PITTSBURGH – A group of 13 volunteers will soon depart for a mission trip to Haiti where they will help build an open-air school for orphans and organize a soccer camp.
The Yahve-Jire Children’s Foundation organized the trip, which will depart on July 2 and return on July 8. The organization’s name means “God provides,” and the foundation supports about 25 children who were orphaned or abandoned by their parents. The mission trip includes two seniors from South Fayette High School.
The foundation was organized as a 501c3 non-profit in 2013 but Dan Raeder, president of Yahve-Jire, says he and several other volunteers first began working in Haiti on an informal basis in 2011. Raeder and four others went to Haiti to help rebuild in the wake of 2010 earthquake which killed 200,000 Haitians and left more than 1.5 million homeless.
Raeder and the other volunteers began working with an orphanage a few miles outside of the capital, Port au Prince, which housed about 20 children in a building with three rooms and one bathroom. The earthquake had damaged the orphanage and Raeder and the other volunteers wanted to construct a new building to replace it. A local man named Chedlin Justinvil runs the orphanage and had purchased about 4 acres of land shortly before the earthquake devastated Haiti. In 2011, Raeder and the other volunteers carried cement blocks in 100-degree heat in order to build a wall around the new location.
Construction of the new orphanage was recently completed and it includes dormitories, a kitchen, and bathrooms. The dormitories are dome-like structures that are more resistant to earthquakes, Raeder says. The upcoming mission trip will build an open-air school so that the children can continue their education. They had previously been attending a school in Port au Prince which is only eight miles away. However, the roads are in poor condition and the journey could take several hours, so Justinvil and the foundation’s board members decided to build an open-air classroom adjacent to the orphanage.
The mission trip will also host a soccer camp for the orphanage as well as other local children. Previously, the South Fayette High School soccer team donated uniforms, cleats and shin guards. The soccer camp will include drills and a scrimmage between the Haiti children and the mission trip volunteers.
“It gives them a chance to be normal kids,” Raeder says.
For several years, the foundation has sent another mission trip in the spring, which provides educational and medical services. An oral surgeon from Mt. Lebanon and several residents from Allegheny General Hospital helped extract more than 300 teeth earlier this year. Robert Morris University and South Fayette Middle School also donated several hundred hygiene kits, which included toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap, which were distributed. Denise Ford, of South Fayette, is a member of the foundation’s board and has taken two of her daughters on the spring mission trip several times.
“These teeth are black and rotted,” Ford says. “Pulling teeth avoids infections so people live.”
This year, the summer mission trip also included a vision clinic and volunteers distributed donated prescription eyeglasses, reading lenses and sunglasses to several hundred patients.
“It was difficult at first but with much laughter we figured it out and measured each person,” Ford says.
Ford and her daughters also provided English and French lessons when they visited in the spring. Most of the orphans speak creole, which is a blend of French, Spanish and African influences, but French and English are the languages of business and politics.
“There is a craving to learn English and French,” Ford says.
Other priorities include providing a reliable source of electricity to the orphanage, because there have been frequent power outages in Haiti. Raeder says the foundation will either purchase a generator or install solar panels. Recently, the orphanage went a week without power.
The orphanage is also trying to become more self-sufficient, Raeder says. The orphanage has a herd of about 15 to 20 goats, which are sold or consumed. Raeder says the orphanage is also exploring microfinance options and experimental agricultural projects. The foundation hosts an event every October, which is the group’s major annual fundraiser. The new orphanage can house up to 50 and Raeder says he hopes the foundation can secure enough funding to accommodate more children.
Raeder says there is still tremendous need for help because Haiti still faces a number of obstacles, including an ongoing drought that began last year. That has caused food prices to skyrocket, and starvation has increased, Raeder says. In addition, Raeder says the Haitian government is completely ineffective because the president stepped down in February but no successor has been selected. All this has led to more desperation and Haiti is becoming more dangerous, Raeder says. Every year Haitian mothers beg the mission trip volunteers to take their children back to the United States.
“I think Haiti has been forgotten,” Raeder says.
In addition, Haiti is one of the most corrupt nations in the world, so the mission trip volunteers each take 100 pounds of supplies with them on the plane to avoid theft. The foundation has no overhead or administrative costs so every dollar goes to the orphans, Raeder says.
“Our measurables are our kids,” he says.
Despite all these obstacles, Raeder says the foundation is committed to making a difference in Haiti.
“This is personal,” he says. “We know these children. This is never going away for us. We watched these kids grow up.”
Ford agrees and says she will never give up. Despite all the hardships they face, Ford says the orphans and Haitians in general remain joyful.
“We are blessed and privileged to be with the children,” she says. “They are not blessed to be with me.”
The foundation has also pledged to help the children at the orphanage obtain college degrees and several of them want to become doctors, engineers or nurses.
“They can become strong Haitian people who can help their country,” Ford says.
Raeder agrees and asks “If we can do that, can you imagine what would happen?”
For more information visit: http://yj-haitiorphans.org/