In Haiti, poverty poses moral dilemma for workers

January 23, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Nine months ago, Notre Maison, an orphanage for children with physical handicaps, was nearly closed by the government.

It was overcrowded and understaffed, but according to accounts of local missionaries, the founder was doing all she could for all who asked.

Local missionaries Loren Kaenzig and Leroy Hagan, both of Harrodsburg, and Kim Divine, of Perryville, were among those that visited the kids and brought supplies to Notre Maison (Our House).

Ruth Zimmermann, originally from Wisconsin, started the orphanage 11 years ago when on her way to work at a local hospital she kept finding babies in the garbage.


She followed one philosophy of non-profits here. To do a little for everyone that asks.

Arlene Miller, of Crofton, who has traveled with Crusades for Christ for many years, remembers this story. She was working in the orphanage kitchen, and Zimmermann came in and told her to fill a Wal-Mart bag full of rice and beans.

A girl had come in after being kicked out of her home because she didn't have anything to contribute. Zimmermann said she didn't have a bed for the girl but knew that if she gave the girl food then the girl could find someone to take her in.

About a year ago, the organization that supported Zimmermann's work, Short Term Evangelical Missions, realized that she was overwhelmed. They established a board, and Minnesota couple Carol and Bob Stufflebeam were asked to come in for three months. They came in May and are still here.

The non-profit has taken a different philosophy: to do a good job for a few. They are restricted by a government license, which allows them to take 22 kids. They now have 30.

It is not a view that Crusades for Christ's Joe Mobley shares. He said that if he had one apple, he wouldn't give it to just one child but would split it between nine.

He said that God has called him to help the orphanage, and whatever the Stufflebeams do with the help is between them and God.

The Stufflebeams said the government has kept a close eye on them since the facility was cited, and an accidental drowning in the facilities' swimming pool.

But it is a constant Catch 22 in Haiti. Although the Haitian Social Service won't allow them more kids, it refuses to come pick up a boy who was left on their doorstep last Friday.

They have cleaned the kitchen and office area and had metal-framed beds made. They were using rope beds, which harbor scabies. STEM has hired a physical therapist and has gotten more volunteers and hired help, called moms.

"I think it's wonderful that they are taking care of all those people," Hagan said.

It costs the organization $4,000 a month to meet its basic needs. Crusades for Christ has provided supplies: a printer cartridge, stamps, cloth diapers, over-the-counter medicine, candy and bubbles.

For more information or to send a donation, contact Carol and Bob Stufflebeam in care of STEM, MFI-MAF Box 15665, West Palm Beach, Fla. 33416.

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