“Ordinary people with extraordinary stories.”
Daniel and I first met in a pit of Haitian earthquake rubble. He was my “pit boss” as we spent the day chopping up concrete with a sledgehammer and clearing rubble in buckets. During our breaks, Daniel and I had a lot of time to talk and I decided that he’d make an interesting guest for Oprah. Since she’s retired now, maybe Ellen should call him? But until then, here’s a glimpse into his life and just a small part of his story.
First, a little background on our meeting – how did we both end up in a Port au Prince rubble pit, covered in sweat and dust?
Daniel works for the St. Joseph’s Family, a wonderful organization that provides homes for street children and severely physically and mentally challenged children. He works at one of their homes, “Wings of Hope”, attending to the kids. I was an occasional volunteer and my work assignment on the day we met – clearing rubble at the former site of “St. Joseph’s Home & Guest House”.
Born in Haiti, Daniel was raised mostly in the US. He returned to Haiti in early January, 2010, just before the devastating earthquake that struck the island on January 12th. He had just left work that day when the earth started shaking.
What are your memories of that day?
“While we were on the bus I saw people running, some lying on the ground and students running out from the school building asking for help. It was a total traffic jam, nowhere to go! All this time my fiancée was by my side. So we got off the bus and started walking. No one knew what hit us or what name to give what had happened. Thousands of people were in the streets calling out to Jesus asking for help and rescue.
The street was completely dusted. Buildings and houses were crushed, light poles were lying in the streets. People were wounded, lying dead in the streets, students, kids, men and women who were limbless. Blood running down along the street…”
And as the aftershocks continued, Daniel and the others didn’t know if they’d make it through the night.
“But thank God there is a God, he allowed us to fall asleep in the midst of it all. We slept on the ground on a white sheet with no covers and a concrete block as a pillow under our head. Early the next morning at five o’clock, that’s when my job began.”
And the next day?
“I never thought or dreamed in my entire life that I would ever be in this position, having to pick up body after body from the middle of the street to the sidewalk.
One regret I have till this day -a house that was caved in, caught between two other buildings, that had a couple of children inside of it. I couldn’t help to bring them to safety and I do not know the outcome, I don’t know if they survived.”
How did you survive?
“God works mysteriously and no one really knows their full capacity or what they’re capable of unless they are in a situation like this. Just like the Bible says; when God needs his servant to fulfill a task you have to do it. So I just did it.”
The tent camp…
After the earthquake, Daniel made his home in the largest tent camp in Port au Prince.
“While I was at the IDP (interntally displaced person) camp, I was chosen to be one of the leaders and to help manage approximately 125,000 people who were living on a nine hole golf course.”
I toured the camp with Daniel a few times and he introduced me to some of the more fragile residents who he really connected with. The camp was like a small city and he was one of the mayors, well-known and respected among the camp residents.
While living and working in the camp, Daniel spent some time with camp co-founder – actor Sean Penn. Inspired by Sean, and hoping to contribute to the recovery of Haiti, Daniel started his own non-profit organization – “RedeemforHaiti.org.“
“The camp was my home for a year but I continued working at the camp until 2013. Now today I shelter five less fortunate children in an orphanage. We provide meals twice a day, send them to school, assure that they are in good health, nurture them and love them. In addition, I pay for school for fifty other kids in the countryside of Belle Fontaine. Today I am devoted to helping others who cannot help themselves.”
In addition to managing the orphanage, his organization’s mission has expanded to include women’s education and training programs and also an irrigated gardening project to provide fresh food for poor rural areas.
Any advice for others?
“If you have a dream, follow it so you can see it through. When you are dreaming, dream big! Set some challenges for yourself! Do not allow anything or anyone to keep you from your goal. Yes you will have obstacles along the way but persistence, dedication, and perseverance will make you succeed! Also, you have to sell your ideas to people that can help you either financially or as a mentor.”
Solid advice from someone who overcame homelessness to help those even less fortunate.
This video gives a glimpse into life in the tent camp and Daniel’s inspiration for founding his organization.
If you’d like to find out more about Daniel’s work, please visit www.redeemforhandicaphaiti.org.