Hope for Haiti St. Marys chapter comes to an end - Grant Haven
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Hope for Haiti St. Marys chapter comes to an end

Hope for Haiti St. Marys chapter comes to an end

By Wendy Lamond
A longstanding St. Marys group has made the difficult decision to disband.


Hope for Haiti is a nonprofit organization that was originally founded in Naples, Fla. in 1989. The mission of the organization is to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children, through education, healthcare, water, infrastructure and economy. Murray Mitchell launched the St. Marys chapter in 1995.


At that point, Mitchell had already been involved in at least six trips in other countries. Rayjon Share Care is based out of Sarnia and is a charity that works with Hope for Haiti. They chose to focus on Haiti as it was one of the poorest nations on earth. Murray and a member of Rayjon became the leaders of the St. Marys Hope for Haiti chapter.


Prior to disbanding, the club had about 25 active members. Some were members since the beginning, some went on many of the trips, and some only travelled with the group a couple times.


The club completed many projects over the years. One of the major projects the group was proud to have a hand in was the establishment of a clinic in the Haitian town of Gilbert in memory of Mitchell’s late wife, Grace.


Mitchell went on more than 40 international trips with the goals of providing shelter, medical supplies and medication to communities in need. His philosophy is that change will come through education, especially for girls in male-dominated countries. He has a puppet named Gramps that he takes on every trip, with which he performs in magic shows for the children.


In Haiti, the group installed solar power in Gilbert, built schools, repaired homes and built a clinic that operated for 19 years and served 15,000 people. The group also undertook a number of projects in Africa, including donations of goats and goat housing for orphans, the drilling of 16 wells and the provision of funding for eight more, the construction of a science block at a rural secondary school and the donation of bedding and a birthing table to a rural hospital.


Val Thomson joined the group in 2007 and has never regretted it. Her first trip took her to Uganda to work on building a secondary school.


“I knew I was on the same planet but in a totally different world. It was exhilarating, exciting, adventurous but mostly humbling. I returned home a different person with an altered perspective on life, and I was eager to do more,” she said.


And she did do more. Thomson went on eight more trips over the next 12 years. When asked for some of the highlights, she said it’s nearly impossible to put it all into words. However, there were a few moments that have stood out to her over the years.


There was a young Honduran woman who tearfully thanked them for helping build her 20-foot-by-24-foot home, which she described as her dream come true.
She attended an outdoor mass with hundreds of people, at which she watched a woman come forward during collection to offer a single egg.


Thomson also reflected on the joy of working alongside people of any race, creed, or religion. They were all just human beings helping each other, she said.


Her trips to Chile and Trinidad were very special as she had her nephew, Jeff, along with her.


The last build the group did was in 2019 north of Wiarton, Ont. at Neyaashiinigmiing, which was formerly Cape Croker. This was a Habitat for Humanity project building homes.
In 2020, when all travel was halted because of the pandemic, the only project the group took on was a fundraising golf tournament at River Valley. It was at this point the group felt it was ready to disband. They felt that age had caught up to them and though they are sad it is coming to an end, they are so proud and thankful for their accomplishments and unforgettable moments over the years.

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