Haiti's history is filled with government oppression and uprising, poverty and devastating earthquakes and flooding, but Kimbery Hogan, director of Wellspring Trust, sees a lot of hope for the small Caribbean country's future.
"Everyone said that Haiti's such a mess that it's hard to find hope, but I saw a lot of hope," Hogan said. "What I really took back was, yes, there's so much need and we should never stop fighting for these people, but there was a lot of hope."
Earlier this month, members of the Wellspring Trust, a charity organization based out of Darien, traveled to Haiti to do a follow-up assessment for a grant it entrusted to an organization and ended up giving so much more to the residents of Fond Parisien.
The members went for an assessment of a project run by Betty Prophete, the director of Women's and Children's Ministries at the Haitian Christian Mission, and her husband, Steve, to whom Wellspring gave $30,000 to start a peanut butter factory.
"With Wellspring, what we do is we try to do a really hands-on assessment of organizations," Hogan said. "We mostly focus on causes that are helping to sustain, improve or protect women and children because we believe they're one of the most important part of a balanced community."
The Prophetes want to create a peanut butter factory to provide proper nutrition to the 520 students who attend a school they run in Fond Parisien called St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children.
"About half of those students are sponsored so they can be fed," Hogan said. "Basically, they have this school and they're having trouble meeting the needs of the students as far as nourishment goes. (The Prophetes) provide a meal a day to all students but it's just not enough."
The Prophetes' goal is to have farmers from all over the country grow peanuts and sell them to the factory because the product can be grown year-round, Hogan said.
"The Prophetes' peanut butter factory would make peanut butter, and eventually, after they meet their need of malnutrition, they would be able to distribute and sell their product to bring money in," Hogan said.
"It's not only meeting the needs of children, but also meeting needs of women, driving the economy, and working with a family that we've had a longstanding relationship with and have proved their dedication to helping the poor of the country."
The Prophetes also have plans to teach carpentry as a career as well as to develop an orphanage and foster care program.
"They have a lot of things going on," Hogan said. "I don't know what Haiti would look like without them honestly."
The Prophetes need about $5,000 more before they can start producing the peanut butter. The members of Wellspring Trust went to Haiti to identify what else needed to be done, like installing windows because peanut butter needs to be produced in an enclosed area.
"So we're going to have to try and raise the last couple thousand to help them finish," Hogan said. "We're looking for people who believe in energy and sustainability and something that's going to be productive in more ways than one."
It wasn't just a business trip, though. The members also brought with them eight large duffle bags full of shoes, soccer cleats, and other items from Sports Authority and Darien Sport Shop.
"It's never good to come empty-handed because there's so much need there," Hogan said, "and soccer's one of the few things kids can take advantage of anywhere."
Despite having done mission work before, the 27-year-old, who took over Wellspring Trust in July 2011, said the experience was eye-opening.
The bags of shoes were distributed at the Prophetes' school and one of the tent cities established after the 2010 earthquake, where the new shoes were probably needed the most.
The shoes, made by Soles4Souls, are waterproof, have a thick sole and cover the entire foot. The students can wear them to school as part of their uniform and play sports in them, too. "It's like this everything shoe and it's amazing," Hogan said.
Before the distribution, Hogan said, some students were wearing two different shoes and others had threadbare ones they probably used for years. She also said that the tent cities established after the earthquake were probably where the shoes were needed most.
"It was overwhelming because there was just so much need," Hogan said.
The Wellspring Trust, which was established 27 years ago from an adoption agency by Constance Boll, who also journeyed to Haiti.
"Currently, have about 150 supporters and one of the most important things is that we're very close with them," Hogan said. "We want people who want to get involved and want to be part of this to step up and be part of it."
For information, write to Wellspring Trust at P.O. Box 113, Darien CT 06820, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://blog.wellspringtrust.org. The Wellspring Office is located at 17 Settlers Trail.
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