HC grads making strides in Haiti

A couple with Huntington roots has been making huge strides in serving the children of Haiti for more than 10 years, and their efforts have only increased since the devastating 7.0 earthquake hit the small country on Jan. 12.

Brad Johnson, originally from Hope, IN and a 1993 Huntington College graduate, and his wife Vanessa, who is from Fort Erie, Ontario and a 1994 HC graduate, moved to Haiti in 1998 to work full time with the organization Mission of Hope Haiti, founded by Brad Johnson's parents, Bob and Sharon Johnson.

The organization sits on a 76-acre campus located just 12 miles north of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, in Titanyen.

So when the earthquake hit on that fateful Tuesday, Mission of Hope Haiti was able to feel it.

"(It) rocked the earth," Vanessa Johnson reports.

Even though the Johnsons had returned to organization headquarters in Missouri for a Christmas break on Jan. 10 with their four children - Beau and Jaima (by birth), and Junior Dean and Georgie (adopted Haitians) - Vanessa Johnson says she and her husband were chatting on their computer with a doctor back in Haiti when it hit. The doctor told the Johnsons that everyone at Mission of Hope was safe and there was no damage on the property.

"Everything on our property is 100 percent intact," Vanessa Johnson says, adding that the 59 children in the Hope House Orphanage were shaken up.

She says an engineer came to check the buildings (there is also the Church of Hope, the School of Hope and the Hospital of Hope), but the children are camping outside in tents until their fears subside.

The quake ended Brad Johnson's vacation early, as he returned to Titanyen on Thursday, Jan. 14 to try to help in any way he could, not knowing a 6.1 aftershock was in store just days later.

"There's not a break in sight for Brad," Vanessa Johnson says of her husband, who is president of Mission of Hope Haiti. She explains he is in charge of coordinating, planning and strategizing relief efforts through his organization. She says he puts the right people in the right places.

She also says Haiti has seen a great response of people coming to help, including surgeons and general practitioners. The teams go where they are needed, working in 36-hour shifts.

"It's unbelievable what they have to see and what decisions they have to make," she says.

The organization was preparing for another type of natural disaster when the series of quakes hit. Vanessa Johnson explains they had supplies collected for the hurricane season, so when the earthquakes tore through the country, they had emergency items in storage ready for use. Through this effort and connections with other groups, they were able to ship out medical supplies and about 300,000 meals in the first few days.

Another relief for the Johnsons was striking water on Wednesday morning, Jan. 20. Vanessa Johnson says the mission staff has tried on more than six different occasions to locate water in their land, and at the height of the need, water was found.

"It's neat to see how things are coming together," she says. Water is expensive to transport, so they can save on funds for bathing water by using this newfound water, but drinking water is still an expense.

People have been donating to the cause, she says.
Vanessa Johnson says disaster relief money has bought fuel, supplies and even vehicles. She explains that the needs of Haiti will be met, but it will just take time and the assistance crews are doing the best that they can.

For adults, it's one thing to endure, but as children, it's a different matter.

"(We've raised our kids) to understand difficult days ... They've done this since the day they were born," Vanessa Johnson says of what her children have experienced.

"There's a reason for everything," she adds, affirming her belief that her husband and her were meant to be together to help the people of Haiti, and that it's hard and exciting at the same time.

"Our beautiful country and people that we love are finally going to have a new life."

Vanessa Johnson and her children plan on joining Brad Johnson in Haiti tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 29.

Those who are interested in assisting Mission of Hope Haiti with disaster relief can designate their donations for the relief and can be sent to Mission of Hope, PO Box 325, Lees Summit, MO 64063. For assistance, call the organization at 816-246-7774. For more information, visit missionofhopehaiti.org.