel-reinforced buildings that comprise the compound’s orphanage, school and church.

“The children are scared, but that is understandable,” Garrett told the Witness, regarding the aftershocks.

A week after the quake, the 16 teachers at the school were set to continue classes on Jan. 19. Following an aftershock registering 6.1-magnitude which shook the region early the morning of Jan. 21, they were resuming classes inside the school. Everyone will continue to sleep outside, as advised by the government, Garrett said.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org):

— The Florida Baptist Convention has established a Haiti earthquake relief fund, available online at www.flbaptist.org. Donations also may be sent to Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Designate on check “Haitian Earthquake relief.” For more information, call 800-226-8584, ext. 3135; or 904-596-3135.

— The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.”

— Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan