March 31, 2010

Heart and soul in Haiti

The Rev. Marc Boisvert went to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere 12 years ago, and knows he will spend his life – all of it – helping on this island.

By Bill Nemitz

(Continued from page 2)

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Orphan boys pump water, left, to clean a washing tub at Hope Village in Les Cayes. Almost half of the relief supplies aboard the Maine ship Sea Hunter are being delivered this weekend to the orphanage and community. assistance program.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Orphan boys greet visitors to their housing units at Hope Village in Les Cayes, where they maintain small gardens at the entrance to each dormitory. The village has recently added about 200 children, fleeing the aftermath of the Jan. 12 quake.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

Additional Photos Below

"Hey!" Boisvert hollered upon spotting two young boys itching to climb aboard a parked motorcycle.

"Ah-ah-ahhhh!" Boisvert said, waving the pair farther away with each syllable. Eyes fixed on Boisvert, they moved one foot, then two, then three away from the vehicle.

"Merci," Boisvert said with a nod. The boys smiled back.

Boisvert's philosophy with the children is simple.

"For the little kids, it's the basic stuff," Boisvert said. "The first step is to let them play, let them have a pure childhood."

And the second step?

"To let them dream," he replied.

Hence an elementary education leads directly to vocational training in carpentry, welding, masonry, electricity, plumbing or tailoring -- all aimed at providing each boy a future by the time he leaves Hope Village at age 20.

"Every kid has to learn a skill so he can at least go out and try to earn some money," Boisvert said.

Beyond the educational program, just keeping the entire operation running is no easy feat.

The kitchen's eight charcoal pits and four gas stoves produce between 3,000 and 4,000 hot meals per day.

The two dozen dormitories, supervised by adult staff and secured behind a guarded concrete wall, house up to 40 children each.

It's not uncommon for younger boys, put to bed in their own bunks at night, to be found huddled two and three to a bed by morning.

'They're looking for human contact, for affection," Boisvert said. "Most of them have never had that in their lives. A lot of these kids have no value in the communities they come from."

Boisvert cringes at the notion that his work here makes him larger than life back in the United States.

Lately he's been pressuring his board of directors, which operates under the nonprofit banner "Free the Kids," to take their fundraising emphasis off him and put it squarely on the kids.

He's also anxious to have a succession plan in place.

"What if I die next month?" Boisvert asked, throwing up his hands. "The kids will still be here."

Peter Faford, a Roman Catholic deacon from Worcester, Mass., who moved to Hope Village two years ago with his wife, Linda, serves as Hope Village's project director.

Faford, 65, said behind Boisvert's strong personality lies the real secret of his success -- a deep, spiritual humility.

"The minute you start making it about yourself, the ministry is over," Faford said. "Father Marc very rarely thinks about himself. It's always the kids, always the kids."

Faford, a retired corporate manager, also noted that Boisvert's modest life here -- he lives in his own home on the edge of Hope Village -- is a far cry from the life he could be living.

"He could be in Florida relaxing and saying Mass on Sunday. He could be living off his military pension," Faford said. "But he left all of that to work with street kids."

And here he will stay.

Boisvert said he's serious about being buried here -- right next to the three boys who have died at Hope Village (two from disease, one from accidental drowning in a nearby stream).

He still has sisters back in Maine, where he returns each year for a fundraising visit. He still misses lobster. He's yet to realize his dream of spending a winter skiing.

But move back? Now? Ever?

"Why would I?" Boisvert asked, throwing up his hands. "Will Maine give me visas for 800 kids? I don't think so."

Besides, home is where your soul is.

"This is God's work," Boisvert said. "This is what God wants me to do."


Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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Additional Photos

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The Rev. Marc Boisvert holds Stanley Toussiant, one of almost 800 orphans who live at Hope Village in Haiti. Boisvert, a Lewiston native, founded and operates the orphanage and community assistance program on the outskirts of Les Cayes.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

click image to enlarge

Douyon Roberson, left, and Phillipe Juste are two of the almost 800 orphans living at Hope Village.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist


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