March 4, 2010

Column: Relief delivery to orphanage tantalizingly close

By Bill Nemitz

LES CAYES, Haiti — The Maine ship Sea Hunter, assuming it passes a customs inspection early this morning, has been cleared to begin offloading its 200 tons of relief supplies for Haiti's earthquake victims.

click image to enlarge

Lewiston native Father Marc Boisvert, third from left, is flanked by Sea Hunter owner Greg Brooks of Gorham as they walk from one meeting with government officials to another Wednesday in Les Cayes, Haiti.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Writer

click image to enlarge

Haitian officials wait while Hope Village founder Father Marc Boisvert, Sea Hunter owner Greg Brooks, interpreter Felix Vital and ship Captain Gary Esper confer Wednesday during discussions on offloading the Maine relief ship's cargo in Les Cayes.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Writer

Government officials here gave the green light Wednesday after meeting for several hours with the Sea Hunter's owner, Greg Brooks of Gorham, and the Rev. Marc Boisvert, a Lewiston native who operates Hope Village on the outskirts of Les Cayes.

"You've got it. No problem," said Joseph Yves Aubourg, the regional delegate to Haiti's national government, when asked through an interpreter if the Sea Hunter finally had official authorization to deliver its food, clothing, medical supplies and other donated items.

Aubourg said the offloading will begin once a customs inspector boards the ship this morning and verifies that its cargo is in fact humanitarian aid.

The long-awaited decision, like so much of the Sea Hunter's progress since it left Portland Harbor on Jan. 31, did not come easily.

The day began shortly before 8 a.m., when Brooks, Sea Hunter Capt. Gary Esper and interpreter Felix Vital rode the ship's tender, Mini Me, seven miles into Les Cayes from an anchorage near the island of Ile a Vache.

Waiting for them at the dock was Boisvert, whose orphanage and community assistance program will receive much of the aid that's aboard the ship.

"I can tell you're from Maine -- it's the accent," Boisvert said as he met Brooks face-to-face for the first time.

Brooks, Boisvert and Esper then settled in the shade of a nearby cafe while Berthany Piard, Boisvert's executive director at Hope Village, and Vital, who lives in Les Cayes, began contacting local officials to set up a meeting.

It took almost four hours.

"I'm glad I didn't give the kids the day off at school," mused Boisvert, referring to the public school operated by Hope Village.

Finally, shortly after noon, Vital called on his cell phone to report that Aubourg, the national delegate, had agreed to meet with Brooks and Boisvert.

Around the same time, Piard returned with Yve Francoise Mortimer, who works as both an administrator for the city of Les Cayes and a private shipping agent.

(According to Boisvert, Mortimer initially demanded that Piard pay him $1,000 to represent the Sea Hunter's and Hope Village's interests before local officials. When Piard balked, Boisvert said, Mortimer settled for $600.)

The group drove several blocks in two vehicles to a nondescript storefront in downtown Les Cayes. There, they were led up a stairway to Aubourg's cramped, dimly lit office -- made all the smaller by the eight empty chairs set up around Aubourg's desk.

The 45-minute session did not start well.

"You should have sent a letter saying you were coming," a stern-faced Aubourg, speaking in Creole through Vital, told the Sea Hunter delegation. "You can't just come here without telling us first."

As the scolding dragged on, a visibly irritated Brooks finally looked at Vital and threw up his hands. "Then tell him I'll just take my ship and everything on it and go back to America," Brooks said.

Enter Boisvert. Speaking fluent Creole in a conciliatory tone, the Roman Catholic priest told Aubourg that the items aboard the ship are all humanitarian donations ("C'est tout humanitaire!") originally destined for Hope Village.

"We didn't notify you because we didn't want to bother you," explained Boisvert.

"It is no bother," replied Aubourg, his demeanor suddenly softening. "This is no trouble for us."

And with that, the bargaining began. Within a few minutes, a deal was struck:

The contents of 10 20-foot containers aboard the Sea Hunter, all donated to Hope Village by the Florida-based charity Cross International, still will go to Boisvert's operation. Since a magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, Hope Village's orphanage has swelled from 600 to nearly 800 boys.

(Continued on page 2)

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