Attorney Meghann E. LaFountain in Haiti ()
The first time Meghann E. LaFountain flew to Haiti on vacation in September 2012, she needed encouragement from a friend and former classmate from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
“I had not been on a plane since third grade, I was nervous to fly and I was going somewhere out of my comfort zone,” said LaFountain, an immigration law attorney with Baram, Tapper & Gans in Bloomfield. “I didn’t know if I could actually do it, but I knew I’d enjoy it.”
This was no ordinary vacation. LaFountain was traveling to Haiti as part of a program sponsored by The Fuller Center for Housing, based in Georgia, and Grace International in Haiti, two groups dedicated to providing new homes in Haiti. She spent a week working as part of a team of volunteers to construct homes in the community of Lambi, one of many areas devastated by an earthquake four years ago.
“I built homes in a community of 400 people who had been living in tents,” LaFountain said. “I built railings and poured concrete, even though I never picked up a power tool before that.”
LaFountain’s law school friend, who’s an immigration attorney in Boston, persuaded her to go, and LaFountain’s experiences have kept her coming back. In May, she will make her fifth trip to Haiti to continue building homes in Lambi. Forty homes have been built so far with a target of 60 homes in near sight.
“Haiti still looks like it did four years ago after the earthquake,” LaFountain said. “Thousands of people are living in tent cities. That 90-minute ride from the airport to Lambi really opens your eyes.”
Now LaFountain is trying to get others involved, too. She is raising money to buy building supplies and pay members of the Lambi community who work alongside the volunteers. She also is accepting donations of clothes and toys, and if anyone is ready to travel to Haiti and help build a house for a Haitian family, LaFountain said more volunteers are always welcome.
“The Lambi residents love when we come down there,” LaFountain said. “They know when people come to work there, someone is going to get a house and someone’s life is going to be a little easier.
“As a volunteer,” she added, “you can work hands-on in the country and see the difference you’re making in that first week.”
LaFountain and other volunteers live in dorms during their time in Haiti with six people to a room. Skilled and unskilled workers alike are welcome, and volunteers range in age from 18 t o75. There are college students, professionals in search of a different type of vacation and retirees eager to give back.
“It’s a way to see a different place and experience a different culture,” said LaFountain, who uses her personal vacation time for the trips. “It really changes your attitude on life, what it means to struggle and what it means to be alive.”
LaFountain has made several friends in Lambi after so many trips down there. Paul, who is 18, has worked alongside LaFountain and always is eager to use his French and English in conversations with her. Last year, the two worked together on a house that ended up being dedicated to Paul and his mother.
“It was great to see a young man, who put in so much effort and worked so hard, get this house for his mom and him,” LaFountain said. Paul’s mother has since fallen ill with tuberculosis and LaFountain worries what will happen to him because he is an only child whose father died earlier in his life.
“He wants to go to college and he has the drive and dedication,” she said. “The circumstances are just awful for him.”
She wonders if Paul will be able to afford a college education when there are so many costs associated with education, including the transportation required to get to class. Helping to build the home that Paul now lives in was one way LaFountain felt like she could help improve his life.
So many other Haitians are suffering that every day spent working alongside neighbors is gratifying because of the progress they are making with the new homes.
“You spend a week with people who are lucky to eat one meal a day,” LaFountain said. “It’s a life-changing experience to go down there.”
To volunteer or learn how to assist Meghann LaFountain’s home-building mission in Haiti, please contact her at 860-242-2221. •