Cory Otto didn’t know what he’d see in Haiti four years ago.
“It was my first mission trip. In fact, it was my first time leaving the country,” the Portage real estate agent said of his visit there with Portage resident Doug Fearing.
“The extreme poverty, their living conditions,” Otto said of what stood out to him. “Really, the places where it seems like a lot of people spend their entire day worrying about how to get food and water.”
In February, Otto went to Haiti again, and things have improved somewhat in recent years, he and Fearing said. As the Christian nonprofit organization Schools for Haiti approaches its fifth annual Fundraising Gala and Auction on May 12 in Middleton, Otto said he’s getting accustomed to fielding a certain question posed to SFH supporters: “Why Haiti?”
“A child surrounded by garbage, that’s a tug on your emotions,” Otto said of his reasons for supporting SFH and for going back to the country. “The typical pictures you might see of people carrying buckets of water on their heads — it’s something that’s really happening there.”
Fearing has been to Haiti nine times since 2010, frequently traveling there with his wife, Lois. They went to Haiti in November along with Lea Culver, the co-founder of the Culver’s restaurant franchise and Prairie du Sac resident who will be the featured speaker at the May 12 gala. Doug Fearing will emcee the event, which costs $75 per person or $140 per couple and requires preregistration by May 8.
Other SFH supporters from Portage include Klay Vehring, Mike and Mary Cooper, and Pete and Lisa Smith.
“We are seeing progress happening. It’s slow, but it is happening,” Fearing said. Since a 2010 earthquake devastated the country — killing an estimated 230,000 people — there seem to be fewer tent cities in Haiti and its overall economy is at least slightly better, Fearing added.
SFH has built two new schools since November, bringing its total up to eight constructed since 2006. Two of the schools received solar power, one of them sponsored by Culver.
SFH operates the schools in and near the city Montrouis (pronounced Mo Wee), educating more than 1,700 students, which is up from 1,300 a year ago. The schools also provide students with meals and clothing, employing 159 staff members.
According to SFH, Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and its literacy rate is only 61 percent. Christian and other nonprofit organizations perform 85 percent of all education in Haiti.
“By next school year, we’ll probably be over 2,000 students,” Fearing said. “Two schools we’ve just taken on were barely functioning with minimal enrollment, but under our leadership we should be able to add more teachers and students” in the fall.
“There is hope,” Fearing said of the overall situation in Haiti, noting how he recently became acquainted with a political leader of Haiti, Jean-Michel Moise. Moise is among several native Haitians, including one of SFH’s school administrators, who returned to the country after spending some years in the United States.
“They want to help,” Fearing said of this trend.
Moise is a cousin of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, whose leadership in his first year as president has been “more positive” than what Haiti had seen several years ago, Fearing said.
“I know he has good intentions for the country,” Fearing said.
Should SFH donors be at all concerned about political or other corruption?
“That’s part of why we go there so often,” said Otto, who also made a mission trip to Honduras in 2017. “We’ve been able to see the progress owing to the specific funds we’ve raised here in Wisconsin. So we reassure people their funds really are being used: Kids are going to school, they’re being fed,” and the funds also create positions in education, food and maintenance.
“It’s really having an impact on the local economy as well.”
For more information about the gala, contact Lois Fearing at 608-443-2595 or visit fearings.com.