Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitobans just in time for quake

Volunteers stay to help out at orphanage

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A group of Manitobans volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti had only been in the country for five hours when the earthquake struck and they were forced to run for their lives.

Tasiya Barkman, 14, of Kleefeld, her grandmother Wilma, aunt Janet Reimer of Blumenort and Wilma's sister-in-law Betty Friesen of Steinbach were all inside the God's Littlest Angels orphanage about 20 kilometres outside the capital Port-au-Prince when the building started to shake.

Tasiya, a Grade 8 student at Kleefeld School, said she was with her grandmother on the third floor of the orphanage, getting the babies ready for dinner, when the earthquake hit.

"I had no idea what was going on," Tasiya said via email.

"I just stood frozen (and) then my grandma started yelling at me to run. So I did."

Tasiya said the earthquake "was about 40 seconds long, (but) it felt like hours.

"I'm a little more shooken up than the rest of the volunteers, but I'm also the youngest here.

"I'm trying to be strong and I just think about why I came to Haiti in the first place -- the babies."

Tasiya said she and others at the orphanage were able to get outside without being injured.

"I'm surprised I didn't fall down the stairs (because) I'm a very clumsy person to begin with," she said, adding a smiley face to her email.

Once the shaking stopped, the volunteers ran back inside to rescue the crying babies.

"A lot of them fell down, (but) none (were) hurt though," she said.

Tasiya estimated there have been as many as 50 aftershocks, with one on Wednesday night so strong everybody rushed outside again.

Before the earthquake struck, Tasiya was celebrating another occasion -- it was her birthday.

Since the earthquake, she and the rest of the volunteers have had to roll up their sleeves and work hard because many of the Haitian staff have left to find their families.

"We've just been taking as many children as possible and playing with them, feeding them, dressing them and putting them to bed."

Tasiya said a friend has decided to organize a fundraiser for Haiti at their school.

"I think (my friends) are scared and also excited that I get to be in the middle of this huge event. It's a miracle I'm still alive. I should be flattened."

Both Bruce Barkman, Tasiya's grandfather and Wilma's husband, and Russell Barkman, Tasiya's father, said they were relieved their family members were safe.

Russell said his daughter had the presence of mind to phone him about an hour after the earthquake struck -- before he even knew about it.

"She was in tears crying and she said, "Before you hear it on the news, I want you to know there has been an earthquake here," he said.

"Her first two emails she wanted to come home, but now she's saying they need (her) more than ever. It's kind of scary, but I'm proud of her."

Holly Bickel, a spokeswoman at the orphanage's head office in Colorado, said Canadians can donate and receive a tax receipt because the Canadian arm is a registered charity.

"We look after 160 to 170 orphans, but we're expecting those numbers to go up because of the earthquake," Bickel said.

"We're not sure what's going to happen because it's unprecedented."

Bickel said that compared to other organizations, hers "has been very blessed.

"No one was hurt and none of our buildings were damaged. But we have staff members who lost family or their homes."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Looking for family?

THE Salvation Army's emergency radio network is taking requests from people looking for family members in Haiti. To submit a request, go to www.satern.org and click on Health and Welfare Information Request.

The Salvation Army has been working in Haiti since 1950 and has three medical facilities, social service institutions and dozens of schools teaching more than 10,000 children.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2010 A5

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