Sanford man fights obstacles in Haiti to reopen school
by Glenn Judah, Herald Staff
March 04 2010 at 0903 | 515 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo contributed: One of Timkatec’s students carries a bucket of food dropped off by Catholic Relief Services. The bucket holds 15 meals.
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A Haitian school supported by a Sanford man’s foundation reopens today after the country’s devastating earthquake 50 days ago, but may of the students and staff are still unaccounted for.

Timkatec, the school for orphans supported by Patrick O’Shea’s Friends of Timkatec in America, still has 20 staffers and about half of the 400 students missing.

“I don't know what that means? Did they die? Did they go to the countryside or refugee camps? I just don't know,” he said.

O’Shea has been working tirelessly since Jan. 11, establishing communications and funneling money to feed the school’s staff and students, but it’s a slow process when the entire country remains in ruins.

“Forty percent of the school’s employees are uncounted for,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea set up the foundation in 2004 to establish funding for a mission school in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His goal is to educate Haiti’s youth to end the country’s poverty-stricken cycle. But as his school reopens today, he is fearful “all the bad habits are coming back.”

“Kids are having legs amputated because they can't get the simplest of antibiotics,” he said. “This is an example of the day-to-day challenges.”

O’Shea’s contact in Haiti is the Rev. Joseph Simon, an 80-year-old Salesian priest who began the mission more than 15 years ago. Simon was in the United States when the earthquake struck. O’Shea helped Simon secure a flight back to Haiti out of Miami a few days later. Since Simon’s return, the priest has focused on securing Timkatec’s staff and students and re-establishing a sense of normalcy. O’Shea said that without Simon’s presence, the school would be in chaos.

“He's a planner,” O’Shea said. “I’ve never met someone who is so effective and efficient.”

Simon has gone to great lengths to keep the school running. He traded in his car for food and worked the black market for other needed supplies. O’Shea said Haiti’s economy is purely a barter system because the banks are slow to hand out funds.

“You can’t get money out of the bank. It just sits there,” O’Shea said. “It’s only a matter of time until there is a run on the banks. There is very little to buy, which is creating a thriving back market.”

O’Shea knows that as the school regroups there will be a greater demand on water, food and shelter. He is fearful that Timkatec could be overrun. Simon is now using police to stop riots from breaking out when trucks unload supplies.

“It’s very, very sad,” O’Shea said. “You have to be pragmatic. Lots of other organizations are facing the same issues.”

O’Shea’s focus from Sanford is helping Simon connect with relief organizations, find ways to send him cash and continue to collect donations. But like Simon in Haiti, O’Shea is running into roadblocks from the outside. It took a month for a generator O’Shea purchased to travel from the Dominican Republic to Timkatec.

“Distribution is my biggest problem,” he said. “The port, airports, it all bottlenecks. I wish the U.S. or Florida would step up to streamline the system so goods can make it in at a timely rate. We must work with the Haitian counterparts. Right now there is no government. The country is at the risk of becoming a failed state.”

O’Shea’s church, All Souls Catholic, has helped Timkatec through donations since the earthquake. He collects funds through his foundation and sends them to Catholic Relief Services. The organization has provided engineers for the school, food, tents and clothing.

“Our church has been very, very good, and Catholic Relief Services has done an amazing job,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea is both grateful for the amount of civilian donations from the United States. So far, American citizens have donated more than $700 million for relief efforts in Haiti. He is hopeful to make a trip to Timkatec in August, when there will be a school graduation. Until then, O’Shea will continue to let the school “know people on the outside care.”