|Gina Duncan (right) with FEJ Founder Lucienne “Manmi” Duncan|
non-profit organization that will own and run USGBC’s Project Haiti Orphanage
& Children’s Center. Project Haiti is being rebuilt in the
earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince’s Delmas 41 neighborhood and its impact will
go far beyond the walls of the building. The LEED Platinum facility will
educate the Haitian people on how to rebuild back better and will provide a safe
place for those who need it most. FEJ is dedicated to creating a nurturing and
loving environment that educates both children and parents, offers pathways to
adoption and provides medical support to those in need.
Who benefits from the work of
First of all
and most importantly, the children who receive care at our orphanages and
schools benefit from our work. These children are most at risk and in the poorest
communities. The community itself also benefits. We work closely with the women in the
community who are the mothers of the children, we provide education and we set
a positive example. We are really proud of the example we are setting for the
rest of the country on what is possible.
What is your proudest
accomplishment thus far?
As far as FEJ is concerned, our
proudest moments have been centered on uniting families and promoting education
in everything we do. The impact of education through our school program, health
clinics and promotion of education in all its facets is at the core and essence
of change and progress. We’ve taken the time to understand that education is
the true catalyst for change.
One example I am particularly
proud of is that of a young woman who was in an arranged relationship – she was
essentially sold by her family to be a domestic slave in another home. She was
raped and impregnated by the head of that household and had her first child at
age 13. By 17, she had already had her third child. She was being brutally
beaten by the man of the house and finally ran away and found herself in our
compound seeking refuge. She was essentially a child taking care of three
children, and when she came in she was desperate. Her first reaction was to try
and give us her children and place them under adoption. We felt that wasn’t
best for her.
I asked her, “What are your
dreams for you and your children?” I realized she didn’t know she could have
dreams and she needed to be empowered and educated. I encouraged her to participate
in our educational programs and to take part in different workshops about
parenting, hygiene, nutrition, self esteem, rights as a woman, how to manage
finances and how to discover her talents.
After she had been with us a
while we received a donation to build one house in the community. We started a
contest through our women’s program to have each woman share their dreams, tell
us how a new home would change their lives and what it meant for their future. This
woman really loved children and said she would like to work with them. She had
a natural talent. She won the contest and we helped her build her new house.
She had to supervise, participate, learn and engage in the entire building process.
At first, she looked at me with anger because it was a lot of work, but in my
heart I knew her building her own home herself was the right thing for her to
do. When it was built, she was so
appreciative and had so much pride in her house. Our program and the education
she received changed this woman’s life, gave her purpose and made a huge
She now has a home, is involved
with her kids’ education and is a responsible 21-year-old adult. She thanks me
often for giving her this push and asks what she can do for me. I told her to
keep doing what she’s doing, keep learning. A little bit of education
transformed this woman and helped her blossom.
Following the earthquake in 2010, FEJ’s Port au Prince location
was completely destroyed. Why is it so important that you rebuild this Center
in the same location?
FEJ’s work is all about the
community and Port au Prince has great needs. This is the location that housed
our central office and administration, including social workers, a pediatrician
and medical staff, and it provided education and allowed us to coordinate adoptions
and take care of children efficiently. It’s especially helpful and cost
efficient to be near the government agencies rather than in the small villages
when dealing with adoption. When we rebuild, we will reopen our healthcare
space for triage to stabilize children in need. Many of these children come in
critical, malnourished conditions and with parasites and we often don’t know
their complete physical state right away.
When USGBC came to you with the idea of rebuilding the Center and
creating a LEED Platinum facility, what was your initial reaction?
Right after the earthquake, we
knew we needed help, but we didn’t know where to start or how to rebuild. For
me, it was a God send when USGBC came to us. When I met everyone from the USGBC
and HOK team, especially Roger Limoges (USGBC’s Lead for Project Haiti), and I learned
about what the organization represented, it was such an honor to have everyone helping
We feel privileged to be chosen.
The team working on this project is professional and multifaceted and so
sensitive to the culture and community. Everything has been thought through,
from the culture, to the security, to the needs of the children. The
sustainability factor for a non-profit like ours is a huge advantage and
opportunity to save money, and many other organizations will learn from us. In a
culture like Haiti, sustainability should not be a luxury but an essential part
of how we as Haitains should be building. I saw right away that this is bigger
than just building an orphanage. It’s a model for young Haitian designers,
architects and builders to emulate.
For those who may never have the opportunity to travel to Haiti or
meet the Haitian people, what would you like our readers to know about the
community and people?
I believe the future of Haiti is
in jeopardy as the country is not sensitive enough to the needs of the children.
They are so vulnerable but so welcoming. You never see a child without a smile,
reaching out for hope, even when they are in pain. The Haitian population in
general is very young. The children and young mothers inspire me and they desire
to have a better life. They look to us all for help.
What happened to Haiti after the
earthquake helped us realize people around the world do care and Haitians
aren’t alone, but the initial support has been fading away and we still need so
much help. I worry about Haiti being forgotten at a critical time and I hope
people remember us and show their support. The people of Haiti have so much
To learn more about Project Haiti
and to make a donation, please visit www.usgbc.org/haiti.