by G.G. Vandagriff
Up until three months ago, President Paul Cook a counselor in the Edgemont North Stake Presidency, Provo, was a high-powered business executive. Now he has chosen to become the unpaid Chairman of Child’s Hope Foundation. In this role he is dedicating his life to the service of Haitian Orphans.
How did this come about? Several years ago President Cook adopted a daughter from China. The individual who helped him in that adoption process eventually asked President Cook for a donation for an orphanage he was helping to fund down in Haiti. Not only did President Cook make the donation, he flew to Haiti and saw first hand what the project entailed. He says it changed his life. “The worst day for a child in the US [materialistically] is better than the best day in the life of a Haitian orphan.”
In fact, living conditions in Haiti are the second worst in the world, said Cook, with 80% unemployment, a land that is deforested, a corrupt government and large families with malnourished children. In his first walk to see the orphanage, he smelt the stench of open sewer which runs in the streets, saw the mangy, sick dogs, and finally arrived at a little house behind whose gate were 47 orphans.
Here were beautiful babies howling and he came up to a crib that held several babies in a row. He leaned down, touching all of them at once from his elbow to fingertips and instantly all stopped crying. They craved touch and love. The hunger wasn’t only for food. “It was the biggest testimony to me of the power of human touch,” he said.
He found the children cuddly, sweet, needy and his life was changed forever. He said, “I knew it was time to give back in life for all that I’d received.
There are no government programs for the orphans. If not for a handful of private orphanages, all of the children would be left to starve. From his first visit until the present day, he has become more and more involved in the lives of the Haitian people and a developed a strong desire to help them in their terrible plight. He began by donating his own time and soliciting donations from others. Then he began taking groups of people down on a regular basis to help build new additions onto the facility and to actually care for the orphans. Eventually he became involved to the extent that he realized that there was no more important use he could make of his life than to invest it in saving lives of Haitian children. He sees himself as a man who has been blessed greatly materially (though he is hardly conspicuous in his consumption) with an obligation to sacrifice what he has, which is so much more than any Haitian could ever dream of. Not only is he donating all his time, he is also the orphanage’s primary funder.
Now with 100 children and a new building underway, Cook is reminded tangibly of the need. Often parents, sometimes tearful and sometimes merely practical, arrive at the door of the orphanage to bring their last baby, saying they can’t feed her. Often a baby will be lowered over the cinderblock wall around the orphanage during the night, tied in a bundle.
His goals with respect to the orphanage are many.
His foremost interest is in placing Haitian orphans in good homes in the U.S. Though not specifically a church-based organization, it works with LDS Social Services to find homes for the children (particularly the infants) in the U.S. He says there are so many parents who want children badly, and now that racially mixed families are more acceptable, it is easier to find homes for the Haitian orphans. He is hopeful that he will soon be able to arrange low interest loans to help young couples meet the cost of the adoption (approximately $12,000). He would like to model this program after the church’s perpetual education fund whereby monies paid back would be used to lend out to others for the same purpose.
A partnership with “Healing Hands” provides medical checkups and care for the infants and toddlers, specifically to make sure they are AIDS free and as healthy as they can be while waiting for adoption.
SPIRITUAL AND ACADEMIC EDUCATION
There is a church and a school at the orphanage site. A Catholic priest visits infrequently, but the children’s ecclesiastical needs are mostly taken care of by the LDS Bishop who is head of another existing orphanage. There are 450 children in the school. President Cook says this is a rewarding part of the endeavor because “everyone quits on the Haitians.” The work to do in this country, which is the second poorest in the world, is so overwhelming that other groups come in, intending to do good, and eventually pull out because they can’t see that they are making any difference. The school and the church as well as the orphanage itself are making a significant change in the lives of hundreds of children.
EXPAND AND IMPROVE EXISTING FACILITY
The orphanage is constantly being expanded in new phases of construction. Groups, who go down, work side by side with the Haitians (1 American for every 2-3 Haitians). It is hoped that it will, through the donations of time and money, grow to be able to take in more and more orphans. President Cook’s vision is to build additional orphanages in Haiti and then move on to other third world countries, beginning with the Dominican Republic.
PROVIDE WORK FOR HAITIAN COMMUNITY
In a country with 70% unemployment, the orphanage provides much-needed jobs for Haitians. They are employed to care for the children, teach the children, build the facility, and work on the home farm. The orphanage is completely self-sustaining. They grown all of their own food and raise their own livestock. President Cook has been pleased to note the “ripple effect” which these jobs have caused in the local economy, as these employed Haitians are able to patronize other Haitian businesses and improve their standard of living.
OFFER LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCES
President Cook maintains that everyone from troubled youths to seasoned businessmen is changed forever by visiting and volunteering at the orphanage. They see their own life in a completely new perspective and learn the joys of sacrifice and service. Just a little bit of help saves lives. When people observe how much of a difference they can make, it alters their outlook on what is important in this world and in this life. As President Cook says: “You can’t take any of those material things with you when you die, but the service and love you give to the Haitian people will live on forever within you and those you serve.”
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
You can find out more about the foundation at the website: achildshopefoundation.org. You can also call the foundation a 1-801-434-9200. Or you can write: Child’s Hope Foundation, Attention: Paul Cook, 4885 N. Canyon Rd, Provo, Utah, 84604. The foundation relies on word of mouth to raise donations and organize groups to go to Haiti. President Cook promises that when you give until it’s a sacrifice, that’s when the real blessings come.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.