Local woman Camille Otum founded a charitable organization that runs an orphanage in Haiti after a visit to her hometown left her appalled by the conditions.
A Georgetown couple is making a difference in the lives of children thousands of miles away.
Camille and Sam Otum are the faces behind Welcome Home Children’s Centre Inc. (WHCC), which operates an orphanage in Cabaret, Haiti, a municipality about 25 km northwest of the capital Port-au-Prince.
The services the WHCC provides may appear mundane to Canadian eyes, but they are life-changing to the orphans. Their mission is to give abandoned and exploited children housing, schooling, healthcare, access to hygiene and recreation, among many other things.
The end goal of the volunteer-run, donation-funded organization is to provide the children what they’ve been denied: self-confidence and education.
Camille moved to Canada from Haiti when she was 19 years old. She has lived in Georgetown for over 30 years now. When she went back to her hometown of Cabaret in 2006, she was appalled by what she saw. It wasn’t the Cabaret that she remembered.
“I saw children eating from the garbage. I saw girls younger than my daughter with older white ‘friends,’” she said, explaining the latter is a situation commonly seen when a child is being exploited.
After coming back to Canada, she was determined to make a difference. The ball began to roll on what would become WHCC.
“When my wife wants to do something, she doesn’t stop,” said Sam Otum, president of WHCC.
This determination, with help from her husband, birthed the organization.
It was registered as a charity in 2008, with doors opening to orphans the following year. But the orphanage of today took a little while longer to take shape.
As a temporary measure to start, they used an ordinary home in Cabaret, but it didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing. The Otums were determined to have their kids experience these amenities, which are luxuries in Haiti.
In 2011, they acquired a two-acre property and built the orphanage of today.
The pair envisions developing the orphanage further into a campus of sorely-needed buildings like separate boys’ and girls’ housing, a library, a central common gathering place, an administrative building and a kitchen. This second phase had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
Currently, the complex consists of a guest house – where the orphans live – a guard house and solar panels. A wall also surrounds the property to protect the children from the unsafe environment around them.
The situation in Haiti means the children are only safely able to be in three locations: the WHCC property, school and church.
“Even to school, they need a driver. We are a Canadian organization. We have to keep them safe,” Camille said.
The United Nations recently announced a Kenya-led peacekeeping mission to Haiti. The couple is hoping this will create a safe environment for them to return to the country and continue their work.
For further details or to support WHCC, visit WelcomeChildren.org.