Haiti earthquake changes mission of Cape Girardeau charitable group

Monday, January 18, 2010
Displaced people wait on the side of the street for a truck or bus to take them to outlying towns in Port-au- Prince, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010. Many residents of Port-au-Prince are leaving town after Tuesday's earthquake left the city in ruins and killed thousands. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

A trio of people with ties to Southeast Missouri were on a mission to help a small Haitian town this week when the devastating earthquake hit, stopping them in Florida the day before they were to depart for the Caribbean nation.

Skip Wrape of Cape Girardeau, Roger Poythress of Jackson and the Rev. Rahab Isidor, a Haitian priest who was at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Cape Girardeau and now works near Springfield, Mo., were in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when the earthquake hit Tuesday.

Wrape, Poythress and Isidor are founding members of Out of Poverty Through Education, a Cape Girardeau organization that is raising money to fund a well and school in Thomassique, Haiti. With the help of area Rotary clubs, the organization has raised about $30,000 so far, enough to build the well, said Bonnie Poythress, wife of Roger Poythress.

They were scheduled to fly Wednesday to Haiti and travel to Thomassique, Isidor's hometown, to sign contracts for land and to dig a well that will serve the village and a new orphanage school.

"I was very frustrated because our goal was to be there to help and in my suitcase I had all kinds of things for the children," Isidor said.

Wrape said it was fortunate for the trio that they did not reach Haiti. Not only would they potentially have been victims of the quake, but they would have been unable to complete their mission and unable to be of much help.

On Saturday morning in Cape Girardeau, organization board members decided to dedicate some of the money they have raised and to seek additional donations to send aid to Thomassique to assist townspeople returning from schools and jobs in the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince, Wrape said.

Anyone donating can be sure that 100 percent of the money given will be used to provide help, he said. Out of Poverty Through Education has no management or overhead expenses, he said.

The logistics of helping Thomassique, a city of about 43,000, were already daunting, said Bonnie Poythress, who visited in October. Because Thomassique is about 10 miles from the border with the Dominican Republic, the organization will be looking to bring materials to the town through that country, she said.

Out of Poverty Through Education had a goal of raising $85,000 to complete the school, which would serve about 200 orphans, and the well.

"Our cause is really to build that school in Thomassique," she said. "But we are looking at taking those donations and any future donations we get in at this time and having the funding go to disaster relief or school construction. We are going to have to address this disaster, we are going to have to help."

The earthquake has left the already impoverished country devastated. While much of the extreme damage was concentrated in the Port-au-Prince, the city is home to thousands of people from the countryside, especially students attending high schools and colleges, Isidor said.

"Everyone in the countryside has a family member in the capital," Isidor said. "I lost seven cousins. We are still looking for some first cousins and some second cousins. My mother is OK and my two brothers are OK. All of Haiti is in mourning."

Isidor intended to stay in Haiti for eight days, while Wrape and Poythress were to be there for five days. They intend to evaluate the situation within a couple of weeks and try again to reach the country, Isidor said.

"We are going back there to see if we can get the things done we were supposed to do," he said. "But it will be mostly to help the children that have been affected by the disaster."

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