The lease on the building is just about up, and Marthaler’s dream — and that of her board of directors and supporters — is to build a new facility that will serve as a permanent home for the children. It would be built so that it can later be used for other community uses as well, such as a school.
In Haiti, the word “orphanage” describes a permanent home for children. Haitian Helping Haitian isn’t about adoption, though she has access to adoption agencies.
Her hope is that these children remain in their native country. “The goal is to have them become the new Haiti,” said Marthaler.
Haiti is a country that needs to be healed, she continued, and with a good education, these young people can become leaders in their community. “They don’t need to live in the 18th century anymore,” said Marthaler. “They need to stay in their country to make their country better.”
Haiti has been one of the great loves of Marthaler’s life ever since first going there 12 years ago with Fr. Larry Canavera, founder of Friends of Haiti (see www.friendsofhaiti-gb.com). A licensed practical nurse, she has been traveling there two to three times a year ever since.
“The Lord leads me every time I am there,” she said.
And on one particular day she said the Lord led her to an open market where a boy was buying a clay “cookie.” Haitians will eat the clay to absorb acids so their stomachs don’t hurt so much from hunger, said Marthaler.
She clearly remembers what her husband of 32 years, Rick, said when she came home from that trip: “‘You know what I think — it’s time for you to spread your wings and go out on your own.'”
And thus began the Haitian Helping Haitian Organization.
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Connie Marthaler
Parish: St. Anne, Lena/Coleman
Favorite saint: Augustine
Her husband owns Peshtigo Veterinary Service. “He is the most wonderful husband in the world. … He is the most giving man in the world. I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for Rick,” she said. The couple pay for all of her personal travel expenses to Haiti — nothing comes out of Haitian Helping Haitian.
They have three children, Tim, Brody and Dominica.
Marthaler’s first steps were teaching basic hygiene skills to Aquin residents. Something as simple as suggesting they build shelves for pots and pans made a huge difference, she said. It was common practice to store them on the floor, with animals and anything else getting into them. The organization purchased six new boats for fishermen and it currently pays for 85 children to go to school.
Haitian Helping Haitian offers a $35 per month sponsorship program toward support of the 17 children. Marthaler’s hope is to have five sponsors per child.
Volunteers travel with her as well, like fellow St. Anne parishioners Shelby Heimke and Judy Peterson, a retired nurse. They particularly enjoyed the visits they made to the local nursing home, she said.
“It is life changing for everybody I bring there,” she said, adding, “There are very few people that Haiti doesn’t call them back.”
Several years ago Marthaler met Alex, who today she calls her “fourth son.” She had actually spoken with him the morning the earthquake hit. On the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti’s world changed. Alex was employed by the Montana Hotel in Port au Prince and it was the severe damage there that served as the backdrop to many news reports.
Her memories of the four days until she heard from Alex again are of prayer and tears. It was her husband who helped pull her together. He told her to stop crying. “‘It’s not productive, and you’re a productive person,'” she remembers him saying.
“He knew how my heart was breaking and how I needed to be there helping,” she said.
Alex told her just how desperate the situation was. He was in search of his daughter who had been in a school for disabled children. He eventually found her in a town four hours away. There was no water or food, and eventually Alex would make 65 runs four hours away to an area untouched by the earthquake to bring supplies in, doing this while not knowing if his daughter was alive or dead.
“‘Mom, I’m not going to die here,'” she remembers Alex saying.
With this as a backdrop, Marthaler traveled to Haiti 15 days after the earthquake. She was teamed up with Tammy Jo Berg, an EMT from Waupaca, and Lynn Malec, M.D., a pediatrician from Pittsburgh who today is on the board of directors for Haitian Helping Haitian.
When Marthaler arrives home at the end of May she hopes she knows more about the orphanage she wants to build. She already has a general contractor, JW Carpentry in Green Bay, owned by John and Amy Wolford. Amy serves on the board of directors for Haitian Helping Haitian. The couple has already been to Haiti several times and it is John who built the bunk beds for the children.
She is also looking into partnerships with other agencies and has been in contact with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which is considering building a village there.
The children in the orphanage have been through so much and many suffer from post-traumatic stress. Yet she is hopeful. “Everybody knows the negatives,” said Marthaler. The Haitian people are “so proud. Their faith is everything.”
“I feel God blessed me with this,” she said, adding, “I never thought I’d be raising all these children. This is a dream come true to me,” said Marthaler.