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Catching up with Clovis Baptiste: ‘Haiti is still a mess’

Stockton resident creates a foundation to help Haiti recover

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Haitian native and Stockton resident Clovis Baptiste talked with the News-Sentinel on Friday, Oct. 8, 2010, about his homeland and family’s condition since the January earthquake.

Posted: Saturday, October 9, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 6:06 am, Sat Oct 9, 2010.

From juggling the responsibilities that come from managing a retail store, to starting a charity and providing for his family, Clovis Baptiste has remained busy since returning to the United States after venturing to Haiti in February. Baptiste went to the impoverished island nation to find his family after the massive January earthquake that left hundreds of thousands dead or missing.

The Stockton resident and manager of the Kmart on Cherokee Lane trades phone calls with his 10 siblings and parents, who still live in Haiti, multiple times a week. They reside on Cayemite, a small Haitian island. He has started the necessary paperwork to operate a charity that aims to help citizens in his homeland, but his other financial obligations have led to it not being operational yet. Although he knows his family living in Haiti are safe and have some financial security, Baptiste said the overwhelming majority of Haitians aren't so lucky.

"Haiti is still a mess," he said.

For the people who had money prior to the earthquake, the rebuilding has begun, Baptiste said. But more than 95 percent of Haiti's population lives in abject poverty and things show no signs of getting better for them, he said.

"The money raised by the United States and the rest of the world is still sitting somewhere," he said. "It has not reached the country yet. Maybe it's somewhere collecting interest, I don't know."

Former prisoners still roam the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, because government buildings still lie in ruins. Insects feast on decomposing corpses in abandoned structures while people starve to death on public streets in broad daylight.

"The mess (has) just continued," he said.

But Baptiste wants to help. He recently began The Little Village Foundation, a charity that will send monthly packages of shoes, clothing and school supplies he purchases from Kmart to Haiti. But the charity's official start will have to wait, while Baptiste pools his money to help pay for his mother to visit a doctor in Haiti.

His mother is experiencing chest pains, and Baptiste believes it's due to her years of working under the oppressive sun on a subsistence farm.

"Things catch up with you," he said.

Baptiste estimates it will take $5,000 to pay for his mother's trip to Port-au-Prince and the doctor's visit. Once he saves the money for his mother, he will refocus his efforts on The Little Village Foundation.

He plans to visit his family in July to help them complete repair work on a home they have in Port-au-Prince. The risk of another large earthquake in the near future is unlikely, he said.

Until then, Baptiste will focus on Kmart as the holiday season approaches. His days are spent tracking orders for Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise and hiring seasonal workers.

Although he could be angry and spiteful for the life he's lived and the struggles his family endures, Baptiste is always quick to flash an engaging smile and be thankful for what he has.

His generous nature is reflected in the way he is constantly looking to help those less fortunate. His family in Haiti struggles, but he knows they at least have him on their side to offer financial support.

"Kmart blesses me and my family with this job," he said. "Others don't have anybody to help them."

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@ lodinews.com.

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