Pittsburghers travel to Haiti to help country

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THE STREETS OF HAITI (Photo by Sonya Toler)

by Sonya M. Toler
For New Pittsburgh Courier
The faith and spirit of the people of Haiti are stronger than ever as the island nation continues to rebuild.

It was January 12, 2010 when a catastrophic earthquake took the lives of an estimated 300,000 people, toppled or damaged 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings, and focused the world’s attention on Haiti.

Pittsburgh has been involved with efforts helping to empower Haitians long before the natural disaster nearly four years ago.

Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti is one such organization founded in 1983 by Leon D. Pamphile,PhD.  At the time, Pamphile was merely trying to do what countless numbers of Haitians continue to do: find a way to bring resources to his country that would empower others.

“I have always wanted to do things to help Haiti,” said Pamphile, who left his hometown of Thomassin, Haiti in 1971 to further his education.

He attended the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh. He served as pastor of the First Church of God of New Kensington prior to being named bishop of Haiti for the Church of God in Christ in 2011.

FLM’s unspoken mission is “to help Haitians help themselves,” explained Pamphile during a walk through the steep terrain of his hometown.

With the dual role as FLM executive director and bishop, Pamphile is uniquely positioned to fulfill his divinely inspired dream to alleviate the suffering of his people.

“We don’t support efforts that keep people in poverty,” Pamphile stated. “Everything we do is to equip Haitians with the skills to left them up from poverty.”

Pittsburgh advertising entrepreneur Russell Bynum is FLM’s president. He explained that the non-profit Christian organization started out teaching reading to improve the country’s low literacy numbers, currently at 45 percent.

FLM supports 60 reading centers in 11 communities, while providing funds for the K-12 Devaise Pamphile College Mixte and the House of David Community Health Center. Pamphile presided over a Sept. 28 grand opening ceremony of the organization’s newest offering—Excelsior Technical Institute to further train Haitians with necessary skills.

FLM has also opened a volunteer residence house for people who travel to Haiti to assist with the rebuilding efforts.

The organization’s financial support mostly comes from individuals and churches, according to Bynum who said many donations are small amounts that come in monthly.

Wadson Desir works with FLM as an interpreter and has been working on his own vision to empower his county.

The 39-year-old accountant has been helping to operate a school for several years in the town of Boutilliers. He is creating micro-business as a focus of the school’s curriculum.

“My proposal is for a tree nursery. We want to fight against the deforestation of Haiti,” he explains. “It’s the best way to teach the children how to not only grow trees but plants, too. This is a way to make a way for them to make a living, help the environment, the government (by creating taxable businesses), the community, and to help themselves.”

Desir explained that many people, in order to provide for their families, chop down trees to make charcoal to sell. In fact, the Haitian government has deemed 2013 “The Year of the Environment” as it has launched its own reforestation effort.

In such a mountainous region, the missing trees have led to increased flooding, mudslides and soil erosion. Last year, two hurricanes worsened matters. Isaac destroyed 40 percent of Haiti’s agricultural sector and Sandy destroyed 80 percent of what remained.

Pamphile summed up the sentiment of Haitians best: “You will find people of great faith with great love for their country who work hard.”

Much work is still needed to raise Haiti from the depths of being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but there are many hands on the till who have the best interest of the people at heart.

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