On a Mission: Haiti 2018

When living in a country like Canada, it is easy to forget so many of our daily conveniences are really luxuries – and we take them for granted. Our day-to-day focus can easily tip towards things like the line-up at Tim Hortons being too slow, and not that we’re blessed to have food options on every corner; or when the shower runs out of hot water, and not that we have clean running water in the first place; and to expect Wi-Fi and A/C. Now, head on a flight south toward the Republic of Haiti and you will quickly discover the difference between first-world and third-world problems.With about 78% of people living below the poverty line, Haiti is ranked as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest countries in the world. Much of the population, particularly in secluded rural areas, suffer from widespread unemployment and live on less than $2/day. Their infrastructure is extremely underdeveloped and accessible services, particularly healthcare, is near impossible to find. The need for reliable food, water, sanitation, and housing is immense and far from having reached an acceptable standard.

To make matters worse, Haiti has been impacted by some of the most powerful storms and floods in the last decade including the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, and category 4 Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Each has left Haiti even more vulnerable, and hindered any progression toward further development in the country.In 2010, Cory Gumienny, from Covertite Roofing in Ottawa and close friend to Marculey Sanon, a man with family in Haiti, introduced EllisDon to a partnership with PEER Servants Canada, an organization the two friends had founded. PEER Servants Canada is a registered not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing aid to Haiti by transforming its rural communities through education, leadership development, and construction of local facilities such as schools and clinics. Since then, each year, teams consisting of EllisDon employees, their family members and other volunteers, have gone on mission trips to help the various communities in need.The most recent one took place this past February in Baie d’Orange, a small rural village located in the remote mountains of South East Haiti, approximately a six-hour drive from the capital city, Port-au-Prince. With the help of key construction industry contractors and local community donations, a team of nine assembled for the five-day mission. The team involving several construction workers as well as EllisDon’s Chief Estimator, Jason Walker, and volunteers including Jason’s 16 year old daughter, Allison, ventured to the village with the goal of building a new school for 70 children.

Upon arrival, the team experienced an outpour from the community and was welcomed with open arms, so much so that a family of seven shared their home in order to give them a place to stay. Their willingness to lend a hand did not stop there, many of the locals were interested in learning how to use the power tools and volunteered to step in and help build the school as well. They were very receptive to everything they were taught and were excited to be involved in the process.Prior to the school being built there was no dedicated building for classes; meaning education was limited to sporadic weekly meetings in a nearby church. With the majority of the children unable to read or write, it became apparent just how stifled their education had become as a result of the circumstances.While construction was underway, the team took the opportunity to play with the children while also teaching them some English along the way. One of the team members was in fact a teacher, who spent three days working alongside the local teachers providing them with tools and teaching strategies. In an effort to help expand the availability of education, additional fundraising initiatives are currently underway to hire a full-time teacher in hopes that it will create more prospects for the children’s future.

Five days came and went quickly but the project was proudly completed on time. Along the way, the team experienced a number of challenges; from the initial trip up the 4,500 foot high mountain and transporting materials the same way, to working under a very tight deadline, their determination to help and make a difference surpassed any obstacle they were faced with. Most importantly, they built relationships that will never be forgotten, bringing the memories of Haiti home to Canada so that others might pick up the torch.While a great deal of effort went into the mission, the most rewarding part was knowing that the school would provide the children with an environment that would help them move forward in their education and lead to more opportunities in the future.