Building Hope in Haiti: Bob Weiss on Faith, Partnership and Kindness
Bob Weiss is Director of Operations of our structured cabling department. His affinity to communication goes far beyond cables and extends to connecting vital resources to those in desperate need in Haiti.
Since childhood, I’ve always loved the mechanics of communication. You put together the right combination of wires and two people on opposite sides of the world can talk together! Without communication, we would still be clunking stones. As a kid, I envisioned myself as a phone technician, so my path in structured cabling is pretty on target.
We had a great electronics program in high school. In fact, my electronics teacher was also Bob D’s teacher back in the day – and that’s how we met. While I was a senior in school, I started working part time at Dagostino Electronics. Once, I had to undercoat a bucket truck. I wriggled underneath with a pail of tar and emerged covered in the stuff. Seeing me, my dad exclaimed, “What type of electrician are you?!”
I went the union route: apprenticed for Dagostino straight after school, while training with the union and started my career in project management with Allegheny General Hospital. I am deeply guided by my faith and I credit the teachings of the Bible for giving me the perspective to do my job well. Management is all about the people. Listen to your people, understand what the customer wants, and regard everyone with respect. It’s that Golden Rule to treat others as you want to be treated.
My church, North Way Christian, has a partnership with Pittsburgh Kids Foundation (PKF) which has strong ties to Haiti. In the ‘80s, two Pittsburgh missionaries moved to Haiti and founded an orphanage but kept their connections with Pittsburgh. Through Kathy and Alice, we first learned about the EBAC orphanage and decided in 2013 to go on a mission to Haiti. This was three years after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, and nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Most Haitians earn less than $2 per day – and if you can’t afford food, you simply won’t have food to eat. There is no public safety net. The infrastructure is woefully deficient, there are constant power outages, insufficient roadways and poor access to clean water. Streets are littered with raw sewage and with homemade fires burning organic waste. Adding to the misery is the rampant crime and government corruption. Since we look conspicuously like a missionary trip (the ample luggage is a giveaway), when we arrive in Haiti airport, we get singled out for the quasi-customs tax — or, in other words, a bartering routine where custom agents name a price to let us into the country. Over the years, I’ve learned to haggle and recently was able to cut their initial price in half plus a couple pairs of new children’s shoes!
Because of the widespread government corruption, charities must work below the radar on a grassroots level to actively make a difference. Pittsburgh Kids Foundation connected us with Pastor Jean Claude, himself a graduate of the EBAC orphanage, who now runs his own ministry, including two churches, a school, and an orphanage. One of his churches is in the mountains and is a 3-mile hike from where the dirt road ends. The original building was nothing more than a tarp tied onto poles, but over 100 people who live in those mountains attend weekly.
From their other church in the valley, Jean Claude and his wife, Monica, provide food, run a school and provide vocational training to the community. After one day’s program, as the children were leaving to go back home, a woman stopped and asked us to take her little boy. She was unable to feed him and she was faced with a choice – either give him up or watch him starve. Obviously, we couldn’t take the boy back with us, but that encounter was so heartbreaking, it propelled us to underwrite a meal program. Every dollar we raise goes directly to Jean Claude’s community feeding program.
Since our first mission in 2013, my wife and I have returned 7 times. We don’t impose our vision on Haiti, but we listen to those with boots-on-the-ground and support them in any way possible. We along with others pay for Haitian workers to do construction projects, thereby providing them a livelihood as well as ownership. We are in regular communication with Jean Claude, and in the last several years have contributed to building a brick-and-mortar church in the mountains for his activities. Remember, his ministry is three miles from the nearest drivable road. This means every sack of concrete and rebar is hauled by mountain mules; all gravel is sifted and carried from a local stream; foundations have been dug using hand tools; and each and every brick has been molded by hand!
But the payoff is enormous. When people have basic stability – faith, nutrition, healthcare, job training – the effect will be felt for generations. An example of this is the CHIDA Hospital which opened in 2017. At its helm is Dr. Wislyn Avenard, who grew up at the EBAC orphanage. We are witnessing a circle of giving that spirals in its impact. It is my hope to see that in our mission with Jean Claude.
Currently, we are pursuing a partnership with Electrical Workers Without Borders North America. We want to bring out their technicians to train the local Haitians. We also do an annual fundraiser – Eat, Drink & Be Giving – to raise money for the food program. It takes place here in Pittsburgh, and is coming up on April 4th this year. Please join us!
As much as I have given to Haiti, I can honestly say that it has given me far more. It puts life into perspective: we’re here for only a short while – we should do something to make a difference.