Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2018

Grassroots Charity Offers More Bang For Your Buck

A few years back, when I told someone that our oldest son was helping out with an orphanage in Haiti, the person rolled their eyes and said, “Sure; right. In Haiti everybody is running an orphanage. But how many of the kids are true orphans and how many of the orphanages are legit?”

We live in a world that is automatically skeptical when it comes to charities. Compound that with further cynicism that in very poor countries, corruption means that aid doesn’t reach those who need it most. If only there was a way of meeting these objections and being able to give with confidence.

As it turns out there is. I want to share a bit of the story with you and also explain how it intersected with our son’s story, and some portions of what you read are taken (directly or loosely) from the Welcome Home Children’s Centre (WHCC) website.

We got to meet Camille Otum and her husband Sam for the first time a few days ago. She was born in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, and raised in the town of Cabaret about two hours north. At the age of nineteen she left Haiti and chose to settle in Montreal, Québec, where she could better leverage her French language skills and familiarity with the culture.  After getting married, Camille and Sam and their family moved west to  Ontario, settling in a bedroom community small town outside of Toronto.

In 2004, a group of teenagers from her church were headed to Haiti on a short term missions trip, and Camille volunteered to be a chaperone and give something back to her country of birth. She went to connect with her old friends in her hometown of Cabaret but was quite distressed by what she saw. It was not the same place; not the village she had left many years ago. Instead, she was witnessing homeless children begging in the streets, desperate and malnourished.

With this image imprinted in her mind Camille began discussions with her family and friends about the situation in her homeland and her deep desire to help. With the support of her husband, and her church friends, their husbands and one other friend, she shifted into what my wife calls ‘entrepreneurial missions’ mode and decided to open an orphanage. Welcome Home Children’s Centre was incorporated as a non-profit entity in Canada. A hired agent now working for them in the country was instrumental in helping secure a three-bedroom home with fenced yard that could be rented and converted into a home for homeless children. (Fences and walls are a non-negotiable necessity in Haiti, since people will break in and steal anything that might have value.)

A few years in, with the lease running out, Welcome Home began looking for another property which would offer the possibility of greater expansion. They had about ten children but dreamed of being able to house up to seventy. They called Engineering Ministries International (EMI) for help designing a new orphanage on recently acquired land.

This is where the story first connects with our family. Our son Chris had graduated in Engineering and it would be several months before he would find his first job, so with a little bit of fundraising he signed up to do an internship with EMI in Calgary for four months. (The organization has about ten offices around the world.) As it turned out, one of their two projects for those months was the Welcome Home Children’s Centre and in February of 2015 he flew with a team of a dozen people from Canada to survey the land and help design the three phases of the new centre. He was one of only two people on the EMI team who spoke French with any proficiency and did his best to learn Haitian Creole.

As it turns out, language is a big part of the Welcome Home strategy for those they serve. Chris writes,

A big part of their education is learning the French language, which in Haiti is the sole language of business and politics. The vast majority of Haitians can only speak Creole, which makes it easy for the elite to exclude them from anything involving influence or serious money. The Welcome Home kids will have access to the upper strata of Haitian society because of their education, and it is my hope that they will hold onto their Christian values, continuing to acknowledge God in all their ways while wielding the privilege of education, and be a blessing to their neighbours and communities in adulthood.

With the exception of only a handful of EMI volunteers in the entire history of the organization, our son decided to get involved with the charity itself. He returned to Haiti with a group of WHCC volunteers three years later in February, 2018. He said, “It was amazing to go see the building we had designed on paper actually realized in concrete.”

Which brings us back to a few days ago, when we got to meet Sam and Camille. I don’t like to show up for meetings unprepared so I decided to do some research. In Canada, the annual financial statements — think of it as an organization’s income tax return — of churches and non-profits are posted online for the world to see. I couldn’t help but note that the line item for compensation (i.e. salaries and benefits) for WHCC was nil. Zero. Nada. That was refreshing.

Camille shared a story with us about a woman who had been giving to what I call a “blue chip” Christian charity and how appalled she was at the amount of compensation being received by its key personnel and staff. The woman then stumbled onto the same information I did, with the realization that this was the type of grassroots charity she wanted to support.

Part of this is possible because Sam and Camille have decent jobs in Canada. But if Camille isn’t there in person, she’s very much present, admitting to calling the orphanage for an update every single day.

The Welcome Home team conducted numerous interviews to be sure that the children they received actually were orphans. In some cases parents will see an opportunity for their child to have a better life and are willing to let their child go. This is a heartbreaking scenario that the team have seen played out over and over. To turn them away is difficult, but their commitment is to help the most needy orphans; children who have no other options.

It’s true that the overall financial scope of the organization is small. But the building referred to above is only part of what the EMI people designed. There is a Phase II, which involves another building that would dramatically expand the size of the operation to eventually include 70 children. The budget for construction is a half million dollars. (Labor is less costly, but building materials are expensive. The island has been deforested; so wood is extremely rare. Most buildings are formed from concrete.)

Right now, WHCC cannot issue tax receipts in the U.S. (I know there are U.S. readers here for which a receipt is not the bottom line.) For a grassroots charity, operating in Canada, with a very limited donor base to raise $500,000 is a daunting task, but in Christ, nothing is impossible. You can help plant the seeds for Phase II at this link.

I’ll let our son Chris have the last word,

I want to live in a world where everyone loves the place where they were born, where we don’t have people clamoring to get across borders because the country they were born in just isn’t livable. And I want to live in a world of rest and gratitude, not one of strife and pride. I believe the theory is true that the developing world will keep improving itself economically until the imbalance that has characterized the last three centuries levels out a bit, but we can help speed up the process.


If you are in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, Welcome Home’s annual fundraiser is this Saturday night (December 1) at Halton Hills Christian School in Georgetown. See the “Latest News” page of their website for directions and cost and to RSVP. [Canadians can also donate via Canada Helps.]

 

 

 

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