Monday, October 26, 2009

Sex Case Cripples Haiti Charity, Sponsors Worry About Children

Original article

WINDSOR, Ont. -- Dr. Andrea Steen fears she may never hear from Kenderna and Richardson again.

The Windsor physician sponsors the Haitian boy and girl through Hearts Together for Haiti, the aid organization once directed by former local priest John Duarte, who remains in jail in the Dominican Republic awaiting extradition to Canada to face multiple charges of molesting teenage boys at the mission he founded on the island's north coast.

"All I can say is I hope I was able to help them for the two years I sponsored them," Steen said Friday. "I hope they continue to carry on with their school and do the right thing. I hope it works out. But I feel sad and worried. There's no way of knowing."

Steen said the the 12-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl and their families came from the seaside village of Bas-de-Mer-Limbe, where the aid organization ran a clinic, a school and a sponsorship program for children. But, because of the devastating effects the allegations of sexual abuse have had on Hearts Together for Haiti, and a power struggle that has erupted in the communities since Duarte's abrupt departure in 2006, the Windsor-based organization has been forced to leave the village.

Duarte, 44, was arrested at a hotel near Puerto Plata, where he had been working as a waiter and scuba instructor, by Dominican authorities acting on a Canadian warrant earlier this week. He has been charged under the Criminal Code with nine counts of sexual exploitation of boys between the ages of 12 and 17.

Steen said the news of Duarte's arrest hit her family hard.

"It was pretty devastating to see those stories after having been there," said Steen, who has visited the children and their village. "I haven't stopped thinking about it the last two days.... I think of the children. She was absolutely the cutest little girl, a smile that would light up the place. I think about them and I hope whoever is left there will help them."

She recalled bringing the boy and girl clothing, a soccer ball, books, all the things the children of the village did without before Hearts Together for Haiti came along about four years ago.

Steen said she began her involvement after visiting the area on a medical tour and meeting Duarte.

"He told us all about Hearts Together for Haiti," she recalled. "He was so charismatic.... One of those people you can meet once and know you'll remember him the rest of your life."

She knew there must have been something wrong when she learned that Duarte had left the organization.

"I just knew something happened," she said. "I thought maybe a drinking problem and that he would come back and get treatment. I would never have thought it would be something like this."

She was impressed HTFH leadership took immediate action to remove Duarte.

"They went and confronted him and did their best to protect the kids. I think they've done the best they could to keep moral and ethical.... I hope people continue to support them. Their hearts are in the right place."

Marcie Spratt, a member of the board of directors for the organization and co-ordinator of the sponsorship program, said between the two communities -- Bas-de-Mer-Limbe and Labadie -- there were 267 children and their families, 42 elderly men and women and 17 young adult students on sponsorship. More than 1,100 children attended the schools.

In addition, part of the $600 a year that sponsors paid went toward a medical plan the organization had set up, with clinics staffed by Cuban doctors. Hearts Together for Haiti sent $17,000 a month to finance their operations. All of that, she said, is now in limbo.

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