Haiti-Montreal links commemorated at city hall

By Tracey Arial

Mayor Denis Coderre celebrated the links between Montreal and Haiti twice in the past week.

On Monday, a delegation of executive and municipal representatives visited City Hall to kick off the second phase of a Haiti-Canada municipal cooperation program set up to help the island state recover from the January 2010 earthquake. The $21.4 million fund will last until 2019, with most of money ($19.1 million) coming from Foreign Affairs Canada. The Canadian Federation of Municipalities, the City of Montreal and the Union of Quebec municipalities are also contributing.

Last Thursday, 30 firefighters signed Montreal’s Livre d’Or to recognize their work rebuilding the Mark Bourque School in Debussy, Haiti. The private school was built to honour a Québécois RCMP officer who died in Haiti in 2005. At the time, 50 children were supposed to attend but the student body has now reached three times that number.

When Montreal fireman Jonathan Michaud saw the crowded conditions at the school last year, he decided that something needed to be done. He recruited three ten-person cohorts of his colleagues. Each agreed to take a week of vacation to visit Haiti and construct the school. In addition to paying for their own airfare and lodging, each volunteer donated $500 to the project for materials.

Among the volunteers was Sean Metcalfe, a lieutenant at Fire Station 65 in LaSalle and a resident in DDO. Metcalfe says that he and the others conducted a massive fundraising campaign before they left. They successfully $75,000 for construction materials, uniforms, teacher salaries and one hot meal daily for students. Metcalfe himself raised $3,000 of that by holding a fundraiser in his home. Willingdon Elementary School students in NDG raised more than $2,800. The Montreal Fire Department provided $10,000, as did the Desjardins des pompiers.

Metcalfe says he’s proud to have participated. “I stayed for the second week from April 16 to 23,” he said. “Debussy is in a mountainous region outside of Port au Prince. We had to hike a half an hour to go build. It was a hard hike for firemen who are in pretty good shape, yet we saw seven-year-old girls in flip flops carrying three 16-foot-long two-by-fours on their heads walking the same path. Guys would carry 100 lb bags of parging—they were scheduled for five trips a day. Each guy earned a grand total of $12 a day.” 

Seeing such hard-workers was motivating, said Metcalfe. The firemen would get up to the top of the mountain by about 8:30 a.m., and work until between 5 and 6 p.m., with a 10- to 15-minute lunch break. They’d then go back to their lodgings and drink beer and tell stories until going to sleep. Then they’d get up the next day and do it all again. 

Metcalfe says he’s already looking forward to returning next year.
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