The most frightening thing I ever experienced in Haiti took place in a vehicle. We were coming back from the airport, heading to the orphanage, and turned onto a street that intersected with a mob of angry protesters. They spotted our car and, for no apparent reason, charged it, throwing rocks and bricks. One rock hit the hood of the car and ricocheted up into the windshield. I was sitting in the front passenger side. Had that rock hit two inches higher, it would have shattered the glass into my face.
We escaped that incident, despite the protesters jumping on our car and banging on the windows, thanks to the quick thinking of our director, who was driving the vehicle. He popped out, hands up, and started shouting who we were, that we ran an orphanage, that they had no beef with us.
We finally drove away — with half a dozen protesters riding on the roof and sides — shaken and scared. But not surprised. You can’t be surprised at anything that happens in the streets of Port-au-Prince these days. Fires. Kidnappings. Shootings. You have to expect the worst.
Over the past year, we have been paying expensive fees to hire an armored car service to take our kids to the hospital, or our director to shop for food, or our volunteers to the airport. It costs around $200 per ride. That’s crazy expensive for an orphanage. But we keep asking ourselves “What choice do we have?”
With your help, we may have one.
Thank you for the food security
Before I speak about our December goal in this Year of Thanks & Giving campaign, I want to thank you all so much for racing to the rescue on our November target. Our goal was to build a new kitchen at our new location, so that our children could continue to eat healthy meals. We put out the number we needed, and you got us there.
Thanks to your generosity, we hope to have that new kitchen completed by the end of January, a place where we can feed 100 people per meal, teach our kids about cooking, and safely store nutritious food to feed our children, in a nation where half the population can’t meet minimum daily calorie requirements. You have made a small miracle in record time.
One goal down, next one up.
We’ve dealt with nutrition.
Now we must deal with safety.
We need to purchase a Safety Car. What that means is an armored vehicle that is impervious to gunshots. That may sound like something out of a “Mission: Impossible” movie, but I can assure you, such vehicles have become essential in Haiti. Foreign officials will not travel without one. Government workers. Businessmen. Well-to-do families.
What about children? What about orphanage directors who need to shop for food? What about nurses who need to take sick children for medical care?
We recently hired an armored car to take a child with tuberculosis to the hospital, only to find out that half the staff was not there because the streets were too dangerous for them to come into work.
A Safety Car is essentially an older vehicle — we do not need a new one — that has been fortified with bulletproof panels, windows and tires. The typical kidnapping methodology in Port-au-Prince is to surround an unsuspecting car with motorcycles, have the bandits jump off and wave guns, and force the passengers out of the car.
If you’re afraid of the bullets, you must acquiesce. If the bullets can’t hurt you, you drive away. I hate to be that blunt, but this is how it is. Nobody asked for the streets to devolve into a war zone. But we simply cannot function behind our gates all day. We need to get places. Our children need to get places. We need supplies, medicine, food.
A Safety Car can get us there.
The cost of a vehicle like this — usually an old model SUV or minivan — is around $55,000. We are seeking to raise that money in the month of December, as well as $10,000 for a driver trained in evasive tactics, usually a former police officer.
I know it feels weird to be asking this in December. December should be about toy drives, stocking stuffers, something holiday-ish to bring out the spirit of the season.
But there are no holidays without security. We feel safe behind the gates of our new home, but not outside them. And we must go outside them.
Here is the reality: in the first six months of this year, nearly 680 people were kidnapped in Haiti and nearly 1,000 killed. This year alone, over 100,000 Haitians in Port-au-Prince have had to flee their homes due to gang violence.
Orphanages are not immune. Most of you recall the bus full of volunteers and kids from a Haitian orphanage that was commandeered by a gang, and all the passengers kidnapped and held for months.
We never want anything like that to happen to our precious children. So, weird as it may sound in December, all we want for Christmas is to be safe. A Safety Car and driver will help. It will let us function. And being able to function — to transport our sick children, to keep our teachers from harm, to protect the volunteers who travel all this way to help us — well, that would be the best gift of all.
Thank you for anything you can do to help us. And treat every safe minute you enjoy in America as a blessing. Because it is.
A Year of Thanks & Giving Project 2: A Safety Car
Status Luxury Safety
The road to an armored car can take many forms:
- If we can raise enough to purchase a used armored vehicle, we’ll then manage import to Haiti and customs duties.
- A gently used, not flashy vehicle — such as a minivan, or older model SUV — may be donated. If the vehicle fits strict parameters, we will use funds to upgrade to armored protection (cost to do so varies widely, but average estimate is $50,000 – $60,000). Let us know here if you think you have something that works here in this form.
- A donated armored vehicle is ideal — spread the word to any organizations or companies that have access and can help.