Son of Haiti
Considering the great Metropolitan area around the capital, it seems that Port-au-Prince accounts nearly four million people. And yet, Gerald, wherever he is, finds friends to greet, hands to shake, smiles to share. It happens in the chaotic traffic of downtown, in the dusty side streets, or in the markets, it happens in schools, in hospitals, with students in uniform, and girls wearing colored braids, but also with the guards, that, with their rifle on shoulder, open and close the gates of all the sites that might be looted (even schools and hospitals).
Haiti is his family; his house is as big as his homeland. A pair of teardrop ray-ban sun glasses, a smile from advertising and a mobile that gives him no respite, this is Gerald. He is thirty-five, has a medical degree and an experience of life so dense that we could divide it in more lives, without any of them would appear unadorned. Certainly he has climbed mountains, to get where he is. Not one page of the books on which he studied was donated to him, and this gaining the peak, meter after meter, has surely hardened him enough to become what he is today: a crucial reference for Haiti (his large family) and for the Andrea Bocelli Foundation (his Italian relatives).
His inspiration, model in life, point of reference and “father” (because father is he who raises you) is Rick Frechette, the visionary doctor and priest director of N.P.H. Haiti. It was just watching and following him on the altar, as an altar boy, and then in the mobile clinic of the road health service, that Gerald understood his mission.
As for the other supporting pillar of his mentor, the choice of priesthood, he would have made the same choice, and he even tried to.
April 3rd 2015 for Maestro Bocelli it was the last evening in Haiti. The following day there was a concert waiting for him at the Anfiteatro Altos de Chavón, in Dominican Republic. Gerald lived at Villa Francesca a guest house in Port-au-Prince that brings together a dozen bungalows. Freshly graduated he was working as a volunteer doctor in the St. Luc hospital nearby.
A convivial evening had been organized to ideally embrace the benefactor artist, who had arrived on the island together with Veronica and his little Virginia. Gerald was among the organizers of the festivities. In those hours he had the opportunity, at first, to speak to the staff leaders of ABF (Laura Biancalani and Olimpia Angeletti), and then to Veronica herself. Later he met Andrea, just the time to take a picture to immortalize the first encounter.
In the following days, the young doctor and the top executives of ABF went on exchanging their points of view. The Foundation was looking for its own referent. It had to be a valuable person, a determined, but warm-hearted man, with a perfect knowledge of the territory, a Project manager that could closely monitor everything. Father Rick confirmed and even emphasized, with conviction, the good impression that Veronica, Laura, Olimpia had had. That way Gerald was suddenly plunged into this new adventure, at first for a few months alongside his friend, Roseline Paul, (Project manager for the Rava Foundation), and then to manage by himself the complex machine of philanthropy and empowerment, created by ABF that was constantly growing providing health, education, prevention…
Gerald continued his hospital service and – the cell phone in his hand – he wished he had the gift of ubiquity constantly following different situations that were even ten hour drive from each other. . The pressure, psychological but also very real, was great indeed. However, the Haitian doctor employed powerful vaccines, enthusiasm and the ability to roll up his sleeves and restart every time … Winning Strategies of those who, from early childhood have been familiar with challenges.
Gerald re-launched. He himself set up new projects and welcomed the opportunity to increase his medical skills in Italy.
That meant he would have to live, periodically, away from his beloved island, and even farther from his greatest loves. Because in the meantime, Gerald had become father of two daughters: the elder, Geratti is three years, and one years the second, Brunie. But Gerald gritted his teeth betting on a better future for Haiti (an island where there are only three pediatric surgeons). Three for the entire population!); he relied on his energy and on his being used to sacrifices. On the other hand in a large heart there is room for everybody, for all his patients adults and children, for the thousand children of the schools he visited periodically, (always as a volunteer), but the most intimate part of his thoughts is with his daughters. And every day, wherever he is – at least through Skype – he says goodnight to them waiting to reunite his family.
The meeting of life
A step back. Gerald was eleven years old when he was hospitalized in critical conditions. After this he was for over ten year in the Kenscoff Orphanage where he met Father Rick.
Having left the sea for the cold mountains, with no friends, but with many peers with whom to share every burden the whole day through, at the beginning Gerald had some difficulties in getting settled, but then, little by little, he succeeded and discovered the joy of learning, from scratch. He made friends with some of his future colleagues, and he found new siblings in Roselin Paul, Augusnel Osmè, Nebez Augustin…fundamental people, today, in the social and health renaissance of the island.
Father Rick at that time was still studying medicine. He had to come and go from United States to take the exams. The orphanage kids were all his children. He listened to them and motivated them, expressing positivity in every action, teaching them through daily example, embracing everything and everyone thanks to a Christian militancy that did not proselytize, but that he radiated, in daily life, in the all-encompassing light of a choice.
Gerald approached him two years after his arrival in Kenscoff Mountains. He started to assist him in church services, then, when Father Rick finished his studies and opened a mobile clinic, the altar boy asked to help him, to stay with him.
So Gerald, systematically, touched with his hands suffering, health insecurity, poverty, but also compassion, the stubborn and tireless work of the priest doctor that, “doing” expressed the teachings of The Gospel better than any sermon. Seven years of primary school and as many of secondary: this is education in Haiti. Gerald had grown, but he had not yet finished his studies that he already taught, in the morning the children of primary school, and in the afternoon, he taught his younger school mates of the secondary school. It is the “Give back” year, the way to pay back the structure for having taken care of him. Once finished the year of volunteering, given that the orphanage had a long waiting list of children to be accepted, for Gerald it was time to leave the place where he had been brought up.
The vocation to help
In his early twenties Gerald had still three years to get his diploma, but he was in a hurry, and tried to do as quickly as possible, deepening at the same time the study of English, Spanish and I.T. He did not know how, where, nor with which money, but he knew for sure that he, sooner or later, would go to University and become a doctor just like Father Rick. He would be a doctor for all, and in particular for children. He perfectly remembered that it was the doctors that had saved his life, when some angels in white coats, had taken care of him thinking how to make him heal and give him a future.
In the long years of Kenscoff, the constant service attitude of Gerald towards his mates had made his educators think of a possible vocation. In the final three years of the higher school spent in an Institute of N.P.H., the manager, a nun, tried to increase this attitude. She involved him in many local activities of the Catholic community to the point of taking him with herself to Canada for the World Youth Day, in the presence of John Paul II.
Once concluded the cycle of secondary school Gerald entered the seminary and stayed there for some months. But understood – as he will explain in a long and difficult clarifying meeting with the nun – how that one is not the right path for him, his vocation is to help people just like her, like Father Rick, like many church men and women, but that he wanted to do it without wearing a cassock.
The College Years
Political instability in Haiti infected universities in the capital, because of demonstrations and occupations it was difficult to attend with regularity a course of studies. Gerald did not want to abandon Port-au-Prince, but the turbulence was such that it was worth trying other roads. He tried to send an application form also to the Medical Faculty of the Dominican Republic. There, in summer 2007 he was a volunteer in an orphanage (where once again he found his friend Roseline), then after six months he started his university career which ended six years later, in February 2014, when he graduated with honors and was awarded a golden ring on the part of University reserved only to those who better distinguished themselves in the course of studies.
These were very hard years, spent in the parallel study of languages (given that lessons were held in Spanish and in English) but also in the constant exercise of work, to support himself while studying. Father Rick granted him a scholarship for tuition fees, but he also had to buy books and find accommodation. The student worked with an NGO, employed by a Canadian priest, receiving in exchange the money for medical texts, and he was allowed to use a corner of the office to sleep at night.
January 12th, 2010 Gerald was not in Haiti. As soon as he heard about the earthquake instinctively he wanted to return. But soon he realized that, at least at that time, he would be more useful where he was. Every day, in fact, finished lessons and work (he was committed in supporting the birth of a devotional center for young priests) he headed towards the border areas, where he had the possibility to control and check that the food and medicines that had started to arrive, sent by international humanitarian organizations, could reach their destination.
After graduation, Gerald finally returned home, for a year he worked as a volunteer doctor at the St. Luc Hospital. It was a way to return the privilege he had had, to pay for his tuition fees through the scholarship.
In April 2015 Andrea Bocelli visited the island and the structures built by the foundation that bears his name.
Build the future
Three fully operating schools, two being built, projects related to hospital maternity departments, AIDS care and prevention, water distribution in the slums, purification of the same in schools, renovation (if not rebuilding) of dilapidated houses. This is only a part of what in Haiti, thanks to ABF, is taking place, at the same time, even now.
Gerald is well acquainted with the complex story of his land, and knows the needs that are potentially capable, if accomplished, of generating value and future. He has understood therefore, the needs of his population and rationalized them in new projects some of which are already taking shape.
Mindful of the many times he had been on a journey with Father Rick, when he was still a boy, of the traveling to reach disadvantaged communities to deliver cures, he proposed a “Mobile clinic” made up of an agile hospital task force, capable of reaching the poorest places on the island, where people still die because of mild diseases that could be easily curable through prophylaxis.
Besides, combining the planetary artistic value of the Foundation’s inventor with the talent of many Haitian children, took form the choir “Voices of Haiti”. This musical project that will be inaugurated in September in New York is a great choir that might seem an ambitious goal achieved, but is instead the key that takes to the art of sounds, to art for the sake of art, able to infect, motivate, and give hope to many young lives.
There are difficulties; anyway, not all families understand the opportunity given to their children. In some cases, they even do not want their emancipation. But similar educational initiatives have, as an added value, the possibility to monitor at-risk situations and keep children safe from possible domestic vexations.
Gerald tells he is a lucky man. What about his future? It will be in Haiti, no doubt. And what about his daughters? He hopes that when they grow up they will have the strength and will to make the same choice. But in twenty years time will Haiti be what it might be? (An earthly paradise, a hymn to beauty, to the charming sweetness of life?) Probably this lapse of time will not be sufficient to heal the country from its chronic endemic disease: first of all an inattentive political class (to be euphemistic) basically more interested in their own interest rather than in those of the people they represent (to use another euphemism).
Leaving, however, is tantamount to playing into the hands of those who exploit this potential paradise (already prostrated by known disasters). Leaving is the worst answer, it means throwing in the towel, and Gerald is not temperamentally used to give in. There is however, a need to do, now, to rebuild, heal, teach… Gerald Beaubrun will remain, and invites us all to give him a hand. Just as – he hopes – will do his daughters. For them, as for all the children in Haiti, he wants, above all else, what he believes is the most powerful, fundamental tool, that can make a difference in building a future (theirs and the one of the island ) school, knowledge, education…knowing how to understand to know how to change.
Giorgio De Martino