Ten years ago this month, just two days after an earthquake devastated the Caribbean island of Haiti, Co-op member Sheila Humphreys and then-deli clerk Mariam Diallo began a conversation that led to a decade-long connection between our community and Foyer Evangelique Orphanage (OFEU) in Haiti.
Mariam knew that she wanted to work with earthquake orphans. With her experience working with orphans in her homeland of Mali and fluent French, she was the ideal person to take on this challenging mission. Inspired, Co-op employees began fundraising to buy Mariam’s ticket.
In June, 2010, granted leave by the Co-op, Mariam began a 6-week stay in Haiti, giving her a new perspective on life and hope. With no running water, Haitians used outdoor toilets, lived in tents, and waited in long lines for clean water and food. Despite the misery around them, Mariam found the children happy and full of music, singing songs of hope. She wrote, “You don’t have to have much to be happy. That’s one thing that I learned. We have a lot here, we take everything for granted. We should be happy with what we have and we should not forget about others who don’t have enough.”
Mariam remembers watching a dozen children divide a single stick of gum into pieces so everyone could enjoy some. “It didn’t matter how big the piece was, it was just everybody wanted to taste the gum.” Her love for these children was contagious. In the years ahead, the Co-op became a strong supporter, with donations through the Bag-a-bean program, gift certificates for events, and donated meeting space.
When Mariam learned from orphanage founder Pastor Duckens that lack of financial resources made it impossible for him to continue, Diallo spearheaded a fundraising campaign to provide food, medicine, education, etc. for these children. The organization evolved into the non-profit Haiti Orphanage Sponsorship Trust (HOST). Under the volunteer leadership of Sheila Humphreys and a board of directors, HOST raises almost $70,000 annually. With 31 children in residence, ranging from 10 years old to late teens, HOST is committed to supporting these children through high school graduation. HOST currently has 60 sponsors, 20% of whom live in southern Vermont. Sponsors meet 65% of OFEU’s needs.
In the past few months, protests, road blocks, and violence have created a dire economic crisis. Pastor Duckens writes, “Thanks to the generosity of HOST friends, the children at OFEU are able to eat three times a day, despite high inflation. With your donations, you are making a difference by saving vulnerable children! Thank you very much for your generosity! I have faith that the situation of Haiti with all these demonstrations and blocked roads will stop soon to allow people to get back to work and produce enough for their survival in this country that is already too poor.”
HOST seeks donations and sponsorships to continue their work. Checks can be made payable to Trusteeship Institute and mailed to 36 Cedar Street, Brattleboro, VT 05301.