Sanford man seeks help to save Haitian students
by Glenn Judah, Herald Staff
January 24 2010 at 1259 | 681 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo contributed: In a pre-earthquake photo, some of Timkatec’s more than 400 students gather outside the school in Haiti.
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Patrick O’Shea’s mission since 2004 has been to provide a safe haven for orphans living in Haiti. The Sanford resident’s goal has been to take children off the street, give them an opportunity to learn a skill and to make Haiti a better place.

But after the recent devastating earthquakes on the island, what he is trying to do now is just find the students and staff that have been missing from his school.

“We still have no information on 30 of the staff and over 400 students,” he said. “We know that one teacher died, another’s daughter was a victim and three lost their homes.”

O’Shea set up the Friends of Timkatec in America foundation to establish funding for a mission school in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

O’Shea said he has helped raise more than $30,000 for the school, which started with just a few children and has grown into three buildings that house and educate more than 400 children. The school called Timkatec is run by the Rev. Joseph Simon, an 80-year-old Salesian priest who began the mission more than 15 years ago. O’Shea, who operates a mergers and acquisitions business, has a personal connection to the 60 students he handed diplomas to in July for completing a two-year national certification process in either plumbing, masonry or electrical work. O’Shea grew up in an English boarding school during World War II after becoming an orphan at a young age. The school taught him discipline and a skill to improve his life, which are the same skills he wants to pass on to Timkatec’s students.

“Simon’s dream was to build a workshop to train children to be self-sufficient,” O’Shea said. “I wanted to raise the money to do that. These kids are not getting just handouts. They are being made better people who can help Haiti's future.”

Tracking down the school’s students will be an almost impossible task in Haiti’s current situation. O’Shea said Simon’s plan is to reach out to boys living on the street near the school to find the missing children. He is hopeful, yet realistic at the same time.

“We must assume further student and staff casualties as many live in very sub-par situations,” he said.

The three Timkatec buildings are still standing, but Timkatec 1, the main building that is home to 43 boys, has giant cracks running through the walls. O’Shea said the schools withstood the earthquakes because they are fairly new and were built up to U.S. codes with reinforced concrete, unlike most of Haiti’s buildings. Students and staff are not allowed back inside the Timkatec complexes for shelter until architects say it is safe.

“I need to find out if the cracks are dangerous or merely cosmetic,” he said. “I’ve been told by contacts in Haiti that children feel safer living on the streets because ‘streets don’t kill, buildings do.’ ”

O’Shea is trying to organize and coordinate relief for the school from his home office in Sanford, but is hitting roadblocks with Haiti’s limited communication and access. He is in contact with the Catholic Relief Services, which handles Timkatec’s donations and provides services to missions throughout Haiti. O’Shea said he has been told by a missionary worker that organizations are transporting food and water trucks for Haitians living in Petion-Ville.

“These small groups and volunteers who have previously had missions in Haiti, they are what makes the country work,” O’Shea said. “The guys that stay for the long haul are going to make these things work, and they are supported by small groups like ours.”

As O’Shea watches the news and waits on the other line for the school’s architect, he sees the Air Force’s 82nd Airborne has landed in Petion-Ville. He quickly shifts his focus on making contact with the Air Force. O’Shea believes that over time, aid and order will be established, but knows that no matter what, the quake will make Haiti’s previous problems of poverty grow even larger.

“The number of ‘street children’ seeking help will multiply several fold,” O’Shea said, adding that his school’s mission will be even more important.

“School staff will have major staffing problems with employees and their families deceased, missing or homeless, making it difficult for the survivors to concentrate on Timkatec. The cost of all supplies has escalated sharply and is liable to stay high for some time.”

O’Shea’s church in Sanford, All Souls Catholic, has raised more than $7,000 this week for his school. Since most of the banks were destroyed during the earthquake, O’Shea took the money to Miami, where he handed it off to Simon to take back to Haiti. Simon was set to leave for the Dominican Republic on Friday, then head to Haiti.

O’Shea is waiting to hear the latest status of his school and its students from Simon, but is also concerned for his safety as looting becomes more popular.

“You have to have a degree of patience in these situations,” he said. “I’m not surrounded by the chaos so it makes it easier for me to deal with, but I’m worried and doing everything I can to help from here.”

Donations can be made to Friends of Timkatec in America by going to the foundation’s website, www.timkatec.org.