Lincoln church aiding Haitian orphanage
LINCOLN — At the United Church of Lincoln they’re known as the “Orphanage Angels.”
Last month, their luggage full-up with supplies and their hearts full-up with love, Patrice Wassmann and Karen Wheeler boarded a plane bound for Caribbean nation of Haiti.
Their destination: L’Orphelinat Notre-Dame de Perpetuel Secours, eight miles north of Port-au-Prince.
Arriving in a country still struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, they discovered that their hotel had no electricity or running water. And their prepaid international data plans for their phones didn’t work because there was no cell reception.
“It was a real eye-opener,” said Wheeler, who had never been to Haiti before.
PATRICE WASSMANN OF Lincoln has returned to the Haiti several times sine 2010 to help coordinate the Lincoln church’s support of the orphanage.
Photo courtesy of Karen Wheeler
But the director of Notre-Dame, Father Jonel Bourdeau, welcomed them with open arms.
For a week Wassmann and Wheeler stayed at the orphanage, working and playing with the children, helping when and where they could. They distributed 50 pairs of the Shoe That Grows, a type of durable adjustable footwear that expands up to five sizes — perfect for growing children. They delivered to Father Bourdeau money raised for Notre-Dame by the United Church of Lincoln. They even distributed bubble gum, which was donated by congregation members Jane and Steve Cooper, so the kids could learn the simple pleasure of blowing a bubble.
In a land without pancakes or waffles Wassmann and Wheeler did have to get creative with the maple syrup they’d brought, courtesy of UCOL members Don and Jody Gale, but they soon discovered that cornmeal is an excellent vehicle for delivering a sweet dose of Vermont gold.
The United Church of Lincoln has been supporting Notre-Dame since 2011.
Wassmann, a semi-retired nurse and Lincoln resident, first heard about the orphanage while visiting Haiti to help out after the earthquake. On a subsequent trip a few months later, she saw Notre-Dame for the first time.
“They had no food,” she said. “Kids were sick with mumps and staph infections. They were sleeping on the floor of a rented building.” The nearest water source, the village well, was a half-mile away, she added.
Wassmann has returned several times over the years and has been helping coordinate UCOL’s support of the orphanage, which includes money for food, supplies and modest employee salaries.
During that time, a number of other donors and nonprofits have come forward, as well. Dr. Patricia Back of Cincinnati purchased land for a new building, and Sustainable Orphanages for Haitian Youth, run by Staten Island native Elaine Brower, continues to raise money and awareness.
“Things are much better for the kids now,” Wassmann said. “They had been sick before, but now they’re healthy.”
BRISTOL RESIDENT KAREN Wheeler, bottom left, visits with new friends at the Orphanage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, last month. Sponsored by the United Church of Lincoln, Wheeler and fellow congregant Patrice Wassmann delivered donations to the orphanage and spent a week there helping out.
Notre-Dame now has its own well, so the children don’t have to carry five-gallon buckets back and forth across the village. They also have a rain-barrel shower and three flushing toilets.
The orphanage is at the moment home to 24 children, whose individual stories can be found on the Sustainable Orphanages for Haitian Youth website. Someday, Wassmann and Wheeler said, Father Bourdeau would like to accommodate as many as 50 youngsters.
“They function as a family,” Wassmann said. “They do chores together. The older kids help the younger kids. They share toys.”
Though Notre-Dame is an orphanage, “many of the kids are not technically orphans,” said Wheeler, a Bristol resident. “Their families cannot afford to feed them, so sometimes the best they can do is send them to an orphanage.”
During their visit, Wassmann and Wheeler traveled to the mountains with a trio of young girls who hadn’t seen their birth family for three years. They came bearing much-needed gifts of food, shoes, books and cash.
After four years of helping raise funds for Notre-Dame, Wheeler decided she needed to see it for herself:
“Last fall I just decided: I need to go. I needed to make a personal connection with this place I’d been hearing about and supporting.”
Wassmann was eager to re-establish her own connection, she said, to “get eyes on it, assess needs, let them know we care enough about them to visit.”
CREATING A WISH LIST
Now that they have returned, they’re working on a fundraising wish list.
“Our first goal is to raise $15,000 in the next couple of months for a roof for the house and school,” Wheeler said.
She plans to organize photographs and recollections from their trip into a fundraising presentation, and to solicit help from other churches.
“All it would take would be for 15 churches to raise $1,000 each,” she said.
Next on their wish list is solar power, to help reduce the orphanage’s need for a propane-fueled generator that’s too small to run all the time.
“They use the generator for a couple of hours a day in the evening for lights and to cool off the small refrigerator,” Wheeler said. “Obviously they can’t keep much in it other than water and juice, since it is only on for a short time each day.”
Items they hope to fund further in the future include a septic tank (which would have to be dug by hand), an expansion of the kitchen and maybe even a second story and quarters for volunteers.
Notre-Dame has profoundly changed the way Wassmann and Wheeler experience the world, they said.
“Everything I do, I stop and think about it: teeth brushing, dishwashing, just everything,” Wheeler said.
“When I go to rummage sales, I think to myself, ‘This dress would be great for this person, or these shoes…’” Wassmann said.
Meanwhile, Father Bourdeau continues his work at Notre-Dame, slowly but surely.
A 2015 fundraising video captures his work perfectly:
“Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li — Little by little the bird builds its nest.”
For more information about L’Orphelinat Notre-Dame de Perpetuel Secours, visit sustainableorphanagesforhaiti.com.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
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