HAITI (FBCH)—A cluster of children swarmed Lou Davis for a group hug. But it was 11-year-old Menise who broke his heart, with a shy smile and a simple question:
“Will you be my daddy?”
“She adopted me,” Davis says of that meeting a year and a half ago in Haiti, where he is coordinating volunteers with the Orphan’s Heart ministry to build a home for Menise and about 60 other children. “These kids are starved for anything like a family relationship.”
That is what the Mango Tree Orphanage is being built for: not just housing for children, but family environments—an arrangement pioneered by Florida Baptist Children’s Homes.
The orphanage is being constructed in Bon Repos, a suburb just north of Port-Au-Prince, the Haitian capital. Davis and his volunteer teams hoped to have the first home up and running this summer, using advanced construction methods.
The project, estimated at $300,000 to $400,000, is made possible by volunteer contributions of both money and work, says Ron Gunter.
“Without them, it would cost half a million or more,” says Gunter, vice president of Orphan’s Heart, the international wing of FBCH. “People no longer just want to send money; they want to do the work, be a part of what’s happening.”
Mango Tree includes a kitchen, a dining hall and three classrooms for first through sixth grade. It will have a clinic with doctors and nurses. And it has three main houses connected by two bathrooms.
Each house will have 32 children, with a separate apartment for houseparents. It’s similar to what FBCH has established around Florida: house-oriented shelters rather than one large building.
“We’re trying to apply the model to Haiti,” Davis says. “When the kids are old enough, they’ll have that family background.”
The story of Mango Tree Orphanage resembles a graceful dance, with Orphan’s Heart partnering with several Christian organizations.
In August 2011, Davis and Gunter visited Haiti Rebuild, a project created by the Florida Baptist Convention after the devastating earthquake of 2010. They met two leaders who were caring for orphans: Florida minister Bill Shepherd and Haitian pastor Edmond Fenelon.
Pastor Fenelon, providing what he could, at first had only three wooden huts for the children. Each hut was about 12 foot square, roofed with a blue plastic tarp, with 15-16 children sleeping on shelf-type bunks.
“Conditions were terrible,” Davis says. “A lot of [the children] were not healthy, and they weren’t getting enough food.”
After a big storm in August 2012, the pastor knocked down the huts and built a large wooden, metal-roofed compound next to his church. Now the children are being fed and getting vitamins and medical attention, but they’re “still crowded and in sub-optimal conditions,” Davis says.
One plus was a huge mango tree, under which the children spend a lot of time sitting on benches. That’s what birthed the name of Mango Tree Orphanage.
Another plus was connecting with Children First: Love and Hope, a Kentucky-based foundation that was already aiding the orphans in Bon Repos. Gunter and Davis met in mid-2011 with Bill Nallia of Children First in Lexington, Ky., and together they organized the project.
Nallia gives high marks to Orphan’s Heart. “They not only have a heart for children, but they can take an idea and develop and build it, using volunteers from America. It would be very expensive to hire people to do it.”
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