When Deb and Jeff Denlinger first got involved with helping the people of Haiti after a 2010 earthquake, they weren’t even aware of the tent city of Canaan.
Two years later, it’s now the home base for their AwakenHaiti mission, which has grown from efforts by a single family to a Cumberland County community-wide aid effort to help those still struggling from the natural disaster. The mission has been widely successful and, among other things, has involved area residents making trips to Haiti throughout the year.
"We’ve had skilled constructions workers, electricians, doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and people that are just good in organizing and recording numbers that we need down there," Deb Denlinger said.
The mission is in no short supply of people wanting to take a trip and help out, but the mission aims to do more than just flood the former tent city with foreign aid. It also focuses on building a community.
To help fund the effort to do that, AwakenHaiti will hold a special benefit from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at the Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church off Walnut Bottom Road in South Middleton Township.
While donations will be accepted at the benefit, Denlinger said the fundraiser is also a way to show people just how much area residents were able to accomplish in one Haitian town.
"The event really is to share what has happened over the past year in the ministry and celebrate all that’s been done," she said.
And what Denlinger wants most to share about her experiences is the joy and faith she’s seen since she and her family moved to Haiti.
When she and her husband decided to go to Haiti, Denlinger knew there were going to be challenges. Her children, after all, were in the public school system, and at the time were only 12 (Colton), 8 (Kylie) and 6 (Brooke).
"As a couple, we couldn’t travel back and forth and have our kids up here, so we all packed our bags and went to Haiti," she said. "At the time, (the children) were very excited. They saw what we were doing down there. They really did just jump in and started learning the language. Our girls especially took on roles of caring for the children."
Denlinger now homeschools her children, even when her family manages to get back to Cumberland County, which isn’t often. Denlinger estimates that she and her husband are back in the area for a total of two to three weeks a year, and their children a little longer to visit their grandparents in the summer.
The Denlinger family made an unexpected trip back in September when kidnapping threats became prominent in areas of Haiti.
"We haven’t faced a direct threat of that," Denlinger said. "To us, part of the American mindset is that kidnapping means murder and rape, but in the third-world country, kidnapping is a way to get money. Part of the reason why we got out was to analyze the need to make any security checks for our family."
Denlinger noted that there are still reports now of kidnappings, and ministries tend to be targets since they are seen as having money – or bringing in money – to the country.
However, it’s not the negative that sticks most prominently in her mind.
Denlinger shared a photograph of volunteers and Haitians surrounding a woman named Suzette who had cancer when the Denlingers arrived but was healed from it a year and a half later. She most recently shared a story on her Awakenings blog about a woman who recounted her tale about narrowly escaping a crumbling building during the earthquake, finding out that her younger son did not make it out of the collapsed school and coming to accept faith as a way to ward off the anger and grief.
"I would say what I remember most is speaking with some of the ladies there," Denlinger said. "They have nothing but their faith in God, and it’s stronger than anything we have here. They’re worried about what they’re going to eat tonight, not talking about payment on their cars and houses and material things."
While making sure the residents of Canaan don’t have to worry about what they’re going to eat, AwakenHaiti also focuses on providing Haitians what Denlinger says they’ll really need to make the town better – jobs.
"We started with the foundation – building buildings," she said. "One of the things we realized was the need for not just education but also for creating jobs and opportunities. (Now) the donations will go specifically to community development of Canaan. Community development includes construction of buildings for our medical center, professional school and small businesses, but it also goes into providing jobs for local people, so they can, in turn, support their families and pay for school and food."
For more information about AwakenHaiti, visit the mission’s website at www.awakenhaiti.org.