By Bruce Stambaugh
There is no place like home. In this case, for Fritz and Mamie Jeanty and their two young sons, Samuel and Benjamin, home is Haiti.
A year after their miraculous exit from earthquake ravaged Port au Prince, Haiti, to Millersburg, the Jeanty family is ready to return.
“From what I understand, it will be like it happened yesterday,” Fritz Jeanty said. “Friends and family tell me that almost nothing has been cleaned up.”
Fritz, 36, has been in regular touch via cell phone and e-mail with friends and relatives in his native Haiti. He knows it won’t be the best situation.
But he said thoughtfully, “It’s time to go home.”
Fritz understands the huge physical obstacles he and his family will face. His grocery store business was destroyed, and will never be reopened. Their home was damaged to the point of being unlivable. The cholera outbreak is yet another concern.
Nevertheless, Fritz and Mamie, 31, are ready to return home, ready to face the devastation and mourn the loss of life of friends, neighbors and family.
“Mamie lost two sisters,” Fritz said. “And right after the earthquake occurred, her 18-year-old brother disappeared. No one has seen him since.”
Fritz said he knows it will be hard to return. But he also knows it is the right thing to do.
“The people here have been wonderful to us,” Fritz said. “We are very, very grateful for all that has been done for us.”
A week after the massive trembler that leveled most of Port au Prince, Fritz used his resourcefulness to get his family to his father-in-law’s home in Orlando, Florida. From there he made contact with people with whom he previously worked in Christian Aid Ministries, based in Berlin, Ohio.
Within days the Jeantys were settled into a home in Millersburg, and donations of money, food, furniture and clothing were made. A Haitian Relief Fund was established to help the displaced family during their stay in Holmes County. At that point, the length of their stay was undetermined.
Fritz spent his time volunteering at Save and Serve Thrift Store in Millersburg five days a week, while Mamie cared for the boys. Samuel enrolled in Head Start preschool and soon learned English. Once the family adjusted to their temporary home, Mamie also volunteered at the store.
With his family safe, Fritz began thinking about their eventual return to Haiti. While assisting at Save and Serve, he marveled at the efficiency and goals of Save and Serve.
Knowing the need for good, inexpensive used clothing would be great in Haiti, Fritz imagined starting a similar store in Port au Prince using Save and Serve as a model. He shared his plan with the Save and Serve board of directors and they were supportive of his desire to help his fellow citizens while establishing a business to help his family survive, too.
Encouraged by their response, Fritz moved ahead with his plan. His father-in-law donated some land, and construction for the clothing store was begun.
A 26-foot box truck was donated to Fritz, and it was filled with clothing and shoes, which were also donated. Fritz and a driver, Ed Yoder of Millersburg, left for West Palm Beach, Florida. on January 10. Once there, the truck was loaded onto a cargo ship headed for Haiti.
“I need to be in Haiti when the truck arrives,” Fritz said.
He and his family plan to leave January 25. But it won’t be easy either for the Jeanty family or for those with whom they have worked.
“Fritz has been a tremendous help to us,” said Eric Raber, co-manager at Save and Serve. “He will definitely be missed, but we also wish the family well.”
Fritz plans on restocking his used clothing store in Haiti through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) thrift store operations based in Akron, Pennsylvania. Such outreach businesses are part of MCC’s mission.
The Jeantys will live with family until Fritz can restore a room in their damaged home to a point where it is inhabitable.
“We will get one room ready,” Fritz said with his usual confidence, “and work on the rest as we can.”
As for the cholera, Fritz said that they would take the necessary precautions.
“We will only drink clean water,” he said. “We will wash our hands and make sure everything is clean before we eat it.”