Father Islaire Faustin is a man driven by faith. And as the priest of St. Joseph’s parish in Côtes-de-Fer, Haiti, Faustin must be fully grounded in it to do the work he does.

While the island nation is filled with hard-working and kind people, it’s seen its fair share of challenges. Not only do many of the residents live in extreme poverty, natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake have made an already difficult existence tougher. But thanks to a St. Simons Island-based organization, the burden has been lessened.

Helping Hugs for Haiti Inc., a nonprofit within St. William Catholic Church, has partnered with St. Joseph’s for the past 11 years, providing a wealth of assistance and funding programs to help the group locally. The arrangement is a part of the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, which pairs up churches in need with those who can offer resources.

Faustin feels it has been a true God-send. Helping Hugs has offered a path to clean drinking water, better infrastructure and education, as well general funds to meet needs as they arise, such as extra money to combat recent inflation.

“At present, everyone drinks drinking water. We categorically refuse to drink untreated water. And yet in previous years the poorest families drank polluted water from the river,” Faustin said via email from Haiti.

“Long before Helping Hugs’ intervention, the majority of chapels in the parish were covered with straw and were in poor condition. Now they have a sheet metal roof and concrete walls, which attracts more people to the celebrations.”

As for education, Faustin says the local program has purchased school supplies and even helped to fund teachers’ salaries.

“In recent years, students in the three schools of the parish have access to a better education. (Helping Hugs) provides them with the necessary school materials such as school bags, school supplies, canteen and teachers’ salaries. Thus, the number of school children increases in the most remote areas of the chapel,” he said.

Faustin was also able to use the money donated to pay for parishioners to be trained in various trades, which allowed them to find work and feed their families.

“Thanks to the help received, the parish finances a small business for five families. In the past, they asked me for help, now they manage to take care of themselves,” he said.

The final major piece is health care. In addition to drinking water projects, Helping Hugs has assembled a medical team that traveled to the country to give check-ups and medication.

“Thanks to (Helping Hugs), people living in remote areas have access to health care. Not only do they receive a medical check-up each year, but there is a nurse who continues to visit them every three months. In addition, they receive free medication, which significantly reduces the number of deaths and strokes due to hypertension,” Faustin said.

The effort and results are real, and they have changed countless lives in Côtes-de-Fer. It’s something that inspires each officer and board member who helps steer the mission.

“Over the past few years, our four focus areas have remained the same. What has changed is that the projects are now expanding to the remote schools and 10 chapels. For example, we built our second water treatment project at a chapel. We have sent two water filtering systems to two schools. We are currently building two cisterns for water purification at two chapels,” Bill Horn, secretary and shipment manager of Helping Hugs, said.

“We have hired a nurse to continue to visit patients who were seen by our medical teams on their annual visit. She is responsible for monitoring blood pressure and distributing medications. Infrastructure projects this year included four chapels that received cement to finish their construction. An interesting fact — the builders there had to wait for rain to have water to mix the cement.”

But all of this good work only happens because of the generosity of those in the Golden Isles. As a nonprofit, Helping Hugs for Haiti depends entirely on donations. To that end, one large fundraiser — the Fête for Haiti — is held each year to generate critical income. This year, the program will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 26 in the parish hall of St. William Catholic Church, 2300 Frederica Road, St. Simons Island. There will be an auction plus food provided by Tom Delaney, owner and executive chef at Delaney’s Bistro. Wine and beer will also be served. Tickets are $60 each and may be purchased at www.helpinghugsinc.org. Checks may also be sent to Helping Hugs for Haiti Inc., P.O. Box 24477, St. Simons Island, GA, 31522. Tickets will be mailed out.

For Mary Lynch, corresponding secretary for Helping Hugs, the evening is a chance for the entire community to have fun for a great cause.

“People love to come early to shop the auction items. After the dinner, 10 very special items will be auctioned off by former mayor of Brunswick Bryan Thompson. This is probably the most fun activity of the entire evening … seeing who will go home with those very special prizes,” she said.

“This is an evening to gather with family and friends to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year. It is also the time to put our faith into action by sharing our blessings, in the form of monetary donations, with our twin parish in Haiti.”

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