Guiding himself, others through the chaos
By Donna Vickroy Sun-Times Media February 21, 2012 9:30PM
Updated: March 23, 2012 8:25AM
Antoine Jean was watching TV on the afternoon the earth moved.
“Everything shook, including me,” he said. It seemed like an eternity, but then, just as suddenly, it stopped.
Jean ran to the roof to pray to God. But a few seconds into his prayer, the rumbling came back.
“I had to jump across roofs very quickly to escape the tumbling walls,” he said.
When the earthquake ended, everything was destroyed. A white dust cloud hung in the air.
“All over my body, my mouth, my eyes were white,” he recalled. The dust lingered for weeks.
His friend’s home, where he’d been living for a few years, was destroyed. Jean had nowhere to go.
“I slept ‘in the way,’” a term he uses to describe the street.
If he was struggling before the quake, he was now desperately poor and homeless. But it was a lifestyle with which he has been well acquainted.
Jean, an interpreter on Sun-Times Media’s five-day trip to Haiti, was among the first orphans enrolled at St. Helene orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti.
Born 32 years ago in the village of Jeremie, Jean’s family was so poor that his mom, who was unemployed, would leave every morning in search of food for her five children. Most of the time, she would find it at the Caridad Mission. Jean’s father did not live with the family.
In 1988, when Jean was 7, the Rev. Rick Frechette invited him and his younger sister to be among the first wave of orphans to live at the St. Helene orphanage in the mountains outside Port-au-Prince.
“I was very sad to leave home but happy to get food,” he said.
Like many of the children who grew up at the Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos-run orphanage, Jean found work as an adult through the organization, where he worked as a teacher and dreamed about opening his own school.
But the earthquake brought chaos to the St. Damien facility just outside Port-au-Prince. Jean decided his best move was to head to the NPH facility in the Dominican Republic.
It was there that he met Frankfort businessman John Shattuck.
Shattuck was trying desperately to get into Haiti to meet a shipment of essential supplies. But with the Port-au-Prince airport in shambles, he was forced to fly into the neighboring Dominican Republic and search for a guide to get him across the mountains into Haiti.
He hired Jean and the two set out on an odyssey that included driving through fiery roadblocks, dodging roving thugs and making enough wrong turns to make an American blow a metaphorical gasket.
They have since become close friends.