Jam-packed bus headed from Waukegan to Haiti
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2012 7:18PM
Pastor Jean Franco Valdemar of Waukegan inside a bus packed with items that are bound to Haiti. Pastor Franco founded the Hope for Haitian American Youth and Elderly and has collected clothes, shoes, medicine and food for people in Haiti. The bus is also being shipped to Haiti. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media
For more information on Hope for the American and Haitian Youths and the Elderly or to donate, contact Rev. Jean Valdemar at (224) 772-7379 or visit www.hohaye.org.
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:48AM
WAUKEGAN — When Rev. Jean Franco Valdemar was a boy in Haiti, the son of a single mother who worked as a maid for the equivalent of $1 a month, missionaries arrived bearing gifts.
But it is not the second-hand shoes, new notebooks or sacks of flour that Valdemar recalls with the deepest gratitude. It is the very presence of the visitors and the relationships they fostered among some of the poorest people on earth.
“They made Haiti their home,” Valdemar said. “They went everywhere. They played soccer with the kids. They gave us hope. When a missionary left, we cried like we were losing a brother or a sister.”
Valdemar, 52, of Waukegan, who left Port-Au-Prince for the U.S. in 1986, is “paying forward” that charitable zeal through his own ministry, Hope for the American and Haitian Youths and the Elderly, or HOHAYE for short.
Valdemar, who holds two master degrees from Trinity International University in Deerfield, pastors a Chicago church and serves as an adjunct faculty member for Judson College in Elgin. He regularly organizes shipments of supplies and medical and other mission trips to the Caribbean country, where 80 percent of the populace lives in poverty and where more than 300,000 still live in tents after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit in 2010.
On Wednesday, Valdemar, a cheerful, energetic man, jumped into the driver’s seat of a 1993 yellow school bus parked in his driveway and turned the key in the ignition. It growled to life and Valdemar grinned.
He got a good deal on the bus, which has a manual transmission. He plans to ship it and its contents — the seats have been removed and it’s jam-packed with boxes of clothing, medicine, toiletries and other supplies — for distribution by HOHAYE. Once its unloaded and the seats are bolted back down, the bus will transport children to and from mission programs.
“I serve a God of healing and this is how he’s healing today,” said Valdemar, glancing over his shoulder at dozens of boxes with pairs of shoes and sandals stuck into every available nook and cranny. “Love is the best medicine.”
Food is an important part of every HOHAYE ministry. “We need to care about the belly,” said Valdemar, who hopes to raise another $4,000 to ship the bus by August.
A year before the earthquake, which Valdemar survived, having arrived in the country 45 minutes before it hit, HOHAYE drew hundreds of destitute children to a youth camp where they learned that they could play a role in their own country’s development.
“We tell them first, to stay in school,” Valdemar said. “Second, learn a trade, have respect for human dignity, and do something positive.”
HOHAYE is constructing a Leadership Training Center in the city of La Plaine and it plans to teach youth and adults skilled trades so they can both find employment and help rebuild their country. The project is in cooperation with the Black Chamber of Commerce of Lake County, which operates a similar program.
Valdemar is also seeking donations of time and money to help put a roof on a second story addition to the training center — a missionary guest house that, he hopes, will be filled with a stream of new visitors who want to make friends in Haiti.
“We’re running out of funds,” Valdemar said. “That is my most pressing challenge.”