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Be inspired by the communities in Haiti. Listen to their stories.

A participant of Chache Lavi (Seeking Life)

To improve the conditions in Lamardelle, Foundation Enfant Jesus (FEJ) has started several projects in the community to benefit different types of people. There has been a positive impact of those who have been affected by our programs.

To give you a chance to understand some of effects we’ve had on the community, we will share the story of a woman we’ve impacted.

Mania Vilbrun is forty years old. She has four children, nineteen year old girl named Sandra. Mania lives in Jacquet with her daughter and two grandchildren, Loveka and Evens. Mania’s husband died when Sandra was a baby. The lonely mother struggled day to day to provide for her children.

Before Mania joined the program, she was abandoned, homeless and jobless. She had a difficulty feeding her children. Then, she was selected, along with other women, to join the micro-finance program, which is a social and financial integration activity for poor women in Lamardelle. Women selected to be in this program are mothers with children at the School Enfant Jesus and females with connections to FEJ.

The program equips them with the necessary tools to achieve financial independence by developing their investment and entrepreneurship capacity. Mania received financial support that allowed her to trade to support herself and her family.

In addition, Mania received other help from FEJ. The foundation has built her a two-room house. Now, Mania is grateful for the Foundation. She says, "This is a priceless gift. This beautiful house allows me to live in peace, quietly and safely. I'm very proud of it. "

Sandra has graduated from Ecole Enfant Jesus and also, works at the MEAL program (Mere en Action a Lamardelle). The two grandchildren are students of the EEJ.

Mania is currently a Foundation employee Her salary helps her take care of her family. She has said, “Thanks to my employment, I can push my daughter in high school. I have no words to thank, all the officials from the Foundation for all the support and benefits my family and I receive within the foundation."

Child in FEJ Milk and Medicine Program

Sandra is the daughter of Marlene and Monsevoir Legrand. She’s 10 years old and lives in Troupeau. Sandra doesn’t go to school because she has a speech impediment and possibly, is mentally delayed, which demands more attention from her mother. Sandra is fragile and weak; she can only stand for a short period of time for her legs are not strong enough to support her. Sandra walked for the first time at nine years old. She joined the nutrition program of the Community Clinic Enfant Jésus.

Marlene, Sandra's mother, lives alone with her four children. The two older kids go to school, the other two, including Sandra, stay at home. Marlene sells vegetables, which only earns about $11 USD per week. While she is working, she leaves her children with her sister, who stays home to take care of her own children. Marlene associates the health condition of her daughter to an evil voodoo ritual.

Marlene is more than happy that two of her children joined the CCEJ nutrition program. Due to her low income, she would certainly not have been able to afford a malnutrition treatment for her children. Sandra was admitted into the program weighing 13kg and now weighs 19kg. Marlene says the nutrition program has helped her children medically. It was also a relief that she did not have to add the cost of the treatment to her budget, which is already too heavy on her shoulders. Marlene was able to receive nutrition training and training on other issues to increase her knowledge to give better care to her children.

Meet them where they are.

This was the single best piece advice given to me prior to my first trip to Haiti. I’ve been lucky to be tapped to be on the board of the foundation that USGBC is building the William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center in Port au Prince in partnership with. The WJC Center in Haiti is a project I’ve always been excited about – even when it was known by its decidedly less interesting former moniker “Project Haiti”. One of the things you give up when you take a job like the one I have at USGBC is substantial direct involvement with a complete building project. I interact with hundreds of unbelievably great LEED projects and project teams every year but my involvement is temporary and most often as part of problem solving of one kind or another – technology that’s never been used, circumstances for which no precedent exists, a new way of achieving the intent of a credit that doesn’t line up directly with the existing requirements. I love this work – it keeps us all engaged and continually expands the way we think about how LEED can best accomplish the goals we’ve created it for. But you can’t point to something and say, “I built that”. Being part of a project team that’s building something again is hugely exciting. When you factor in the work that Foundation Enfant Jesus (our partner in Haiti and the group that will run the center) does and it’s not only exciting but also humbling and inspiring all at once.

So, when the time came for me to make the first of what I am hoping will be many trips to Haiti over the course of my tenure on the FEJ board and the construction of the Clinton Children’s Center, I felt really solid about the idea of the building – I’m a buildings guy and I’d like to believe that I understand them reasonably well. In spite of the very solid sense that working in Haiti is no easy task (we met with some Architecture for Humanity folks who told us the story of the “security” they employed on one project – they hired the gang that runs the part of Port au Prince the project is in) it’s a building and I think I’ll be able to contribute.

Still I was nervous. FEJ runs a school, a clinic, a women’s empowerment vocational training center and an orphanage. I’m familiar with some of the heart wrenching stories of the kids FEJ has saved (that’s not a euphemism or metaphor for anything - FEJ literally saves the lives of the children they facilitate adoptions for). And I’ve seen poverty but I haven’t ever rolled up my sleeves and gotten my hands dirty trying to fix it.

It’s for this reason I was intimidated by the reality on the ground in Haiti and I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to handle the emotional challenge that comes with actually being in the mix versus being an observer.

So I asked Wendy (my wife and the mother of our two kids) about it. Wendy is a licensed clinical social worker who spent 15 years working with K-8 kids in the Bronx and DC who have their own different but equally heart wrenching stories. Helping special needs kids is what she’ll go back to when our kids are a bit older. To say that she’s got a bit more experience than I ever will working with kids who are struggling to overcome the hands that life has dealt them is hilariously understating it. I think she thought my trepidation was amusing in the same way I think of people who think true technical genius is knowing the right way to install an exhaust fan. She married an engineer, I’m working on it but people and emotions still aren’t my thing, so she indulged me anyway.

Her advice was simple – and as it turns out immensely powerful but to me it was anything but obvious.

Wendy told me to meet them where they are.

As it turns out that advice coupled with one other factor might be all you need. The other factor is being smiled at/ tackled by/ hugged/ tickled by/ sung to/ cried at/danced for/ smiled at/ kissed/ climbed/ giggled to/ petted/ smiled at/ shouted to and at/ smiled at/ and clung to by 25 kids ranging from 23[1]days to 6 years old who have been placed with adoptive families by FEJ and are just waiting out the administrative and bureaucratic clock before they get to be with their new families. The FEJ crèche in Kenscoff – which in my head was a place of profound sadness and heartbreak is anything but that. In hindsight, I don’t honestly think I’ve been so wrong about something in my entire life.

Still though, the situation in Haiti outside the Kenscoff crèche is staggeringly, paralyzingly challenging. Haiti, in my novice estimation, is impossible on just about every level.
It’s impossibly beautiful.
It’s impossibly (and continually) devastated.
It’s people are impossibly inspiring and vibrant.
It’s buildings, roads, bridges and infrastructure are impossibly terrible.
It’s government is impossibly corrupt.
It’s beer, mangos and rum are impossibly delicious.
It’s history is impossibly sad.
It’s future, I am convinced in spite of all evidence, is impossibly bright.

Which brings me to the point of this whole thing. FEJ, the on the ground organization that’s doing all this great work has a need. I’m actually somewhat delighted to say that it’s not orphans. FEJ now has more families interested in adopting then they have children for. There needs are for the school. They have about 300 kids who need a sponsor and this is a personal plea for help. $30 a month sponsors a student[2] at the Lamardelle school covering books and school supplies, school fees, 2 meals per day, school uniforms and after school enrichment programs.

If you have the capacity, you’ll be changing someone’s life. We need your help. I hope you’ll consider it.

Please ask me any questions you might have – we have stories of the kids to share. Also, if you are able to sponsor a student please, if you’re comfortable, let me know so I can at least try, understanding that nothing I can do will be enough relative to the magnitude of the change you made, to thank you.
This ended up being quite a bit longer than I thought it would be when I started. Thanks for hanging in.