SEVILLE — Clean drinking water for thousands, the construction of primary school classrooms and an upcoming large-scale agriculture expansion are just some of the fruits that have come through a chance meeting between a Seville couple and a Haitian man they describe as “the best person (we) know.”
Pastor Eddy Buissereth met Paul and Mary Ellen Huber more than five years ago as a resort worker on the Turks and Caicos Islands, where the couple was vacationing. What started as small talk on the beach has grown into a relationship that sees Buissereth stay in the Hubers’ home each year during the week of the “World’s Largest Yard Sale” in Seville.
Buissereth described Friday what seems like an endless stream of kind gestures from his hosts and other Seville residents, including donations of yard sale items like a keyboard, amplifier mixer, guitar, and children’s clothing he’s been able to take back to Haiti and put in the hands of people whose daily life would seem unimaginable to most.
“Everyone in Haiti relies on propane gas and diesel generators for power,” said Buissereth, who taught himself English while earning a five-year seminary degree. “There are good days and bad days, but it’s just the way people have to live, so they live.
“There is some solar power, too. Haiti is a beautiful country and I like it. The problem is there just isn’t enough jobs for the people.”
The Seville yard sale runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. For information, visit www.sevilleareachamberofcommerce.com/seville-yard-sale.
The Hubers have formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Helping Haitians in Need, that concentrates its efforts on Fond-des-Blancs, a 65-square-mile communal section of Haiti that is home to roughly 19,000 people. They have relied on Buissereth as their primary representative in the venture and helped him start his own foundation that bears his namesake.
The two organizations have combined forces to erect a $20,000 water cistern that serves about 2,500 people who live in the immediate surrounding area. Buissereth’s foundation is responsible for educating more than 50 students, housing 25 full-time residents while providing them daily meals, providing school uniforms and shoes for children, funding teachers’ salaries and purchasing various school materials.
“Mary Ellen and I knew we wanted to do more,” Paul Huber said. “We wanted to bring Eddy to Ohio. He’d never been to the United States. He came over to meet people and we were so proud of what he was doing.
“We wanted people to see Eddy and hear his story. First it was just our friends, then the people at our church, and the people in the community all started to reach out.”
This week, Buissereth and the Hubers shared the story of their partnership with the Wadsworth Lions Club.
“Eddy told me about things he’s experienced on one of the last days we were at his resort,” said Mary Ellen Huber. “It’s heartbreaking. There were tears on both of our parts. I knew we had to do something. Seeing all of this grow from us meeting, to him visiting us, to these big projects has been just wonderful.”
Buissereth’s young niece died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake that took the lives of an estimated 200,000 people.
According to the Haitian government, the magnitude 7 event collapsed or severely damaged 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings.
Another of Buissereth’s nieces was found alive in the ensuing weeks but had suffered severe facial injuries. Because most lines of communication had been destroyed, Buissereth had to wait two weeks to find out that his wife and two children survived the disaster.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma flooded Buissereth’s apartment on Turks and Caicos with water and sewage while his wife was visiting him. The pastor lives on the islands to be close to his work and only gets to see his family a few times each year.
When airports reopened, he put his wife on the first plane back to Haiti and boarded his own flight to come and visit the Hubers.
“Seville is my favorite place,” Buissereth said.
“Sometimes when I go to pay for something at the yard sale, I hear, ‘Hey pastor, we’ll give it to you for free.’ Today, the mixer someone just gave me would have cost about $450 in Haiti. They just gave it to me. Everyone in this town is so nice.”
When asked about misconceptions Americans have about Haiti, some borne from recent derogatory comments by elected leaders, Buissereth maintained a bright smile and positive tone but said certain remarks do prove hurtful.
“I love my country,” he said. “If some things are wrong we can try to fix them, but it’s a beautiful country. There were many people hurt by what was said.
“Some people decide to leave and say the life is too difficult. They say things are bad but I’m sticking with my country. Things have happened that are out of the peoples’ control.”
Haiti, then known as Saint-Dominique, was one of the richest islands under control of the French Empire in the 18th century.
However, booming coffee and sugar trade with Europe came through the slave labor of approximately 800,000 Africans. Slaves formed a rebellion in 1791, two years after the French Revolution. An ensuing battle with the French army lasted 12 years and claimed the lives of thousands of residents before Haiti finally declared its independence on Jan. 1, 1804.
In exchange for peace, France forced Haiti to pay reparations far beyond the scope of what it could afford — the modern equivalent of $21 billion. Those payments stretched from 1825 to 1947 and often involved the nation taking on high-interest debt through American, German, and French banks.
In 1900, Haiti was spending 80 percent of its national budget on loan repayments.
A brief period of prosperity ended with revolution in 1911 and a 20-year U.S. occupation following shortly thereafter. The Great Depression’s devastating effect on exports coupled with the rule of infamous leader Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier severely inhibited Haiti’s economy for the remainder of the 20th century.
Historians estimate that Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, were at times embezzling 80 percent of international aid. The younger Duvalier fled the country in 1986 with an estimated $900 million.
The next venture for the Hubers and Buissereth involves work with Canadian nonprofits on implementation of a multiyear agricultural plan that they hope will lead to new jobs, better health among residents, and increased local self-reliance in the Fond-des-Blancs region.
“I used to tag things at my yard sale,” said Paul Hubert.
“Now, I don’t tag anything and I just tell people to make a donation to the foundation. Since then, more money has come in than ever did before. It’s a special thing and Eddy is a special person. He’s the best person we know.”