Schools, homes, shoes and jobs. Love. Hope. As myriad as the needs of those swept up in poverty, abandonment and disaster are the people who pour out their time and treasure to help.
In Howard County, we have a commendable reputation for helping our own, but there are some whose hearts reach beyond our borders. Across the sea, in the mountains and valleys and deserts, they root their hearts in lives of strangers. What inspires them to use precious vacation time to bathe dirty orphans and erect shelters on the rubble of earthquakes? How do they keep going, when the need seems never to end, and their bank accounts bleed money like a hard punch in the nose? Here are three stories of local residents who are trying to make a difference in other lands. To learn more, visit the websites listed at the end of each story.
Beyond All Boundaries: Schools in Haiti
What inspires a woman making a six-figure salary to quit her job and move to Haiti to feed children and send them to school?
Peanut butter sandwiches.
It’s a story that Audrey Boatwright loves to tell.
On a mission trip a few years ago to Gonaives, Haiti, Boatwright had a jar of peanut butter with her. She bought some bread for $5 and, with the help of other volunteers, made sandwiches, cut them up and walked out into the street to give out the pieces to a few hungry children. The next thing they knew, those kids ran and got their friends.
“We fed 60 kids. I’ll never forget that,” says Boatwright.
While the decision to leave her job as a vice president for a local desktop publishing company to feed children in Haiti doesn’t solely rest on those sandwiches, her story certainly is a metaphor for what Boatwright hopes to accomplish in that Caribbean country with her charity, Beyond All Boundaries. With help from those who have much, combined with a few resources and the heart of the Haitian people, many lives can be made better.
To be completely truthful — before the peanut butter sandwiches — it was another woman, Vera “Ma” Boudreaux, who planted the needs of Haiti in Boatwright’s mind. The California missionary had been working in Haiti for 20 years when she came to speak at a prayer retreat in 1997 at the Long Reach Church of God, which Boatwright formerly attended. She was recruiting people to go to Haiti. Boatwright, a military brat who was 37 at the time she met Boudreaux, raised her hand and said, “I’ll go.”
“I was at a place in my life where I believed there was more,” says Boatwright. She went on her first mission trip to Haiti on Jan. 19, 1998.
“I hadn’t seen anything like the poverty there. But I saw hope. I kept seeing businesses, schools, opportunity,” remembers Boatwright about those two weeks helping at the schools in Gonaives, a city about 100 miles north of, and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from, Port-au-Prince.
“People were begging for money, work. They had no shoes. In ’98, kids were still naked,” she recalls.
When she returned to Columbia, she couldn’t get Haiti out of her mind. So she went back that June for three weeks to distribute food and clothing, teach English, and learn how to sew school uniforms on a pedal sewing machine.
“I took this one dress apart so many times,” says Boatwright, laughing. But she mastered it.
Haiti, with a population of 9 million, is one of the poorest countries in the world, as many people were reminded after last year’s earthquake. Most of the schools and orphanages are run by missionaries.
“There’s no government subsidizing, no welfare programs or soup kitchens,” says Boatwright, although she has hopes of a public education system coming soon.
In May 1999, she quit her job and moved to Gonaives to help “Ma” Boudreaux. She was supported by her church, family and friends. In 2003, she returned to the United States and worked for a high-tech company for a while, making occasional trips back to Haiti.
During that time, Boatwright’s doctor, Phyllis Campbell, accompanied the missionary to Haiti, along with two nurses. They held a medical clinic one day and saw more than 80 people.
“Haiti is a beautiful place, but the poverty you see is heartbreaking. It’s indescribable,” says Campbell, who practices in Columbia. “It humbles you about how you look at life and possessions.”
Campbell says she was impressed with Boatwright’s knowledge of the people and the country. “She knew the system,” explains the gynecologist. After that trip, Campbell says she was “catapulted” into medical missions and has gone to other countries since then.