(This blog is about my experiences working and living aboard a 220’ treasure hunting ship, the M/V Sea Hunter).
As I awoke, I couldn’t help wondering what the orphanage would be like and how I would react. I have a soft spot for children and knowing these kids didn’t have a mom or dad broke my heart. I knew it would be rough, however, I decided to concentrate on the good.
First off, they had Father Marc Boisvert watching over them. All that I heard and read about him was wonderful. He was originally from Lewiston, Maine and was an ordained priest. He became a chaplain in the US Navy and while stationed in Miami in the early 90’s he came in contact with many men from Haiti. They were escaping their country in whatever type of boat would get them to America. Many were picked up by the Navy and taken to Guantanamo Bay. That is where Father Marc was assigned to minister to them, as he spoke fluent French and Creole.
He couldn’t believe the stories he was hearing from the young men, stories of absolute poverty. Upon researching, he learned that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and third poorest in the entire world. He developed a bond with these men and was pulled to visit Haiti and see it for himself. In 1997 he took a leave of absence and flew to Port-au-Prince. It was beyond what he imagined! He was overwhelmed with the things he saw, absolute filth was everywhere, children playing in open sewage and begging for food in the streets. People were living in run down shacks with no water or electricity. But, the thing that struck him the most was the overall attitude of the Haitian people. Though they lived in complete shambles, they had joy in their hearts. His heart was taken right there and then. He knew this was his life’s mission.
Upon returning to the states he put in his resignation. He sold all his possessions and headed back to Haiti on January 1, 1998. He took to the streets and within months he and a few young men opened a small soup kitchen, school and shelter for 15 young orphans. The kids called it “Pwoje Espwa” which in creole stands for Project Hope.
As word got out more and more kids came for help. Father Marc was offered an abandoned building that was rat infested, to use as an orphanage. With some help he cleaned it up and it quickly grew to 60 children.
With the help of his brother in law back in the states, a nonprofit was formed (Theo’s work) to help fund Project Hope. With this help, by September 2000, he opened a school knowing he could provide a safer and less expensive place than what was currently available in Haiti. Before long it grew to two schools, a bigger orphanage and soup kitchen. There were 125 children living in the orphanage and 250 other children from nearby neighborhoods that came daily to school.
Father Marc’s goal was to find a permanent place outside the city where the kids would have clean air and room to play. By 2002, enough money was raised to buy 125 acres, approximately 20 miles outside the city of Les Cayes. It was named “Villaj Espwa” which stands for “Hope Village”.
Today, Hope Village houses over 750 girls and boys. They farm vegetables for food. They have dormitories, schools, vocational training and a clinic. Each week day an additional 1000 children come to attend school and get a meal.
Greg, Gary, Alex, Julia and I climbed into Mini Me (Sea Hunter’s tender)
to head to the dock. Once there we waited for the van to arrive that would take us to Hope Village. The very first thing I noticed was the endless trash hugging the shoreline. It was at least a couple feet thick and high and seemed to go on forever. The dock was in total disrepair with giant holes throughout it. We noticed an abandoned outdoor bar area that had a couple plastic seats scattered around. We all found a chair and sat to wait. There were quite a few Haitians on the dock and they started to beg. There were boys as young as seven or so that were barefoot and dirty. I cannot explain the feelings that go through you when you look into the eyes of a child that has nothing and thinks you have everything. It was very difficult to control my emotions.
When the van finally drove up, we all squeezed in for the long ride. I stared out the window and watched as the old shacks got fewer and fewer as we headed into the countryside. Trying to digest the dire conditions outside the window and the eyes of the begging boys and men that we encountered on the dock, I suddenly realized that this trip would forever change who I was.