News / Americas

Haitian Home for Street Children Rebuilds

Michael Geilanfeld, who runs St. Joseph's house for former child slaves and street children in Port-au-Prince, shows some of the damage from last year's earthquake.
Michael Geilanfeld, who runs St. Joseph's house for former child slaves and street children in Port-au-Prince, shows some of the damage from last year's earthquake.

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +
Jeff Swicord

Amid the loss and horror that surrounded the earthquake in Haiti a year ago there are positive stories of triumph over tragedy.  Several days after the earthquake, VOA's Jeff Swicord met Michael Geilandfeld, an American who runs a house for former child slaves and street children.  While the house was heavily damaged by the quake, Geilandfeld vowed to carry on with his work.  We stopped by to see how he was doing in the new year.

"This painting really depicts a child who is in struggle and feeling alone and lost," explained Michael Geilanfeld, who runs St. Joseph's, a house for former child slaves and street children in Port au Prince.  That was Michael a year ago, a few days after the devastating earthquake of January 12.

"So this is the house the children were in," Geilanfeld continued.  The house and neighboring facilities were heavily damaged.  The children had to be moved to the safety of the countryside.

Counting blessings

Today, Michael Geilanfeld counts himself and the St. Joseph's community lucky.  Last year at this time, the quake hit just as they were about to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

"We were having 250 people come for this anniversary celebrations from all over the United States and Canada.  So we had painted the house, put up new curtains.  The house looked as best it has ever looked.  So, less than two weeks before that celebration, it all came down," he recalled.

Progress

A year later, thanks to the generosity of donors from abroad, St. Joseph's is rebuilding.  The orphanage bought and moved into the house next door.  An architect has donated his time to rebuild the old house, and insisted the footings be dug extra deep.  Other precautions will be taken to ensure the house can withstand another earthquake.  

The children have returned.  Twenty-two boys live at St. Joseph's; most attend this school around the corner.  Fijnole, 17, has lived in the house since he was three.  His parents could not afford to care for him.  He says going to school is something he never imagined when he was younger.

"It is a good thing for me because now I can go to school and I can lift up my parents.  My dream is to lift my parents where they are.  To helping them as much as I can," Fignole said.

Helping hands

Exza, 17, has been helping out with the new construction.  Exza came to St. Joseph's after the earthquake, and says without the safety and security it provides, the last year could have turned out very differently.

"It was a good year for me because after the earthquake we had a hurricane and then a cholera epidemic.  But I was not affected and I am safe, so it has been a good year," Exza said.

Aid groups say it's impossible to know how many children were orphaned by the earthquake, but USAID estimates the number to be at least 15,000 - with as many or more losing their main care-giver. So far, UNICEF has only re-united a few thousand children with their families.

Lasting effects

At St. Joseph's, Michael says the quake was traumatic for all of the children. 

"Just going through the earthquake, the shaking, and all of our guys would tell you that they thought it was the end of the world. They thought everything was going away for good.  And if a car drives by and the building shakes, they would all run," he said.

Michael has not forgotten the tragedy most Haitians have experienced. He has hung this painting in the house - depicting a tent city - as a tribute to the resilience of the Haitian people.

"They have been reduced to this living under trees and living under tarps, and yet life goes on. They make the best of what they are doing. But it is a struggle because they are living day by day," he said.

Optimism

A year ago, this mural at the entrance of the building was destroyed.  Now, Michael is typically optimistic about the loss.

"But we can repaint, right? we can rebuild. What we celebrate is we didn't lose any of the children.  They would not be able to be replaced. So, all the material things are not important," he said.

Once the original house is restored, Michael Geilandfeld plans to build three new buildings on the neighboring property he has acquired.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Earthquake Rattles Mexico

US Geological Survey says quake measuring 7.5 on Richter scale, was centered in the western state of Guerrero, north of Acapulco beach resort
More

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support
More

Colombian Novelist Garcia Marquez Dies at 87

Author of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' won Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982
More

Salsa Legend Cheo Feliciano Dies in Car Crash

Police say singer was alone in his jaguar when he hit a post before sunrise Thursday
More

NY Times: US Deportation of Illegal Immigrants Declines

Obama has come under increasing pressure from immigration advocates who have accused him of moving too slowly on immigration reform
More

Argentina's Fight with Bondholders Reaches US Supreme Court

The case concerns whether investors can force banks with which Argentina does business to disclose information about the country's non-US assets
More