Haiti’s aftershock
by Glenn Judah, Herald Staff
July 21 2010 at 1004 | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo contributed: School children at Timkatec try to find normalcy through education 6 months after earthquakes devastated Haiti.
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Sanford man helps school find success amid the rubble

It has been a little more than 6 months since a series of devastating earthquakes rocked Haiti, and although Patrick O’Shea of Sanford was more than 700 miles away the aftershocks continue to rattle his mind.

In 2004, O’Shea set up the Friends of Timkatec in America, a foundation to establish funding for a mission school in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. With his help, Timkatec quickly blossomed into a safe haven for children who were living on the streets.

Before the first 7.0 earthquake struck on Jan. 12, O’Shea’s school housed and educated more than 400 children. The next day, Timkatec’s three buildings remained intact, but the children and teachers were all gone.

Today, the school is up and running again as a shelter taking in more than 500 children. O’Shea said the school opened in May, five weeks ahead of schedule with more students than before, but he knows Timkatec and Haiti face a long uphill climb out of the earthquake’s ruins. For example, the number of children Timkatec helps has grown with the rise in homeless children. Out of the original 400 students that were enrolled at the school, more than 150 are still missing.

“We still have former students not accounted for,” O’Shea said. “They could be missing in action or never have come back. I have no idea where they are. Are they in refugee camps, dead or out of the country? We don’t know.”

O’Shea has hired a psychologist to meet with the children living at Timkatec to help them overcome the trauma from the earthquakes. Many children are afraid to sleep inside buildings because they think the structures could fall down at any moment. O’Shea understands this stress. He grew up in an English boarding school during World War II after becoming an orphan at a young age.

“I went through the blitz,” O’Shea said. “I know that as a kid, you never know when things are going to happen. There are a lot of deep psychological problems and post-traumatic stress these kids are dealing with from the death and destruction they have been surrounded with.”

From his office at his Sanford home, O’Shea works the phones and his e-mail all day reaching out to organizations that are rebuilding Haiti. O’Shea said Catholic Relief Services has done a wonderful job helping his school recover quickly. But what were once difficult tasks to begin with – securing clean water, money from local banks and medical supplies – are now even more complicated because of the earthquakes.

“The simplest things are harder,” O’Shea said. “We need things to be precleared before customs. That would speed up the process. It’s just the shear difficulty of the logistics because so much debris needs to be removed.”

Despite the county’s current situation, O’Shea is scheduled to fly from Fort Lauderdale to Haiti and visit the school at the end of this month. He will hand out certificates of completion to students who have passed a two-year national certification process in either plumbing, masonry or electrical work.

“In the middle of all the problems, we have successes,” he said.

O’Shea will be joined by a special guest on his trip, Tommy Stinson, current bass player for the rock bands Guns N’ Roses and Soul Asylum. Stinson and O’Shea met through a mutual friend that is also providing relief to Haiti.

“I was looking for some connection and know that the money I give is going to the people that need it,” Stinson said. The only way to make sure this happens, he said, is for him to see it firsthand.

Besides donating money to O’Shea’s school, Stinson is spreading the word about Timkatec and his upcoming trip through his website and social networking sites. He hopes he can bring awareness to wounds that are still healing in Haiti.

Stinson is also planning to auction off a few of his bass guitars and outfits he has worn while playing with Gun N’ Roses, and all the proceeds will go to Timkatec.