Lady's Island, Charleston residents to sail from Beaufort to Haiti for humanitarian work

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comNovember 1, 2012 

There's a word used in Haiti that Sam Carpenter can relate to: "degaje."

It roughly means "do what you have to do to make things work." For Haitians, that can mean finding a way to turn bamboo into a knife to clean fish, or using a rock when a hammer can't be found.

Carpenter, a lifelong sailor, says the same rule applies to life on the sea -- when you're out in the middle of the ocean and something goes wrong, you just figure it out.

"You have to adapt something, or reconfigure it, or learn to do without," he said. "That's the spirit in Haiti."

Carpenter, who lives on his sailboat "Mistress" at Marsh Harbor Marina on Lady's Island, is headed back to Haiti this weekend for another trip doing humanitarian work. He's been going to the island nation of about 10 million people -- one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere -- for about five years.

This time he's taking Charleston residents Paul Mitchell and Mary Joan Oexmann. The three hope to leave todayor Saturday, depending on the winds, and will sail the roughly 1,300 miles to Anse-d'Hainault. From there, they'll hike to Lanbodan, a rural village of about 3,000 people in the mountains.

Carpenter, Mitchell and Oexmann will help the villagers install rain catchers -- a device Carpenter designed that will give the village access to clean water -- and help build a community center that will be used as a church, school and medical clinic with the supplies they're bringing on the boat. He plans to begin selling the rain catchers online next year, and using the proceeds to fund the school.

It's the first trip to Haiti for Mitchell and Oexmann. Mitchell acknowledges he's a bit trepidatious, even though the two have done mission work through St. James Episcopal Church on James Island in Guyana -- a country on the northern coast of South America -- before and feel prepared for the trip.

But the pair are also excited -- they want to see another country, get a taste of what it's like in such a remote village, and do what they can to help. When they heard Carpenter needed a crew, they jumped at the chance.

"He's a man with vision, for sure," Oexmann said. "It just captured our hearts to say, 'OK, we'll be your crew.' He needs the extra hands."

Oexmann and Mitchell said they agree with Carpenter's philosophy when it comes to this work -- he's all about teaching a man to fish, as the proverb goes.

"These people need a trade, or a skill for life," Mitchell said. "It's all very well to give them food, but then they need a handout. That's not the right way to go."

Carpenter has already worked to begin a mechanics school in Jacmel -- he's found a teacher, and will teach him how to teach others on this trip. He's also traveled to Lanbodan in January, when he helped install a water-filtration system and taught the villagers how to clean the buckets and other utensils that have come in contact with river water and potentially spread cholera.

Carpenter said since he's started going to Haiti, he's been hooked. Life is simpler there, and people are happy to see you and grateful for the help, he said.

"They are so good, so kind, and so considerate," he said. "When I'm in this village, I feel like I've been raised there my whole life."

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