When Scotiabank vice-president Sylvie Charest met Osprival Descomme in 1992, little did she know that she would be part of a major humanitarian effort to improve the lives of Haitians in the Artibonite Valley.
Now her husband, Descomme was born in the valley and educated in Port-au-Prince before fleeing to Canada in 1988 after several of his family members and friends were killed under the Duvalier regime.
Just over two decades ago, he co-founded the Centre d’Inspiration Jeunesse (CIJ) which is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving rural Haiti’s standard of living on a long-term basis.
“We focus holistically on education, locally sustainable development, awareness and protection of the environment and we also harness the knowledge of rural community elders who understand the links between education, sustainability and the environment in order to awaken the youth to the pitfalls of rapid development,” said Descomme who is the organization’s executive director. “In this way, we enable youths to make a better choice for the future.”
Descomme and his wife, who is the VP of Global Pension & Benefits, were honoured with Humanitarian Awards at the Pierspective Entraide Humanitarian’s (PEH) fourth annual fundraising gala last Saturday night.
“This award recognizes the longstanding commitment of CIJ as a source of hope, inspiration and effective sustainable change,” he said. “It’s a harsh reality that Haiti is always at risk of natural disasters and what is needed is a more sustainable and long-term approach that will help our people to help themselves.”
Husband and wife Michel and Kathleen Jobin, who first visited Haiti in 1989 on an exploration trip to Tortuga Island where the De La Salle brothers operated a mission, were also recognized at the event.
Struck by the misery the rural population endured, Jobin took early retirement as a senior manager with Agriculture Canada to focus on agricultural education in Haiti. He helped to set up two agricultural schools in the north of the country and in 1999 accepted a two-year contract to become the country director for International Development Enterprises, an international non-profit organization which creates income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural households.
With his wife staying behind in Canada working as a nurse and providing moral and financial support, Jobin spends a lot of time in Haiti. Four years ago after speaking at a Knights of Columbus event in Orangeville, the KAMI Foundation for Haiti emerged. It promotes the use of fuel as a replacement for charcoal thus reducing tree-cutting in Haiti.
May Maskow, KAMI’s webmaster, accepted the award on behalf of the Jobins. Michel is in Haiti while his wife, who resides in Midland, was unable to attend the event because of bad weather.
Haiti’s honorary consul general Dr. Eric Pierre and the country’s ambassador Frantz Liautaud presented the awards.
“You epitomize the spirit of dedication, determination and sacrifice that inspire our commitment to the underprivileged in Haiti,” Pierre told the awardees.
Since its inception, PEH has contributed substantial financial donations to charitable organizations, orphanages and hospitals, built and equipped a computer centre in Meyotte and partnered with Aide Mutuelle Pour Un Environment Nouveau (AMEN) to erect a school near Port-au-Prince.
Still under construction, the school admitted its first students last September. The official opening ceremony takes place in January.
“The new building is more than a primary school,” said Pierre who is the PEH president. “It’s a multi-purpose facility that will be utilized as a vocational school in the afternoons and a community centre at evenings.”
With assistance from its donors, Pierre pledged that PEH will continue to support its partners, complete the construction of the school and provide technical, administrative and pedagogical support.
“In as much as our actions have impacted so many lives, they only represent an infinitesimal contribution to the struggle for survival,” he added.