Sally Bates was elated. Word had just come from Haiti that the commercial baking equipment intended for Trinity House boys’ home in Jacmel had arrived and cleared customs at Port-au-Prince.
Bates D’95 is a longtime supporter of the St. Joseph Family, which includes Trinity House and two homes in Port-au-Prince—the St. Joseph Home for Boys and Wings of Hope. She was eager to see 10 years of planning for a commercial bakery, the first outside the capital city, reach fruition. The donated equipment from Boston, Mass., was the next step to creating a bakery that would raise money for the orphanage, produce a livelihood for the boys, and create a steady supply of fresh bread in a region haunted by hunger.
“In January, I decided I was ready to push that boulder up the hill,” says Bates, who is the Divinity School’s chaplain and serves on the board of Raleigh (N.C.)–based Hearts with Haiti. The next challenge was figuring out how to get the container of equipment from the port to the southern coastal town of Jacmel.
Just a day later, as word spread of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, progress toward the bakery was completely forgotten. “We were frantic to find out if everyone was all right,” recalls Bates.
“Everyone” included all the children living in St. Joseph’s three homes, and Bill Nathan and Walnes Cangas, director and co-director of the Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince, who had participated in the 2008 Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation in Durham, N.C.
Within three days, Bates learned that everyone had survived, even though two of St. Joseph’s three homes had been destroyed, and Nathan had been seriously injured.
It was three weeks before she inquired about the fate of the container of bakery equipment, says Bates, who has been visiting Haiti since 2002. “It seemed so insignificant in terms of the devastation that had taken place. For all we knew, that container was at the bottom of the harbor.”
Again, good news came: the equipment was safe. “Our next question was, when would it be possible to have the road opened up enough to transport the container to Trinity House in Jacmel?” Bates says. After all, the 20-foot metal container would have to be transported through the mountains, where aftershocks continued to cause landslides that blocked passage.
After learning more than she’d ever thought possible about shipping, customs, and special fees for Haitian officials, Bates was still worried. Once the container arrived in Jacmel, she realized, “I had no idea how to get a 60-quart Hobart mixer off the back of a shipping container. But guess what? They did it.”
Confirmation came via e-mail from St. Joseph’s founder Michael Geilenfeld, a Catholic missionary who once worked with Mother Teresa. “It said, ‘Bakery equipment arrived today—all accounted for and checked off, nothing broken. … Rejoice that dough will soon be rising.”
Geilenfeld, Bates, and the others in the St. Joseph Family consider this nothing short of a miracle.
“There was impediment upon impediment and frustration upon frustration,” Bates says. “But it was all for bread, the staff of life. The bakery will be called Nouvo Vi—Kreyol for New Life.”
The plan is for boys at Trinity House to apprentice as bakers, and for the older, disabled boys at Wings of Hope to handle some clear-cut tasks such as bagging bread, putting on twist-ties, and boxing bread to be sold.
“The market for bread in Jacmel is huge, since there is no bakery there,” says Bates. “All the restaurants and supermarkets there have to get bread shipped across the mountains from Port-au-Prince. So there’s a huge market niche on the south coast.”
Geilenfeld, who was in the United States in March for a previously planned tour by the homes’ Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti, concurs. Nouvo Vi, he says, will provide jobs for children, often hidden in shame, who might never get traditional work, and mainstream those children with others in the community.
The bakery also will be a means of support for St. Joseph’s. “One of the things we’re most pleased about is that 20 percent of what it costs to run our homes is self-generated,” he says. “We want to earn money; we teach the children that we don’t want to get along simply by asking for donations. We want to work. This will help us increase the amount we earn to support ourselves.”
Now Geilenfeld is searching for bakers to teach the boys their craft. “We have a good relationship with a French bakery in Port-au-Prince, and the head baker has offered to help us. And we just got an offer from a French bakery in Boston, with whom we hope to partner,” he says. “They are willing to have their top guy come and apprentice our boys, and also to have them at the bakery in Boston.”
At the beginning, New Life Bakery will start with basics—fresh, nutritious bread to eat and to sell. “We’ll do the best work we can with what we have,” Geilenfeld adds. “We want to be the best bakery we can be.” Bates first visited Haiti with Jacob Golden T’74, D’78, a chaplain at Trinity School in Charlotte, N.C., who introduced her to the St. Joseph Family’s three homes for displaced children.
She was immediately intrigued. “Haiti is a country of great contrast; there are scenes of incredible beauty in the rural and mountain sections, but in the cities, there’s grueling poverty.”
As she experienced those contrasts during her first visit, Bates came home each evening “to an incredibly warm and inviting guesthouse.” Her hosts fed her delicious food and introduced her to local art, music, and dance.
“The St. Joseph Family believes in the role of the arts in helping us embrace the beauty of life and God’s goodness in each of us,” she says. “And no one is more hospitable and welcoming. That’s especially impressive, given the extreme circumstances under which they live their lives—usually on less than $2 a day, and with 80 percent unemployment.”
When Bates takes Duke Divinity students to visit the St. Joseph Family, she says, “We go to explore Mother Teresa’s notion that Christ is present to us in the faces of the poor and suffering. Rather than build schools and repair roofs, we build relationships. We play with and tutor children with handicaps, and visit patients dying of TB and AIDS at hospices and hospitals. The ‘treatment’ we offer is the comfort of our presence and our prayers.”
After years of visiting Haiti—“Haiti chose me,” she insists—Bates taught herself Kreyol, which is similar to French and widely spoken in Haiti. Though she was unable to take her usual group of students to Haiti over spring break, she hopes to travel there to reconnect with her friends this summer, and will plan a student trip for spring break 2011.
“I want to lay hands on a loaf of bread baked in Nouvo Vi and celebrate the Lord’s Supper,” she says. “It will give me great joy.”
Debbie Selinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Durham. She previously wrote about the St. Joseph Home for Boys in the Fall 2008 edition of Divinity.
Resurrection Dance Theatre of Haiti Performance:
“Resurrection from the Rubble”
The Resurrection Dance Theatre of Haiti, an internationally recognized dance troupe of orphans, former street children, and former child slaves, will perform at Duke University at 4:00 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2010 to help raise awareness and money for rebuilding in that country. The performers are affiliated with the St. Joseph Family, which was formed under the leadership of Michael Geilenfeld 25 years ago to bring street children into a Christian family setting. Two of the family’s three homes were destroyed in the January earthquake. The performance will be in Reynolds Theater in Duke’s Bryan Center. Tickets are $10 for general admission, and $5 for students and senior citizens. All proceeds will benefit the St. Joseph Family in Haiti. For details, contact Sally Bates, (919) 660-3459.