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Haitian orphanage with Greensboro ties finds its supply line cut by earthquake

by Jordan Green

Jack Reynolds, the Greensborobased business manager of the Pwoje Espwa orphanage in les Cayes, Haiti, described conditions in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

“Roads are in complete disrepair, electricity is sporadic, the need for well drilling is a real necessity that we are addressing,” he said. “Sanitation, lack of a city sewage system is troubling. I’m hitting you with the basic stuff and you’re saying, ‘Holy sh*t!’” Add to that two centuries of political instability, and a serial string of insurrections, occupations and coups culminating with a standing army of 8,500 United Nations peacekeeping troops maintaining civil order.

That was before a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island on Jan. 12, killing and displacing untold numbers of people. Footage of the aftermath in the capital city of Port-au- Prince on television newscasts showing pancaked buildings, bodies obscured by rubble and screaming and disoriented survivors has gripped American audiences in a repeat of the shock registered after Hurricane Katrina on the US Gulf Coast in 2005.

Reynolds acknowledged that the children and staff at Pwoje Espwa have emerged relatively unscathed from the earthquake. The children and staff, including Reynolds’ brother in law, who is the director, are safe. And les Cayes, which lies 100 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter and 120 miles from Port-au-Prince, sustained relatively little damage. But Pwoje Espwa — which means “project hope” in Creole — is far from insulated from the widespread devastation, and Reynolds is soliciting funds to pay for food and water.

“We immediately went on ration,” he said. “Everything in Haiti must go through Port-au-Prince, and now that supply chain will be cut. The roads are not good to begin with. Now, with buildings down, there is no heavy equipment and it will take months to clear the roads.”

Under normal circumstances, Pwoje Espwa relies on funds contributed by three Greensboro Rotary organizations and First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. Aside from housing 680 children, Pwoje Espwa is the largest employer in les Cayes with 180 workers. The implication, Reynolds said, is that the organization’s continued viability plays an important role in the economic survival of the city.

Many of the children who stay at Pwoje Espwa come from families whose parents are unable to support them and are at risk of exploitation and sexual abuse. The Creole term for children given up for adoption for economic reasons is restaveks.

“A restavek is a child who has been given up by their family because their family has no means of support and given to another family many miles away, usually with the promise that they will be cared for and get a good education,” Reynolds said.

“Instead, more often than not they become the slave of that other family, especially the little girls.”

The children who are in touch with extended family members are expected to leave the orphanage for six months during the summer to stay with blood kin.

“Invariably, they come back within two weeks,” Reynolds said. “They say they have no food.

“There are no social services here,” Reynolds continued. “People ask us: ‘How do you interact with the government?’ The government loves us because we do their job for them. If we weren’t doing this, the kids would be urchins.”

To contribute money to Pwoje Espwa, visit www.freethekids.org or send checks to Free the Kids/Theo’s Work, 2303 W. Market St., Greensboro, NC 27403

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