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Sarnians making a difference in Haiti

Published on

Cathy Dobson 

In a country where countless international charities attempt to help, Sarnia’s Rayjon Share Care stands out for its ability to improve living standards for the residents of Haiti, says director Renaud Thomas.

Thomas is in Sarnia for the first time to meet with Rayjon leaders here and spread the word about how the 37-year-old charity has shifted gears and found new success.

Billions of dollars are spent by other charities to help the Western hemisphere’s poorest country, but they often fail because leadership isn’t passed to the community, Thomas said, speaking to about 40 members of the Sarnia Lambton Kiwanis Golden K club Tuesday.

“Rayjon goes to the community and has discussions around the problems they have and about what they need. We ask people what we can do together. It is their project. 

“They care about it and that’s what makes it sustainable,” Thomas said.

Rayjon volunteers began assisting the beleaguered island country in 1986, raising money in Sarnia and regularly sending teams to tackle education, health and economic issues.

The local charity is well-established in the Saint Marc area in western Haiti and extends help to the surrounding rural community, as well as in the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

“Rayjon used to bring work teams to Haiti but now the community decides what they need and they direct the project and volunteer labour,” explained Deborah Austin, a Sarnia Rayjon volunteer and board member since 2000.

“We’re really learning how to do this better with partnerships.”

The goal is to use the $600,000 raised annually in Sarnia by Rayjon for agricultural, business, health and educational projects that will flourish and last, said Thomas who is an expert in soil management and crop production.

One of Haiti’s biggest challenges is potable drinking water, so Rayjon is financing Haitian committees to build pumps for access to spring water. 

Thomas is working with more than 360 women in eight villages to plant breadfruit trees and build a fruit and grain processing factory, as well as milling services for farmers. 

The women take leadership and have formed the Haitian Women’s Federation. They tap into Rayjon’s microcredit program and invest together to establish reliable sources of income. 

Rayjon also contributes to the education, life skills and nutrition of Haitians, and has a vision care program that provides clinical eye assessments and distributes donated eye glasses.

“Thank you for supporting Rayjon,” Thomas told the Golden K. “Donations make a big difference amid all the problems we have in our country.”

Haiti has a history of foreign intervention, political instability and natural disasters that contribute to its poverty.  Its citizens are plagued by kidnappings, crime, civil unrest and poor health care.

“Haiti is not doing well for the moment,” Thomas said. “We struggle with a difficult time in our history.  It’s a really complex situation.

“We can’t do anything about the weapons and the gangs in Port-au-Prince, but we can work on better food, housing, water and healthcare outside Port-au-Prince where it is much safer.

“Rayjon tries to be an example for all the villages.”

Rayjon volunteers have not been able to travel to Haiti since 2020 because of safety concerns, said Austin. 

Sarnia leaders have stayed in contact remotely with Haiti’s Rayjon workers but were anxious to speak in person with Thomas.

He travelled under difficult conditions to get to Canada for a three-week working trip.

One of his first impressions of Canada was formed at a gas station upon his arrival.

“Here, you pay by card at the gas station,” he said. “In my country, you have to discuss the gas price while someone is standing beside you with a weapon.”

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