Haitian Orphanage Finds Grace In A Time Of Despair

Canadian sailors build temporary structures at the Christian School and Orphanage of Leogane, Haiti i i

The Canadian navy and a U.S. aid organization are working together to rebuild the Christian School and Orphanage of Leogane in Haiti. Here, Canadian sailors work on one of three new bunkhouses that will replace the orphanage until a more permanent, and earthquake- and hurricane-proof structure can be built. David Schaper/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Schaper/NPR
Canadian sailors build temporary structures at the Christian School and Orphanage of Leogane, Haiti

The Canadian navy and a U.S. aid organization are working together to rebuild the Christian School and Orphanage of Leogane in Haiti. Here, Canadian sailors work on one of three new bunkhouses that will replace the orphanage until a more permanent, and earthquake- and hurricane-proof structure can be built.

David Schaper/NPR

In earthquake-decimated Haiti, huge piles of rubble remain virtually untouched. But a surprising sight is tucked away in the rural plains just outside of the coastal city of Leogane: Workers are busy constructing two small, wood-frame buildings.

The Canadian military and a U.S.-based aid group are working together to rebuild an orphanage.

It is one of the first signs of rebuilding in an area that was reduced almost entirely to rubble in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

On a recent day, Pastor Jean Claude Charlier stands where the Christian School and Orphanage of Leogane crumbled on top of him.

Charlier says he was in his office when the ground started to tremble, so he ran for the stairs and tried to grab a girl in the hallway.

The bricks fell on top of him, trapping him and the girl. Charlier says he was freed that night; the girl wasn't dug out until the next night. But both suffered only minor injuries.

The rest of the children, he says, were at recess, outside playing when the quake struck.

"All the kids survived, grace of God," Charlier says through a translator.

Pastor Jean Claude Charlier and Memgo guy Marie Michelle i i

Pastor Jean Claude Charlier (left) and Memgo guy Marie Michelle, one of the orphans, were trapped when the earthquake struck. Both were rescued, with minor injuries. All of the other children were outside at recess, and no one else was injured. David Schaper/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Schaper/NPR
Pastor Jean Claude Charlier and Memgo guy Marie Michelle

Pastor Jean Claude Charlier (left) and Memgo guy Marie Michelle, one of the orphans, were trapped when the earthquake struck. Both were rescued, with minor injuries. All of the other children were outside at recess, and no one else was injured.

David Schaper/NPR

Pat Bradley, president and founder of the St. Louis based-group International Crisis Aid, says they were among the first aid workers to arrive in Leogane, about 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince. His group arrived five days after the quake and found the area was about 95 percent in ruins, he says.

They worked their way to an outlying area and discovered what little was left of the orphanage.

"The day that we got here, we checked the storage. They had about a two-day supply of food left for 100 children. Kids are sleeping all over the grounds, no shelter, just out in the open. Everything was completely destroyed, and we made a decision on the spot that this is a project we're going to take on and basically completely tear it down and rebuild it," Bradley says.

He says a nearby Canadian military unit asked what they could do to help. The rebuilding operation soon began.

"The Canadian army is involved with us. The [Canadian] navy is sending guys in every day to build structures. Our goal was to get, within the next two weeks, to build enough structures, shelters so we can have the kids sleeping in a building," Bradley says.

The temporary bunkhouses will each sleep 16 to 18 children; they are scheduled to be completed long before the rainy season starts in the spring. The first two should be completed by Thursday.

John Dunn, a Canadian sailor from the HMCS Athabaskan, calls the project "awesome."

"Out of all the things you could do, this is probably one of the most fulfilling because it's for the kids," Dunn says.

Another sailor, Andrea Rouhoniemi, says that because of the grim duties they have been assigned to since the quake, there is a bit of competition on the ship for this work.

The Canadians also brought in heavy equipment to remove the rubble of the old orphanage, where Bradley says International Crisis Aid will build a new one.

"When we rebuild, we plan to double the size because we know there will be a lot more orphans, because Leogane was totally destroyed," he says.

Already, the orphanage has taken in 10 or 15 more children whose parents were either killed in the earthquake or can no longer care for them.

With so much destruction all around and despair, with many people not knowing where to even begin to clean up, Bradley says this rebuilding project is serving as a small sign of hope.

Memgo guy Marie Michelle, the 13-year-old girl trapped for 24 hours after the quake, says it's a beautiful thing that will help the children, another blessing from God, like her own rescue.

Charlier, the pastor, says he knew God would send him refuge after the quake, but he didn't think it would come so soon.

With faith and by the grace of God, he says, not only will his orphanage will be rebuilt, but all of Leogane, and all of Haiti, too.

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