PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The 7th Sustainment Brigade ministry team made up of Maj. Tom Allen, chaplain, and Staff Sgt. James Hieb, chaplain's assistant, both assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, have been providing aid to Notre Maison a special needs orphanage located near Port-au-Prince throughout February and March while deployed in support of Operation Unified Response.
Assistance to the orphanage has been provided by the soldiers in the form of donated supplies, manual labor and time spent visiting with the children. Allen and Hieb are responsible for organizing approximately 15 visits to Notre Maison and have already donated approximately 30 boxes of supplies, food and medicine.
Time spent at the orphanage was rewarding but for Staff Sgt. Stanley Ervin the desire to provide more for these children in need left him feeling slightly distressed.
“Spending time at the orphanage reminded me of being home with my nieces and nephews,” said Ervin, Support Operations, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade. “It’s sad knowing that they don’t have anyone to take care of them and I wish I could do more.”
The orphanage houses 40 special needs children many of them having been abandoned at local hospitals by their parents who were unable to care for them any longer. The orphans of Notre Maison or, ‘Our House’ range in age from infancy to 20 years old and no child is ever turned away.
As you walk through the iron-clad gate you hear the sound of children’s voices singing Christian songs, their bubbling laughter filling the air. Gertrude Bien-Aime Azor, the woman who founded the organization 16 years ago, treats all of the children as her own. Prior to the Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked the country of Haiti Gertrude ran a guest house that accommodated missionaries and visitors. The money she gathered from their fare was used to support the children of the orphanage.
Her guest house was demolished in the earthquake as was her main source of income to provide for the children. Now, she relies on donations to support her well-loved brood of 40. However, donations are growing smaller and smaller due to the fact that so many people lost so much in the earthquake.
Hieb is responsible for organizing the mission and he has a personal connection. He and his wife are currently looking into adopting a child from an orphanage.
“It makes me want to take a couple of the children home now,” said Heib. “It makes me recognize even more so the importance of caring for children from all around the world.”
During their visits soldiers spend time with the children and also clear rubble left by the devastating earthquake. While the children benefit from the aid and support provided by the soldiers, the troops get back tenfold from their experience. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces while visiting with them is thanks enough.
“Everybody who goes out there is strongly affected,” said Allen. “You see the toughest soldiers break down and cry from being so touched. Many of them come back and say this is the most important mission they’ve experienced. This shows soldiers that what we are doing in the community,” he said, “it’s a great hands-on experience. It gives them a greater sense of purpose while here and a bigger sense of satisfaction than any award or pat on the back.”
Allen added that though they are assisting the children there is always more that needs to be done.
”I’m glad to provide some help to Gertrude and the children,” he said, “but wish I could do more. When we leave she’s back on her own.”