The Jacmel Children’s Center is the vision that inspired Hope to Haiti. It’s a vision that was first conceived by a woman named Bonite Affriany.
Bonite is Haitian and lived for some time in Brooklyn, New York before returning to Haiti to help her people. In Haiti, Bonite serves lunch to over 300 children every day. They line up to wash their hands before sitting at the table to wait patiently until everyone has been served before beginning their meal, usually rice and beans and whatever vegetables are available.
For many of these children, it’s the one meal they will receive all day, and some walk over an hour to her center. After nourishing them, Bonite and her staff teach the children language, mathematics, and bible studies. Recently, she started classes in sewing to help create job skills for the children.
As a registered nurse, Bonite also provides medical care for these children as well as hundreds of people in the community who show up on her porch. She receives donations of clothing and distributes them to the Jacmel community, she has her own version of a micro-loan center where she offers interest-free loans to adults in her community who are trying to start businesses, she brings food to people who are in jail and impoverished, and more. In short, Bonite is considered to be the Mother Theresa of Jacmel.
Although Bonite is able to feed, educate, and provide medical care for the children who turn up at her door, she is unable to provide a home for them; many are forced to return to the streets or tents. During a volunteer trip to Jacmel, The Art Department, Inc. board member Philip Schneider and his wife, Lisa Rueff, asked Bonite what she needed and her reply was, “a place for dozens of children to sleep.”
The Jacmel Children’s Center, when completed, will serve as an orphanage and school for up to 100 children. It will be seismically stable, eco-efficient, and self-sufficient providing for a low cost of operation. It will produce electricity from solar panels and have gardens, its own water well, and a fish farm. Bonite will take in children aged under a year to around eight years old, and she will have “House Moms” who will live there to raise the children.
In fact, in mid-March 2012, Bonite had a 14-month old boy named Stephen brought to her with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Stephen was abandoned and turned away by both hospitals and churches, but Bonite took him in with the realization that very soon, he would have a home at the Jacmel Children’s Center. She already has him cleaned up and is attending to his immediate nutritional needs when in the past she would also have been forced to turn him away. Stephen doesn’t smile, having apparently been ignored for the first 14 months of his life, but Bonite will change that, and we’re helping her do it.