A new chapter is beginning in the global service mission of Ohio Wesleyan University with the HaitiOWU Initiative, a program that will link the entire OWU community with an orphanage in the Caribbean republic. As part of the initiative, a group of OWU representatives traveled to Haiti for four days in August, where they visited the Project Hope Orphanage, also known as Pwoje Espwa Sud (Project ESPWA) in Haitian Creole.
Participating in the trip were OWU Vice President for Student Affairs Craig Ullom, Director of International and Off-Campus Programs Darrell Albon, Director of Alumni Relations Brenda DeWitt, Columbus Initiative Director Sally Leber, and students Will Condit ’11 and Gretchen Curry ’12. Condit and Curry were asked to participate in the trip by the Wesleyan Council on Student Affairs (WCSA).
Following last year’s earthquake, Curry founded HaitiOWU to raise money to help the Haitian people. She also is working on a mini-documentary about the trip and hopes to have it completed for showings during Homecoming & Family Weekend in October.
Curry says the devastation from the earthquake remains undisturbed in many areas, adding that it was shocking to see collapsed buildings everywhere, hundreds of thousands of tents housing displaced people, and even the untouched ruins of the Presidential Palace. “But the kids are amazing,” she emphasizes.
The group flew into Port-au-Prince and then embarked on a seven-hour, 100-mile trip on rough roads to Les Cayes and the Project Hope Orphanage. OWU graduate Doug Dittrick ’55 has played an integral role in operating the facility. Dittrick is the former chairman of the board for Free the Kids, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support the Project Hope Orphanage/Village project.
The orphanage dates to 1998, when Father Marc Boisvert rented a small house and filled it with street boys. The project has grown steadily, and since last year’s devastating earthquake, its population has ballooned from 650 boys to 800 boys and about 75 girls. Housing is now under construction for the girls. Currently, Project Hope is feeding 3,500 meals a day to the orphans and nearby community.
The orphanage’s 140-acre complex also includes six schools, an all-purpose space for chapel services and activities, a carpenter’s workshop, and a medical clinic, which area residents use for a nominal fee.
Efforts are under way to make Project Hope more self-sufficient, including the development of an agriculture center. Vocational training is being developed in agriculture, woodworking, metalworking, and sewing.
The HaitiOWU group is discussing exactly how the University community can provide assistance through its new initiative. One idea is to procure treadle sewing machines for use in the sewing shop since electricity is not always available or reliable. Anyone with a machine to donate may contact Leber at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (740) 368-3080.
OWU student and campus groups also will explore the development of fund-raising initiatives for Project Hope, and OWU students likely will travel to Haiti for service projects.
Ullom says he is excited to see Ohio Wesleyan get more deeply involved with the orphanage and people of Haiti.
“Project ESPWA is an oasis in Haiti for orphaned children and families impacted by the extreme conditions of everyday life in this country,” Ullom says. “A significant challenge for us is to sort out and prioritize the many possibilities to involve the OWU community in this initiative and to make this a significant learning opportunity for our students.”
Learn more about the Project Hope orphanage.