Venturing into an intimidating, sometimes hostile environment and working in often-primitive conditions, this Sanibel couple nonetheless puts their time and talents each year to improving life in the mountains of Haiti. Here’s how and why they do it.
The inspiration for Dan Budd’s annual expedition to Haiti began some eight years ago, all thanks to an iPhone. It was Christmas, and his two sons were complaining about the fact that every other kid in the world had or was getting an iPhone — except them.
“So I thought, well, it’s time to take these kids on a mission trip,” he recalls. “With the help of the Sanibel Community Church, we got 15 kids together and off we went. When we arrived in Haiti, the kids saw the living conditions, there was a lot of crying, everybody got sick and it was a rough trip — but that at least stopped the new iPhone talk.”
Dan Budd is proprietor of Wildseed Construction, a residential and commercial construction company located in Sanibel specializing in new, remodel, repair and renovation projects. This past October marked the eighth journey he’s made to St. Marc, a small village in the mountains of Haiti. It was also the second trip he’s made with only his spouse Bridgit Stone-Budd at his side, who in her other life is owner of Sanibel’s The Pecking Order restaurant.
“My brother is a missionary in China, so I guess this is my calling, my purpose, my way of being a missionary — at least for a week,” he explains. “You take the skills you’ve been given and give back as best you can.”
After their first Haiti project (adding a second story to a school), the focus of the Budd team’s energy has been the Mary Austin School in St. Marc. Here, he and his various workers (from a group of men from his church to one year, to his entire family including four children and his father another) have focused on construction and completion of the school — from the ground up. Over the annual seven-day trips (taken the first week in October, which is the first week of school in Haiti), they’ve framed out classrooms, built bathrooms, roofed the structure, stuccoed inside and outside, wired lights and fans, installed a 5,000 watt generator, built out an irrigation system, dug a well, connected with city water and even remodeled a kindergarten building across the street. Recent years have seen the crews become more Haitian, as Dan and Bridgit try to assume more advisory roles.
In addition, the Budds have helped the school acquire access to land, upon which rice and other vegetables are grown to assist the school’s self-sufficiency. Recently, Bridgit has concentrated on negotiating the best purchase price (and safe weekly delivery) of enough food supplies from a preferred Port au Prince vendor to feed the 300-some students at the school daily for the entire year (with enough money left over to pay teacher salaries). “For many of the students,” she says, “it’s their only meal of the day.”
The money comes from the Sanibel Community Church, Sanibel Rotary, International Rotary and private donors. “We’ve worked with budgets from $30,000 to $120,000,” Dan notes. “However, it’s zero overhead work. Anybody who travels, including us, pays his or her own airfare, lodging and food. Every dollar donated goes to the project’s many needs, and projects generally take three years.”
It’s hard work, in tough conditions that at times can be dangerous.
Everything they work on and complete has to be locked, because if it isn’t (including handles and door knobs) it’ll be stolen and sold at market. When the Budds travel, it’s typically to Port au Prince — at times with a translator-bodyguard-guide. “It’s a little scary when you’re sitting in traffic with people banging on your door, and all you’re thinking about is how long will it be until we get to our destination,” Bridgit recalls. “But in hindsight, when you get back and hear about fatalities, it’s really scary. The more impoverished the area, the more you get hit up.”
Dan Budd also notes that sometimes, their timing could be better. “Elections in Haiti are held in October,” he says. “You don’t want to be in Haiti on election day because of the riots. We know from experience.”
Yet despite the primitive conditions, the underlying danger, the annual illness they acquire (which they fondly call the Haitian flu), Dan Budd and Bridgit-Stone Budd wouldn’t think of not coming back for more.
“It was frustrating for me in the beginning,” Bridgit says. “I didn’t see anything good coming of it. It was like two steps forward, three steps back because of the vandalism. But now, I see progress and when I see one educated child, lifted up from the mess down there, that’s enough for me.”
Her husband agrees. “I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I’m thankful we have the privilege to do this.”
The Pecking Order
By John Sprecher | Images Bridgit Stone-Budd & Dan Budd