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Auburn man lends a hand in Haiti

Devastation,poverty,immense amount of work to be done leave indelible impression
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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For Auburn resident Jim Wesley, the desperation was as palpable as the humidity when he arrived in Haiti two weeks ago. “Here, we have porters to help you,” Wesley said. “There, it is Haitian people trying to help. They grab you and try to assist with the luggage. They overwhelm you.” Wesley, an advertising sales representative with the Auburn Journal and a member of the Gold Country Chaplaincy, spent a week on the island to work with orphans on handling disaster stress. His first impression of Port-au-Prince was chaos — and not much progress toward rebuilding. “I saw no evidence other than they had scraped up the debris and pushed it to the sides of the streets,” Wesley said. “In the three cities I visited, I saw no bulldozers or any type of construction under way.” What he did see was a lot of tent camps. “They’re all over the city,” he said. “If there was a flat space, it was filled with tents. There were hundreds of people in the streets.” As he traveled around, he’d come across small groups of Haitian men with shovels and wheelbarrows trying to clean up small areas. Wesley’s working destination was an orphanage in Carrefour, a suburb of the capital. He also spent time at a second orphanage in Carrefour and another in nearby Petionville. It was the Petionville orphanage that sheltered 7-year-old Claire, who was adopted by Lake of the Pines residents Scott and Debbie Bryditzki. Claire was rescued and flown to California a few days after the massive earthquake in January. Debbie Bryditzki is Wesley’s sister-in-law. Her brother, Dave Buck, runs New Hope in Haiti, the organization that sponsored Wesley’s trip. At the Carrefour orphanage, Wesley worked with 50 orphans ages 11 through 15, taking them through the Critical Incident Stress Management training course. His daughter, Kristin, 17, and niece Ashley Bryditzki, who accompanied him on the trip, assisted with playtimes for the younger children. “The (incident stress management) class consisted of helping the children deal with anger, hurt and death; and healing them to cope with depression,” he explained. Some of the children had lost family members in the earthquake. Many had lost friends. One of the Carrefour teens was killed when a high school collapsed during the quake. His body was later delivered to the orphanage to be prepared for burial. Wesley’s training program included having the children draw pictures of what they were feeling, “Quite a few kids drew pictures of Michel, the boy who died in the school,” Wesley said. “Then we told them to draw something happy. That got them started talking about (the tragedy) and sharing their feelings. We told them it was part of the grieving process.” In the Petionville orphanage, Wesley encountered more suffering. “One child, about 12, had been stuck in his house for four days — the only survivor in his family,” Wesley said. “One little girl, it was just her and her mom, and she had lost her mom. She was alone.” Money isn’t getting through During his time in Petionville, Wesley spent an hour with the mayor, Claire Lydie Parent, who runs the orphanage in her home. Parent is very discouraged with the slow pace of relief and rebuilding efforts, according to Wesley. “She told me that everything is so corrupt and so bad that no money is getting to the smaller towns to rebuild,” Wesley said. Parent described to Wesley how she traveled to Washington, D.C. recently, representing her town and six other mayors, to deliver a message to the U.S. government that money is not getting through to them. But assistance from nonprofits was evident at least in the orphanages, Wesley said, where the children are well fed and have adquate care. Elsewhere, thousands are struggling to get by. “The streets were filled with market people,” he said. “Many had a handful of beans and rice on a tarp with some mangos they were trying to sell.” One of the Haitians who particularly impressed Wesley was a 22-year-old disabled Port-au-Prince man. He knows him only as “Junior.” “He was born crippled and walks on his hands, and rides a cart built for him,” Wesley said. “He could speak phenomenal English and he was a great interpreter. He lives in a tent with some buddies and has no income. He asks God to bring him money. People see him trying to maneuver, have compassion on him and give him money. He lives day to day.” New Hope in Haiti’s efforts For Rodena Buck, wife of Dave Buck, their Fayetteville, Georgia-based non-profit — part of New Hope Baptist Church — is about a lot more than giving a handout. Feeding the children is important, but it’s not the main objective, she said Wednesday by phone. “Our main goal is to try to change Haiti (by working) with the youth,” she said. “Someone needs to invest in them and give them hope.” The Bucks and other volunteers in New Hope in Haiti stress education and achieving independence, encouraging the children in the orphanages to study and work for the community. Now back and reflecting on the trip, Wesley has Haiti on his mind. “I’d like to go back,” he said. “We just touched the surface. I’d be wiling to be in a tent and living on the street just to be able to talk to people and help them.” Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- For more information on New Hope in Haiti, see newhopeinhaiti.org