What: Share the Vision -- Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti
When: 6-8:30 p.m. April 19
Where: Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd.
Information: RSVP by April 12. Call 423-495-1122 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line - Sharethevision).
TO GET INVOLVED
Email ourrock email@example.com Call 423-591-3304
Creole is the language of Haiti, but big brown eyes speak in ways that anyone can understand.
Joshua Mauk was standing and smoking outside a school and orphanage in Port-au-Prince when he first noticed the boy, who kept looking at him, then hiding, looking and hiding.
The boy reminded the Chattanooga contractor of his son Joshua, and Mauk wanted to do something for him.
But how? Mauk was on a short mission trip to the earthquake-ravaged country, didn't speak the language and didn't have much to offer him beyond compassion -- and bubble gum. That was enough.
After two days, little Pierre Wens Charles, 4, accepted the gum and a new friend.
The idea of helping Haiti's youth was born out of this encounter in the summer of 2011, and it took Mauk to Haiti for a second time in March to start planning for a new organization intended to provide job training.
Nahum Faubert, a Haiti native who survived the 2010 earthquake and came to Chattanooga afterward to finish his studies at Tennessee Temple University, is Mauk's partner in the ministry.
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake of 2010 flattened much of the country's infrastructure and killed more than 200,000 people. More than two years later, thousands of displaced people still live in temporary camps across the Caribbean country.
For Faubert, the need and the poverty hit close to home.
"I see the need, and I can't pretend it doesn't exist," he said in a recent interview in Chattanooga. "I grew up in a generation where you are told to follow your dreams, but some of my friends are now dead, some are still struggling. How can I forget that?
"Youth are the promise of a good future [in Haiti], and they are ready to lead; they just need someone to show them the way," he said.
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• Slightly smaller than Maryland
• 9.8 million people
• 60 percent between ages 15 and 64; median age 21
• 53 percent of the population age 15 and over can read and write.
Source: Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook
While in Haiti, Mauk and Faubert talked with leaders of Baptist Calvary Church of Haiti and government officials about their foundation.
At the end of the one-week trip, the pair realized it would cost a lot of money and time to build their own vocational school, as they wanted. They needed a much quicker start.
The decided to offer sponsorships so youths can stay in school, learn skills and help rebuild their country while putting money in their pockets.
There are many contractors and foreign workers in Haiti because not enough Haitians are qualified for the work, they said.
Rebuilding is challenge enough, but within months of the earthquake, a cholera outbreak struck.
It is one of the largest epidemics of the disease in modern history to affect a single country. As of mid-December 2011, Haiti had reported more than 520,000 cases of the acute intestinal infection and close to 7,000 deaths, according to the United Nations.
But the buildings and the people tell two different stories.
"If I look at the structures, it is like nothing much has changed. But if I look at the people, is like [the earthquake is] part of the past," said Faubert, 30.
"I just see them keep living because they have a life to live," he said after a mission trip last summer with Westview Baptist Church, which helped him come to the U.S. He plans to return to Haiti in July.
Parts of Port-au-Prince still need extensive reconstruction. Thirteen of the 17 churches Faubert is associated with are damaged, and a couple were destroyed.
But progress is happening in some regions, said Charles Sternbergh, co-founder of the Chattanooga-based Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti.
The organization works in Leogane, where there are visible improvements, he said.
"Most of the houses that had fallen down have been demolished and rubble picked up," he said. "A year ago there was still piles of rubble on the streets."
But many people are still jobless, and poverty and sanitation problems are rife.
"I'm not saying everything is rosy," said Sternbergh. "But if you look at the big picture, I think things are better."
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About half of Haitian children go to elementary school, but fewer than one in five goes on to secondary school, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.
Little Pierre lives right outside the school where Mauk was volunteering but knew he would never be able to go because his mother didn't have money to send him. His father died in an electrical accident.
Pierre's story resonated with Mauk, 33, who now owns a construction company but who grew up in a single-parent household with six children "all fending for ourselves pretty much," he said.
One day during a smoke break, Mauk took out a $10 bill and gave it to the little boy.
He clenched it in his hand before turning around and giving it to his mother, who in turn cried and hugged Mauk.
"If that little was so heartfelt, I want to do more," he said.
A family needs only $5 to $7 a month to pay for their child to go to elementary school, said Faubert.
"One pack of cigarettes a week can change someone's life forever," said Mauk. "Is that a lot to give?"
Faubert and Mauk are still in the early stages of putting the faith-based foundation together, but they know one thing: They are in it for the long run.
"You can drop off tents and bags of rice, but at the end you have the same situation," said Mauk. "If you are going to do something, it has to be long-term."
And Melody, his wife, supports him.
"I knew from hearing him talk about it that it was heavy on his heart," she said. "You have to get on board or get mad. I decided to get on board."
A key word in their mission statement is sustainability, Mauk and Faubert said.
"The project cannot be sustainable if we don't equip individuals to face daily life, to meet personal, basic needs," said Faubert. "It's better to show someone how to fish instead of giving them a fish."
An important part of their foundation will be ministry, building disciples into leaders within the church, Faubert said.
"Haiti has social needs, but Haiti also has spiritual needs," he said.
For both men, their faith is a big part of why they are doing this.
"I'm Christian," said Faubert, who was a youth pastor in Haiti and leads Bible study groups here. "If I truly believe what the Bible says, how can I come here, enjoy myself and forget everything else? If I'm still alive, it's for a reason."