CLAYTON — The new year has just started and a team of volunteers from Clayton has already set off to do mission work abroad.
The team of 31 volunteers boarded a plane this week to travel to Haiti to continue working on the Ryan Epps Home for Children.
Led by Al and Valerie Carpenter, the group will be helping construct a community center next to the children’s home which currently provides care and shelter for 24 children. It was built after the earthquake that destroyed much of the country in 2010 and is located about 45 minutes from Port-au-Prince.
The community center will be a place where parents in the community can develop vocational skills so they can provide for their children. It will also be a place for young adults to gain skills allowing them to provide for themselves, Al Carpenter said. The center will have a small medical clinic and will house the community church.
“One of the most important parts of the trip is the relationships we build down there,” Valerie said. On Monday afternoon before their early morning Tuesday departure, she and her husband, looked at photo books of the 24 children at the orphanage, a group of proud, young, and sometimes timid faces who moved into the orphanage in 2010. The couple has been able to watch each of the children grow over the past two years and can quickly name each of the children in the photos as if they are their own children.
Valerie said she has asked the locals in Haiti before if they would rather receive money than a visit, which could pay for locals to do the building and help the local economy. But, Valerie said the locals and the director of the orphanage in Haiti always tell her they want them to visit. The way the Carpenters have kept up with the children’s home through multiple trips each year and communication with those on the ground running the operation, it is more like a collaboration, than one group simply funding the other.
The week-long trip from January 8-16 includes volunteers doing construction work on the community center and also a team of nurses hosting a medical clinic. Michele Keen, the Carpenter’s daughter, works as an oncology Hospice nurse in Greenville. She will be working with the team of seven nurses on the trip who will operate the medical clinic. Keen said the nurses will have a supply of medications to treat worms, or skin disorders, and antibiotics the children would otherwise not have access to. They will be serving more than 200 children from the community, which includes the 24 children who live at the orphanage as well as the children who come to school at the orphanage but who do not live there, a group of about 170 children.
A third outreach project the group will be doing is distributing food to families.
“We will be distributing rice, beans, and oil to more than 300 families,” said Al Carpenter. They will give each family two pounds of rice, one gallon of oil, and one pound of beans. That will feed a family for a week and cost the group about $30 per family to provide the food. The group relies on donations from the community and from their home church Horne Memorial United Methodist Church to be able to provide the food. All of the funds necessary to build the community center also come from donations.
The experience of helping others abroad is something the Carpenter family has learned a lot about in their time serving the Haitian population and it has taught them the do’s and don’ts of giving.They said they have seen firsthand that it is possible to make a monetary donation go farther than it is to send supplies.
So the group will buy the food in Haiti, then distribute it to the families, so that they can support the local economy. The same goes for school supplies, they will buy in Haiti. Carpenter said students have access to these things, but just don’t have the money to buy them.
In the midst of packing their bags on Monday, Al, Valerie, and Michele took a break to describe what their trip would be like. There were no travel nerves for them, since they are used to traveling to Haiti twice a year. This will be Valerie Carpenter’s 37th trip.
After a relatively short flight, including two hours to Miami, then two more hours to Port-Au-Prince, the team would land in a country very close to but very different from America. Being in the Caribbean, Haiti’s climate is very different than that of Clayton. Temperatures in Haiti are about 95 degrees right now.
Once on the ground in Haiti, the team would pile into a truck filled with luggage and people and travel to the villa where they are staying, called Villa Mamica, located 15 minutes from the children’s home. Though there is good food at the Villa, there is no hot water, said Carpenter.
“They treat you like a family there,” said Valerie. She said one of the couples going on the trip this time is actually someone who she met while staying at Villa Mamica on a previous trip. The couple is from Seattle. When they went with Valerie one day to meet the children at the children’s home, they were sold, and said they had to join them on a trip.
Throughout the week, in the midst of doing construction work, or working at the clinic, the group will be playing with the children, and spending time talking with members of the community. They will also attend a memorial service for victims of the 2010 earthquake, where one local man Sam Dixon will be memorialized after he was killed there in 2010.
So far, the group has raised half of the funds necessary to build the community center’s first phase, floor one. The projected cost is $120,000. They will complete the second floor when funding allows. Carpenter said they’d like to have phase one finished by the end of 2013.