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A Heart for Haiti's Orphans

Featured Photo from A Heart for Haiti's Orphans

Sanford man is helping change the lives of children in the poverty-stricken nation

Sanford resident Patrick O’Shea first learned about Timkatec, a primary school and foster home for impoverished boys in Haiti, while reading an article in the Orlando Sentinel in 2004. The focus of the article was the increased need for humanitarian aid in Haiti due to the rebel uprising that unseated President Jean-Bertrand Aristide – and the difficulty of getting that aid where it was needed most. 

The Timkatec school was founded in 1994 by Father Joseph Simon, who had made it his mission to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate as many street children in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince as he could. Deeply moved by the account of the school’s desperate situation, Patrick contacted Father Simon to see how he and his family could help.

“Typically, I think most people are happy just writing a check and supporting a worthy cause,” says Patrick. But with the most intense years of his career behind him, Patrick wanted to do more. 

So, together with his longtime friend Mike Spinelli and their families, Patrick started the nonprofit organization The Friends of Timkatec in America to raise funds for Father Simon’s work.

Both Mike and Patrick were highly motivated by personal experiences.

“Twelve years before Patrick and I got involved in helping Father Simon with his orphanage, I had visited Haiti,” Mike says. “I never realized how bad the poverty was, and I never forgot that trip.”

Patrick, too, was awestruck by the children’s poverty – as well as their homelessness. Having lost his own mother at age 3 and his father at 15, Patrick knew what it was like to fend for oneself at a young age.

“These children, like me, had lost their parents in one way, shape, or form,” he says. “And they were living on the streets in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Haiti is a country so continually embroiled in political upheaval and ravaged by natural disasters that its people never have time to recover.

The Friends of Timkatec’s initial goal was to raise money to build what became Timkatec 2, a training school designed for boys to learn a trade so that they could become self-sufficient. The original orphanage is now known as Timkatec 1. Besides donating their own time, money, and efforts, the O’Shea and Spinelli families called on other friends and organizations to help. One of these organizations was Maryland-based Catholic Relief Services, which provided a matching gift to build Timkatec 2, and which continues to allow the Friends of Timkatec to funnel resources through its organization to ensure that they get safely to Father Simon in Haiti.

Construction of Timkatec 2 was completed in 2006. But due to the large number of students requiring training, the building was expanded several years later with funds donated by Tommy Stinson, formerly the bass guitarist of rockband Guns N’ Roses. 

Timkatec 2 is now a 7,500-square-foot, state-certified trade school with dedicated instructors in five trades. Students there attend several hours a day for two years. In June 2017, the facility graduated 165 young people as cooks, masons, electricians, tailors, and plumbers.

A third school, aptly called Timkatec 3, was opened in 2009 with funding from a Canadian faith-based group and also later expanded. It now has multiple roles: to provide a primary education (grades 1 through 5) to girls; to offer girls vocational training in such skills as community cooking, which prepares them to work in hotels; and to provide temporary, overnight shelter for homeless children in its girls and boys dormitories. 

Enrollment for all three schools currently totals more than 500, but not all of the buildings are at capacity, due to a lack of funding for teachers, food, and materials. 

The Friends of Timkatec in America continue to work toward fulfilling Father Simon’s dream of finding steady funding to enable poor children in Haiti to receive the education and training they need. Patrick and Mike share the dream with others at every opportunity, and Patrick sends out an email blast to supporters four times a year. Patrick’s daughter, Tara O’Shea, developed and maintains the website, where tax-deductible donations are encouraged and accepted.

“I’ve learned from my experience,” Patrick says. “What is a little to us can be   a lot to people in poverty.”

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