At a time of political strife in Haiti decades ago, Fredrick Clerie, a San Diego-area resident and the president of the humanitarian organization Hopestart International, left Haiti for the United States. In 2013, he formed Hopestart with the mission of helping people living in oppressive poverty, focusing initially on Haiti. Now, the Rotary Club of La Jolla is intent on joining him.
Between March 2 and March 7, 2016, La Jolla Rotary president Lora Fisher, along with a dozen other Rotarians and some volunteers, will be in Haiti, working to build a chicken coop. For Americans, living in a country flush with livestock of all kinds, that might seem insignificant, but for the impoverished Haitian community of Jeremie, it will mean a chance at needed nourishment for many children whose young brains aren’t getting the necessary protein for full development, Fisher said.
Re-telling the story that helped convince her and fellow Rotarians to take up humanitarian work in Haiti, Fisher provided the before-and-after photos of a Haitian boy, Daniel, found abandoned in a garbage heap and rescued during one of Clerie’s trips to Haiti after that country’s deadly 2010 earthquake. What Clerie saw inspired him to do more. And that story was one of many that has since inspired La Jolla Rotary to help him, she said.
“While they were there working, someone worried that (as) there were pigs in this garbage heap, and someone had thrown away a baby (nearby),” Fisher said. “They were worried the pigs would eat the baby.”
Comparing the situation to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Fisher illustrated a set of circumstances in which Haitian mothers were so desperate for their children’s lives, that they would face the unimaginable choice of abandoning one to ensure the others’ survival. “What really touched me, was that a mother felt she had no choice but to throw away her baby,” Fisher said, noting her own position as a mother. “It’s just so hard for me to imagine.”
The coop will be the second built for the Haitian community the Rotarians will visit. The first, she said, was built to accommodate chickens meant for consumption. This one will be strictly reserved for egg-laying hens.
The Rotary connection to the project began as Fisher was trying to decide what to suggest as her President’s Project, an annual opportunity for the Rotary president to select a cause he or she would like to take up. By coincidence, Fisher and her husband separately heard about Hopestart during their church services that, while unaffiliated with Clerie’s program or the La Jolla Rotary, aimed to bring awareness to the humanitarian effort Clerie’s organization represented.
“There was a lot of money thrown at Haiti (after the earthquake), but it didn’t really assist,” Fisher said, because of a combination of political corruption in Haiti and fraudulent charities. That this organization she and her husband heard about was based in San Diego, allowing for her to meet its founder and learn his motivations, made for a difference earlier this year when Fisher suggested Hopestart be a part of its charitable campaigns. The next step was contacting Clerie to find out what he needed.
“Children (there) have access to rice and beans, but don’t have the easy access to (other) protein,” Fisher said. “Their brains aren’t developing properly due to the lack of protein.”
After some consultation with Clerie, Fisher and fellow Rotarians realized how they could help. In past President’s Projects, Fisher said, the Rotarians have supported the group Heifer International, which despite its name, doesn’t limit its focus to cattle when providing livestock and livestock facilities to communities in need. “It actually was a flock of chickens to a needy family in a third-world country,” that their funds supported, Fisher said. “So we kind of kept the chicken theme going.”
The coop they plan to build will accommodate 600 egg-laying chickens on a site acquired last year by Hopestart.
Patrick Stouffer, a past president of La Jolla Rotary who at age 70 is still a member of the club, will assist in leading the coop’s construction, using his builder’s background and chicken coop-specific knowledge as a guide.
“When my son was young, rather than giving him an allowance, I bought him chickens,” Stouffer said. “So we raised chickens, and he used to sell the eggs. I was also a general contractor for about 35 years. I’ve seen pictures of the style of chicken coop they need, and it will be very simple to build.”
Initially, Stouffer said, the idea of La Jolla Rotary being only a financial contributor to the project was bounced around. But as the idea gained momentum, the club membership agreed it would be more meaningful to actually fly to Haiti to do the work. They’ll travel to Port-au-Prince to collaborate with Rotarians there before traveling on to Jeremie. At least a couple of the volunteers will be members of the Rotarians’ families, including Fisher’s and another Rotarian’s college-age daughters.
Stouffer said his past experiences as an air commando in the Air Force, which had him spending a couple of years in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, familiarized him a long time ago with life in third-world conditions, and that this opportunity is one he’s looking forward to as someone that can help.
“Haiti is actually the poorest country in North America,” Stouffer said. “It will be very interesting to get down there and just get a look at what the standard of living is and what their needs are. This is sort of a little reconnaissance mission, too. We’ll kind of look around and see what other things we might be able to assist them with.”
Fisher is thankful some of her fellow Rotarians have some experience in the types of conditions she expects to face. The hotel the group plans to stay at, Le Sarah in Jeremie, doesn’t offer hot water, she said. The group will have to take anti-malaria medication, and know that the water can’t be trusted safe for drinking. And the flights will include travel over some still politically corrupt regions, she said.
“This is really taking me out of my comfort zone,” Fisher said. “It’s not a trip to Hawaii. We’ve got to be cautious.” While she says Americans are often received well in Haiti, because they’re known to be of help, the uneasiness is still there anytime you travel in such unfamiliar conditions.
La Jolla Rotary has set a goal of raising $10,000 to fund the project and is already nearly halfway to meeting that goal, Fisher said.
Rotary’s history with the United Nations, as one of the initial delegates forming the U.N., Fisher added, is hoped to be leveraged to provide heavy equipment needed to complete the project. The group is also looking for other nongovernmental organizations that it could partner with on additional Haiti projects, ranging from well-digging to vaccination campaigns.
As far as La Jolla Rotary’s partnership with Hopestart, Clerie, who just returned from a trip to his home country, sees abundant opportunity for future projects, including his hope to build a couple of schools in Haiti.
“For the kids we have in the orphanage, we want to build an academic school that will give them a much better educational base than just a boarding school,” he said. “We also want to build an industrial school, because the unemployment rate is over 65 percent. A lot of young men are unemployed and have no skills.”
Fisher added, “The biggest reason to do the projects is to give the people a hand up, and to give them hope.”
Want to help? E-mail Rotary Club of La Jolla at firstname.lastname@example.org The club meets noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at La Valencia Hotel, 1132 Prospect St. rotarycluboflajolla.com