Lewiston native and Franco-American priest Marc Boisvert went to Haiti as a U.S. Navy lieutenant chaplain in the early 1990s. He was temporarily stationed at Cuba’s Guantanamo Naval Base when he accompanied his commanding officer on a flight to Haiti to obtain Creole language bibles to help care for Haitian boat people.

Haitian poverty stunned him.

“I had never seen such poverty. I could not believe my eyes,” he says. Twelve years ago, he resigned his commission as lieutenant commander to start the nonprofit corporation Free the Kids (formerly Theo’s Work Inc.).

“Free the Kids” helps pay for the care and education of Haitian children in Hope Village, an agency on 140 acres about 15 minutes from Les Cayes. The number of people seeking help increased after the Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Haiti.

In Creole, the name of Hope Village is Vilaj Espwa. It is a refuge for those who left the devastation of Port-au-Prince. Today, Boisvert worries about the health challenges and poor economic prospects of the Haitian children. Their needs grow every day.

“Our clinic is always a madhouse as we care for our neighbors as well as our own.”  he said.

Boisvert, 60, grew up speaking French in Lewiston’s Holy Family Parish. It was a tight-knit community, he recalls. Everyone spoke French in his neighborhood, and he was shocked when he learned English was the official language of the United States.

Teaching nuns with the St. Joseph Sisters at l’Ecole Ste. Famille suggested his family purchase a television set to help him learn English. He and his sisters sat in front of the television for hours on end.  He says they were anxious to get away from TV to get on with other things.  

Although he speaks French most of the time in Haiti, he also speaks Creole, especially when talking with the children.

“Creole was a fairly simple language to learn because about 80 percent of the vocabulary is French,” he says.

Robert Morris is a Portland lawyer on the Free the Kids board of directors.  He visited Boisvert in Haiti on several occasions and says his progress in Haiti is nothing short of miraculous.

“Father Marc is remarkable. His dedication to helping Haitians flows from his love and respect for the people, his intelligence, his wisdom and his faith in God,” said Morris.

Thousands of people depend on Hope Village and on Father Boisvert for support. He’s a priest, a teacher, an administrator and a counselor.  Free the Kids exists to support Father Marc’s work in Haiti.

Hope Village serves 3,500 meals a day.  There are 754 resident orphans and vulnerable children cared for by the organization and another 1,700 in the schools.

Theo’s Work  was the first name of the corporation funding Hope Village. Boisvert selected the name because the Greek translation means God, but also to honor his Quebecois grandfather named Theophile Boisvert. 

His grandfather drove the only large Packard vehicle in his Quebec village.  He used the car to drive French-Canadian families to Maine from Quebec to start a new life.  Finally, his grandfather moved his own family to Maine. 

“I think about my grandfather when I am working to give people a second chance,” he said.

Lewiston’s Franco-American Heritage Center recently raised $3,400 for Hope Village, said Rita Dube, executive director.
Information about Hope Village is available at www.freethekids.org.

Juliana L’Heureux can be contacted at: [email protected]