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For the love of children

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 | Posted by

Dressed in school uniforms, children from the orphanage are ready for their lessons. (Photos courtesy of Sara Hammett)

By DIANNE REBER HART / Sonoma Valley Correspondent

Just outside the impoverished Haitian capital of Port au Prince, children at a small orphanage are eating a protein-rich diet, thanks to the generosity of people in Sonoma Valley.

It’s a cross-cultural effort between the orphanage founder and director, Philippe Salomon, and his two sisters, one living in Italy, the other, Guilaine Salomon, in Sonoma.

The trio, and supporters in their respective communities, has provided funding for much-needed necessities like a deep freezer to store meat and chicken and a generator to keep it running during frequent power outages.

Local residents have another opportunity to help the 38 children at La Maison des Petites de Diquini Orphanage at an upcoming event sponsored by a group of Sonoma Valley residents linked by their love of children and their desire to make a difference.

The third annual Haitian Relief fundraiser will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 at Lagunitas Brewery, 1280 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma.

Orphanage founder and director Philippe Salomon cares for one of the youngest children. (Photo by Sara Hammett)

The event features live music, dancing, beer and an authentic Haitian dinner of spicy pork grillot, boar tenderloin and pulled boar, spring salad, grilled vegetables, various breads and dessert. Whole Foods Market is donating the food, served Creole-style.

“We are just a group of people who want to help these people,” says Sara Hammett, one of the local residents assisting with fundraising.

Hammett and fellow organizers Jean Morucci, Guilaine Salomon and Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown hope to raise enough money for two commercial ovens. Currently, meals are prepared on outdoor grills over charcoal and with an apartment-size stove.

Fundraising efforts are critical for the orphanage, says Guilaine Salomon.

Her brother established the orphanage in 2003 on their family’s mango grove, a large, shaded property that’s been in the Salomon family for about 100 years.

“He didn’t like seeing all these children in the streets,” Salomon says.

Things only worsened after the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in early 2010. Today the orphanage is filled to capacity, home to children ranging from 9 months to 15 years old.

Philippe Salomon and his girlfriend, Marie-Carmel Franck, run the orphanage without government funding, providing food, clothing, shelter and an education for the children through donations and from the income Salomon’s girlfriend earns working outside the orphanage.

“Nothing is free,” says Guilaine Salomon. “The government doesn’t help.”

Hammett, a physical therapist who twice visited Haiti on medical relief missions, saw firsthand how local fundraising is helping at the orphanage.

“I was just really impressed with this place and the really loving people who run it,” she says.

Guilaine Salomon says the children are happy despite their obstacles.

Many were left at the orphanage, their parents unable to care for them.

The children are happy despite their obstacles. (Photo by Sara Hammett)

“A lot of the little ones are just dropped at the gate,” she says. “The situation is very dire for a lot of the people.”

Previously, her brother offered temporary care for the children for six months, giving parents time to improve their circumstances.

“After the earthquake, nobody returned,” Salomon says.

The Haitian government estimates the death toll from the earthquake at more than 250,000 people.

Complicating things, the Haitian government halted international adoptions after a scam operation was uncovered.

Organizers say their efforts go a long way into improving the day-to-day life for the children and the staff who care for them.

Sonoma’s mayor encourages citizens to raise a toast and do their part to help children of the Caribbean nation. Proceeds from beer sales during the event go toward the orphanage.

“Lagunitas has a great track record and they do good deeds – and they have good beer,” Brown says.

Brown says the event is an opportunity for everyone to express their gratitude for what they have while helping those in need.

Raised in a caring, supportive Jewish Orthodox family in New York City, complete with his maternal Bubby (grandmother) in their home, Brown comes from a background  of love and stability.

“I’ve always taken a grateful purpose, I’m always grateful,” he says.

Tickets for the third annual Haitian Relief fundraiser are $30 at the door, $25 in advance from the Sonoma Valley Box Office at svbo.org, 938-4626, ext. 1, or the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St.

Children gather outdoors with orphanage director Marie-Carmel Franck. (Photo by Sara Hammett)

Writer Spotlight

Dianne Reber Hart is our Sonoma correspondent.

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