Jill I. Solimini reports:
The statistics are grim. Ten percent of Haiti’s children die before age 1. Fifty percent don’t live to see the age of 15. Each day, 400 children die.
Anthony and Tammy DiPenti of Mason have made it their mission to bring to light the plight of the people of this country – the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
Their introduction to the Haitian people began 21/2 years ago when a friend invited Anthony to join a mission trip. The timing was good as the couple’s three daughters – Laura, a nursing student at Galen College and a patient care assistant at West Chester Medical Center; Hannah, a sophomore communications major at the University of Cincinnati; and Cecily, who will be a freshman pre-med major at the University of Kentucky next fall – are nearly grown.
“I really felt a calling,” says Anthony, who works in the health care information technology field. “I knew it was time to start giving back.”
His first trip to Haiti occurred less than a year after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake killed 230,000 people and left another 1.3 million homeless. The scene he encountered when landing in Port au Prince was chaotic – rubble and tent cities dotted the capital. The devastation he encountered in the more rural areas was even more alarming.
“Cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, malaria – they are all rampant,” Anthony says. “But I didn’t let it bother me, because I knew I was there to serve.”
The mission trip Anthony made was sponsored by a nonprofit organization called Children’s International Lifeline, founded in 1989. Its primary purpose is to reach out to the people of Haiti under Christian principles while providing food, clothing, medical supplies, facilities and educational assistance for underprivileged children and their families.
Each year Lifeline hosts short-term mission teams of 10-20 people nearly every week at its primary mission in La Digue, a city 45 miles outside of Port au Prince. A second, smaller mission is in the city of Barbancourt.
Each mission includes a church, school and clinic, and provides the communities with infrastructure like clean water systems. The La Digue mission also serves as the primary food distribution center, and the two missions provide food for 8,300 children a day. There are nearly 1 million orphans in Haiti, and Lifeline is close to opening its own orphanage.
The schools educate more than 500 sponsored students, and these students get two meals a day. The children in the villages who are not sponsored get one meal a day.
When the short-term teams travel to Haiti to pitch in at these missions, it is Lifeline’s hope that when they return home, they share their experiences with others. Anthony came home and shared his story with his wife, Tammy, a third-grade teacher who has taught in the Mason school district for 11 years. “I fell in love with the people,” Anthony says. “And when I described them to Tammy she said, ‘Sign me up.’”
Since Anthony’s first visit, he has returned three times, Tammy has traveled to the country five times, and their youngest, Cecily, has been twice.
Tammy was instrumental in developing an annual teachers conference in Haiti and completed a third one last summer. Teachers in Haiti have little training, but a desire to learn. “Many of the teachers who come to the conference walk five miles to get there and sleep in the church. They live in mud huts but have such pride and strive to look good when they come to the conference,” Tammy says.
The first year, 20 Haitian teachers attended the conference, the second year 60 came and this past summer, 130 teachers took part in the week-long conference. On the last trip, 11 Cincinnati-area teachers – including eight from Mason – joined Tammy.
In addition to her work with the teacher conference, she recruits volunteers to make Love Bundles to send to the mission. Love Bundles are gift bags that people can put together to send to the children of Haiti. Each bag must contain a jar of peanut butter and then an article of clothing, a toy, a school supply and a toiletry item for a child of a specific age and gender. Over the holiday season, families from Mason Intermediate sent more than 80 Love Bundles to Haiti.
“Traveling to Haiti and getting to know the people has changed me,” Tammy says. “My dream is to live in Haiti some day.”