The trip that changed a man’s life
A humanitarian visit to an orphanage in Haiti in 2008 changed Phillip Rego’s life forever. The Royal Gazette’s Nicola Muirhead travelled with Mr Rego and the Feed My Lambs ministry to the country last week to see what they do first hand. In the first of a three-part series she spoke to Mr Rego and some of the orphans he has helped over the past six years
On January 12, 2010, following a series of debilitating hurricanes in 2008, Haiti was wrecked by an earthquake reaching a magnitude of 7.0 Mw near the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, killing an estimated 220,000 people.
The bare mountainous hillsides of Haiti that resulted from hurricanes Gustav, Fay, Hanna, and Ike two years earlier, left the country defenceless against the aftershocks of the quake — measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale — and Haiti’s already weak infrastructure quickly collapsed under the mudslides and floods that followed. An estimated 1.5 million people were left homeless, and today it is said 350,000 people are still living in refugee camps.
“I arrived in Haiti in October of 2008 to help out at another orphanage,” Philip Rego told The Royal Gazette. “I went on a mission of mercy to distribute $20,000 worth of food, and when I looked into the Haitian people’s eyes, they were empty and hopeless. That was my first trip here, and it was the one that changed my life forever.”
A year later, in September of 2009, Mr Rego opened up a home for 11 orphaned children in a partially finished house in Montrouis, Haiti. Most of the children had either been abandoned by their parents or had family members who were unable to financially support them, and in a plea to give the children a chance at life, many Haitians sought out Mr Rego for help.
“I didn’t know it then, but I couldn’t walk away from so much sadness and grief without offering an opportunity to help in some way — so here I am six years later … the rest is history.”
What started as a transition house for these 11 children soon evolved into an orphanage of 56 children, and a school for 700 students. Each year the compound progressed in sophistication due to the projects Mr Rego organised every year with the help and support of sponsors from Bermuda.
“What he’s done here is kind of special because it’s the vision,” Jim Butterfield, a volunteer and sponsor, said. “He bought a banana patch, and out of the banana patch came the orphanage, and then the school. It’s been quite remarkable when you think of what has been done in the last five to six years.”
In that time Feed My Lambs has been the first school in the community of Montrouis to have; showers, flushing toilets, a medical clinic, six classrooms, a generator, washing machines, and a refrigerator. As of this month the orphanage and school can now produce their own electricity and purified water from solar panels, and a water purification system.
None of which could have been possible without the support and skill set of dedicated Bermudian volunteers and donors who have worked closely with Mr Rego and Feed My Lambs over the years.
“I am in it for the long haul,” David Hayward, a volunteer from David Hayward Plumbing Services, said. “Philip asked me to come down, and now I am addicted.”
Hayward, who has been instrumental in the plumbing and water purification system at the orphanage, with his colleague Simone Smith, is so committed to helping the children at Feed My Lambs he has decided to adopt a four-year-old child named Shalita.
“I am going to sponsor Shalita, until she dies,” Hayward said. “I am going to pay for her education, and the food that will go into her belly — which may only be 30 or 40 dollars a month — but that’s cool, because it is for Shalita.
“These kids, who don’t even have a family, have made a family among themselves, and it feels good to help them. It’s given me a cause.”
Cassanthia Pierre, who is now 22 years old, has been an orphan at Feed My Lambs since almost the beginning. She too looks at the orphanage, and it’s volunteers, as her family, having no longer maintained a connection with her original family.
“One day I was living with my uncle, and my uncle beat me a lot. He kicked me out and I took all my clothes to try and find my parents.”
Ms Pierre was 17 when Mr Rego discovered her wandering the streets near the house he was renting in 2009. “Thankfully I ran into Phillip and he said he would help me, and that is why I am at Feed My Lambs.”
Her story is not unlike many other heartbreaking stories behind the lives of these orphans at Feed My Lambs. Nine-year-old Chrisla, who lost her family in the earthquake of 2010, was discovered in a dumpster in Port-au-Prince, and sixteen-year-old Belinga — a child slave since the age of five — was rescued by one orphanage and then transferred over to Feed My Lambs when that orphanage shut down.
The stories are shocking and sometimes seemingly unbelievable, but none of this phases Mr Rego, “The sad stories and the happy endings. This is why I do this. It’s the only motivator.”
There’s certainly a happy ending for Cassanthia. She will be given something she never thought possible: “I am going to college in Port-au-Prince,” she said.
“I want to study as a paediatrician. In Haiti the people get really sick, and that is why I am choosing to be a doctor, so I can help my own people,” she said, in the midst of packing her only suitcase in the girl’s dormitory at Feed My Lambs.
The vision and future for the children and the young people living at Feed My Lambs would seem apparent to anyone, but like most developing countries struggling to claim their dignity and become empowered, it is fragile and susceptible to set backs.
“I am just trying to see the kids reach their full potential, that’s all I am trying to do. And I don’t know how long I’ll be at it,” Mr Rego said during his last night in Haiti, “I still have a couple more big plans for theses children, but they are really their dreams, not mine — I am just trying to listen and hear them.”
There is no denying the feeling of hope when looking at the Feed My Lambs community. It’s understandable why volunteers want to continue coming back, seeing how much of a difference their work has made to the lives of Haitians in Montrouis, helping to build a space where 700 children can be educated, and at least 20 or more adults can be hired as security staff, cooks and teachers.
At this rate this microcosm will certainly grow and envelope more of the surrounding village, as the projects and support from Bermuda continue to help uplift the people of Montrouis.
*Feed My Lambs will hold their Annual Appreciation Reception at BUEI on Thursday starting at 5:30pm