The Social Conscience of a Missionary

It's a long way from LoDo to Haiti, but Dan Jeune wants to bridge the gap. With friendship.

This compound, where sixty people work, also has a church that was started in 1990 but has never been completed. Bishop Joel holds a service under the roof each week. It is here that he'll also host a Christmas party for 7,000 kids, which ICOF will help coordinate.

But on its first morning in Haiti, the ICOF team loads up the minivan and heads for Waney, where Dan's father built his first church with his own hands in the mid-'70s, and where the compound later grew to include a school and a girls' orphanage (which became a boys' orphanage when the new compound was built in 1990). The basketball hoop that missionaries installed at the Waney compound when Dan was a kid still stands, but the backboard is gone.

Inside the church, a couple of kids sing a welcome to the ICOF visitors, who start distributing notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, glue sticks and scissors to the audience, which numbers almost 500. Terrance takes the stage and speaks about what he sees as the mission of ICOF. Merlie follows and is moved to tears. Then it's Stephanie's turn.

That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Mark Manger
That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.

"We were able to give you a little bit," she says, "but what's important is what you do with it. I want you to write. I want you to color. I want you to use your mind."

By the time the supplies make it to the back of the room, the crayons and notebooks are gone. Kids without two things to stick together get glue. Kids without paper get pens, and vice versa. One boy asks for a pair of scissors so he can cut his hair.

When every last item is gone, the ICOF team gets back in the van, which bounces down the bumpy pavement as Michael Jackson's voice breaks through the static on the radio. The streets are clogged with men pushing wheelbarrows full of rocks and women carrying baskets filled with oranges or goat skins on their heads. Above them, selling sodas on billboards in every direction, is the face of former Fugee Wyclef Jean, a native of Haiti who has the same status there that Elvis has in America. Signs welcoming Wyclef, who is hosting a free concert this week, hang all over the city. Everyone but Terrance wants to go to the show; Terrance thinks it's too dangerous.

The van makes a quick stop at a police station so that the women can use the restroom, then turns off the broken pavement onto a road with no pavement at all. After a couple of close calls, it gets mired in a hole filled with mud. Everyone gets out to help push the vehicle free.

After almost an hour on back-country roads, the team finally arrives at Source Sab (Creole for a source of dirt or sand), a village where about 3,500 people, most of them children, live in huts without electricity, sharing a few water pumps and fifty outhouses. The village's only income comes from a few small wheat fields; the villagers live on rice and beans, with occasional sweet potatoes and dairy from village cows.

A blind orphan navigates her way around the village holding on to a barbed-wire fence. Another malnourished kid runs around half naked, looking like a "for the price of a cup of coffee" charity commercial.

The only school in the area, which runs through fifth grade, is about a fifteen-minute walk from the village. It costs $5.50 a month, and even though that includes one meal each day, most parents can't afford it.

"Every kid should have an education," Traci says. "They should have an ability to speak, to read and not be oppressed. That's Starbucks money, that's nothing." Traci is sponsoring three kids through ICOF and has convinced friends to sponsor two more. "I'm gonna cry soon," she adds.

Soon comes when the orphanage director shows the group where the 24 orphans sleep, in a room where he puts mattresses that they can share on the dirty concrete floor. Traci takes pictures with her "babies."

A woman in the village asks Merlie to take her child back to the U.S., knowing that her baby's future will be brighter anywhere but here. Although ICOF has managed to help only a few of these children, they all raise their hands when Dan asks who is happy.

By early afternoon, everyone is dehydrated from standing in the hot sun, and the ICOF team hustles toward the van so that they can reach civilization before sunset. School has apparently just let out, because hundreds of kids in yellow uniforms who weren't there just a few minutes before now surround the team. They follow them all the way to the van and then hang on to the windows or stand on the bumper as the van pulls off into the dust.

On the way back to the Waney compound, the van makes a quick tourist stop at the presidential palace, which has a clear view of the slums across the street and a monument dedicated to the slavery rebellion that led to the founding of Haiti. There's also a giant, million-dollar torch that Aristide built but never lit — another unfinished project. As the team gets back in the van, a motorcycle with four people on it passes by.

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