A little for a year after her first visit to Haiti, Barnesville resident and licensed clinical counselor Penny Shepherd is returning to set up a counseling center at an orphanage in the still-battered country.
"I'm excited to go back and work with the kids," said Shepherd, who was invited to come back and train staff and volunteers at an orphanage to provide therapy to the children who lost parents and siblings in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that devastated the third-world country on Jan. 10, 2010.
Although she became very ill the first time she was there, Shepherd, who works at Cambridge Counseling where she is contracted to serve families in Belmont, Guernsey, Noble and Monroe counties, said she was already contemplating going back when she received the call requesting her help.
"I took it as a sign that I was meant to go back and help," she said. "The faces of the little kids are something I will never forget."
Shepherd is leaving on May 2 and will stay for eight days this time. She established a bond with several children there last year. She said many do not have birth certificates and therefore cannot be adopted out of the country. Most do not event know their birthday.
She will begin at an orphanage where she will set up a counseling program. It is estimated that the earthquake doubled the number of Haiti's orphans, which was reportedly an astonishing 380,000 out of a population of 9 million.
"Things are still a mess," she said.
Over a year later, only a fraction of the rubble has been cleared and more than 4,600 people have been killed by cholera since the epidemic began in October.
"The little things make them happy," she said. "It is amazing that they have been through what they have been through and they're just so happy."
She said the children were sweet and the adults were very kind.
She said the children's hospital and college were both flattened last year. While there last year, Shepherd said, " you could still smell death in the air."
She slept in a tent there and security guards were ever present because the prisons and jails had been destroyed by the earthquake and the inmates were out in the general public, causing crime to run rampant. No justice system was in place and those who committed crimes were simply shot.
The volunteers traveled around in an old, blue Ford pick-up truck. Meanwhile Haitians were living in tent cities, showering in the streets and picking up debris and rubble by hand. More than a million displaced people still live under tents and tarpaulins.
Shepherd said the Haitians are very hard working and take education and religion very seriously. She said students must pay to ride the bus or "tap-tap" or walk, no matter how far.
She said despite their limited resources, they take are cleanly. She said everything is reused and everyday, ordinary things Americans take for granted, such as chairs, shoes and tooth brushes, are luxuries there.
"We take everything for granted," Shepherd said, adding that the people are extremely grateful for everything they receive.
Before leaving last year, Shepherd left all but the clothes on her back for girls at the orphanage and was impressed by their willingness to share and take care of what little they do have.
She said the children lined up for peanut butter sandwiches and never complained.
"They really cannot improve their situation" she said. "There are no jobs."
Shepherd's dentist donated toothbrushes and toothpaste and she will be demonstrating oral hygiene to the orphans.
She is also collecting other items for the children, which she will transport at her own expense. A collection box for construction paper, children's scissors, colored and regular pencils, pencil sharpeners, crayons, glue sticks, cotton swabs, Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment, etc. is located at Talk of the Town Salon on South Chestnut Street in Barnesville.