During a week in which the world was talking about the racist comments allegedly made by U.S. President Donald Trump, in which he targeted the nation of Haiti, one Langford resident was speaking to the local Rotary Club about Haiti, and doing his best to help that island nation.
It was eight years ago almost to the day, that Langford Mayor Stew Young called then-Fire Chief Bob Beckett and put into motion an effort that would see Beckett and a team of firefighters and RCMP members from the West Shore travel to Haiti in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake.
When they arrived, they discovered the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage had been destroyed and the 50 children who had been housed there were in danger of returning to the streets and were sleeping on the ground without food or water.
Efforts were launched in Langford and more than $250,000 was raised to rebuild that orphanage and ensure the long-term sustainability of the facility.
The City continues to support that orphanage, funding the facility’s administrative costs, according to Beckett.
“In 2013 a Quebec Provincial Police officer identified another orphanage, Divine Hands Orphanage, that was in similar need and we got to work on the project to rebuild and support that facility,” Beckett explained.
Both orphanages also received support from the Westshore Sunrise Rotary Club, which combined forces with another club last year to form the Rotary Club of West Shore.
“These are proud people who, despite more hardships than we can imagine, continue to live with dignity. You see parents who have virtually nothing, but when they send their children to school they are clean as a whistle and their clothes are spotless. They could teach us something about strength and dignity.”
Beckett’s current appeal is aimed at signing up 160 sponsors, willing to donate $25 a month for two years. He and other volunteers, including retired RCMP officer Bruce Brown, are hoping these funds will help to make the orphanage entirely self sufficient.
Similar efforts with the Baby Jesus of Prague Orphanage allowed for the development of an egg-laying project in which the orphanage keeps chickens and sells the eggs to locals, and a bakery where bread and buns are sold.
“I’m hoping that the Rotary Club of Westshore Sunrise and others will step up once again and make this important work possible,” Beckett said.
The work of which he speaks has been made all the more critical since Hurricane Matthew swept across the country in 2016.
Beckett noted Haiti has still not fully recovered from the devastation of the earthquake that destroyed so much of the country and that now the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that many aid organizations and the United Nations relief teams have largely pulled out.
“There are 52 children at the Divine Hands Orphanage and, without help, they face the possibility of being put out on the street. We can’t let that happen,” Beckett said.
As for Trump’s disparaging comments about Haitians, Beckett feels they are based in a lack of understanding of the bigger picture.
“We help these people because, if we don’t, we all suffer the consequences. Desperate people do desperate things and that’s true of people everywhere. We all want security, a roof over their heads and a chance to feed and educate their children. That’s the same no matter what colour or religion. We have to look beyond our borders and consider that the world is one community.”
Anyone wishing to contribute to the orphanage project can reach out to the Rotary Club of West Shore for more information on how to get involved – portal.clubrunner.ca/1897.