When Tom Duquette returned from a visit to Haiti earlier this month, he had one main regret: He couldn’t bring back some of the children from the orphanage he went there to paint.
Duquette, of Gulfport, spent four days working in the northern port city of Cap-Haitien. It was his first visit to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and his tenth mission trip abroad to help underprivileged people.
“What an eye-opener for me,” he said of the extreme poverty of the community in general and the dire conditions at the Stella House orphanage in particular. “You come back here and you go ‘All these things people complain about …’”
Duquette, who has his own home-improvement business, flew to Cap-Haitien March 6 with Ed Flory of Seminole and Al Smith of Largo, whom he knows through his church. In addition to supplies to paint most of the inside and outside of the house, the men collected 17 boxes of clothes and about 1,000 pounds of rice for the orphans.
They shipped the items on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that stops at Cap-Haitien and which not only delivered the supplies free of charge but also donated a large amount of clothing. The three paid their own way and took all the food and water they needed during their visit.
There are 38 orphans, ages 2 to 21 living at Stella House, Duquette said. When they arrive, the woman who runs the orphanage, whom Duquette knew as Romanda, makes up new names for them. The children don’t own any clothes; they wear whatever is available in the communal “pile.” Their food consists largely of inexpensive carbohydrates, like rice and corn.
“They all need skills,” he said, adding that when they age out of the orphanage, which most do at 18, they are out on the street with “virtually no hope.”
Lacking the love of a family, the children blossomed under any kind of attention they got from the Florida visitors, Duquette said. In addition to teaching them how to paint, the men spent time with them playing games and showing them how to take photographs.
“What I was most impressed with about those kids is they were so eager to help and get involved and do things,” he said.
The men are already planning their next trip to the orphanage in January and have a list of needed repairs. Their priorities include the electrical system (there has already been one electrical fire), light fixtures, windows and doors.
“We’re going back to do more construction kind of work,” Duquette said. “This was more cosmetic.”
All photos courtesy of Al Smith