Since retiring from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Dept. in 2000 I have had two opportunities to serve in a volunteer capacity on the Mercy Ship “Anastasis”, a hospital ship that operated in the poor countries of West Africa. During my first 3 month tour, the outreach was in Sierra Leone, and the second outreach was in Liberia. By most standards, these are two of the poorest countries on earth. Both are recovering from many years of brutal civil war. To say that these were life changing experiences would be somewhat of an understatement. I witnessed medical miracles and some phenomenal community development projects. It doesn’t take long to figure out that it is the children and especially the orphans that end up drawing the short straw. Many orphaned and abandoned children are being severely neglected. Between 200 -300 children a day are dying in Liberia from very preventable causes. Many of them are languishing in some 70 very substandard orphanages, in conditions unimaginable by western standards.
240 out of 1000 children never live to celebrate their 5th birthday.
The “Anastasis” was a very old ship with a crew of 450 people, and it took about 30 carpenters, electricians, plumbers and welders to keep the old ship afloat. It 2006 it was replaced by a much newer ship that only needed a few maintenance personnel. Four of the people I worked with in the renovations department lost their jobs and stayed behind in Liberia. They formed “Orphan Relief and Rescue” along with several other very dedicated former crew members. These folks have dedicated the next five years to doing what ever they can to alleviate the immediate and long range suffering of these children, the poorest of the poor. Adequate food, clean water, minimal medical care and a safe and secure place to live are the immediate needs. Long range education and job training are needed so that the young adults who are by law required to leave the orphanages at the age of 18 have some alternatives other than turning to crime and prostitution.
During my time in Liberia, I developed a soft spot for the children as well and when I heard about the formation of Orphan Relief and Rescue, it didn’t take long for me to decide to become involved. I shared my new found passion with Sheriff Roberts, and at his suggestion, we made a presentation to the CCPO Benevolent Foundation. The board members decided to take on OR&R as one of the projects they would support and sponsor, and since that time, I have been amazed at the number of great people who have been willing to step up and assist in the fundraising effort. After doing some research with the Director of OR&R we accepted the challenge to raise $38,000, enough to build a complete new orphanage from scratch. We planned several fundraisers. The last being a benefit dinner auction, after which we surpassed the $40,000 mark.
At the end of May, several of us went to Liberia, and helped pour the footings for the first building of the new orphanage, and when we left 3 weeks later, the floor was poured and the walls were going up. Work will be slowed significantly during the rainy season, but the first phase should be completed by early next year. It will be occupied by Salome, a dedicated lady who has assumed responsibility for 22 orphans, and is being evicted from her current location. It will have room for 50 children, so there is room for expansion.
It is my intent, as long as the Lord grants me health, to keep doing what we have been doing this past year. I want to thank Sheriff Roberts, the Benevolent Foundation and all the staff from the S.O. that have assisted in the project. I am not so arrogant or naïve to assume that we have made much of a dent in the horrendous problems facing the nation of Liberia, but 50 kids will have a safe, dry, comfortable place to call home, and there will be a few more children who will have a chance to celebrate their 5thbirthday. If that doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart and send a shiver of excitement up your spine, you need to get your heart and spine checked!
I am in the process of putting together an up to date presentation regarding the upcoming and ongoing projects and plans, and would be happy to share it with any church, civic organization, club or private group that might be interested in learning more.
John Van Huizen
Please CLICK to see a video about the Danny Feeney Memorial Orphanage.