Friday, September 19, 2008

Berkeley Woman Finds Hope In Helping Haitian Children

By Elizabeth Pfeffer
Oakland Tribune

It took traveling from the wealthiest nation in the hemisphere to the poorest for Margaret Trost to move past her husband's untimely death.

Newly widowed and a single parent, at 37 she went to Haiti in the grips of despair and came back gripping hope. Trost was inspired to start the What if? Foundation, a Berkeley-based organization that funds a children's food program in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

She founded the program in 2000, just weeks after she returned from volunteering at Mother Teresa's hospice and orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

Today, the foundation has raised more than $1 million and serves 1,200 children a week, as Trost describes in her recently published book, "On That Day, Everybody Ate: One Woman's Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti."

Trost, now 45, of Berkeley will discuss her work and her book at two Bay Area appearances: tonight at Books Inc. in San Francisco and Wednesday at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

"Little tiny drops in an ocean of need really do make a difference," she said in a recent interview.

These words are Trost's own incarnation of her most coveted Creole saying, the one that's taped to her computer in her home office: "Piti piti na rive," which translates to "Little by little, we will arrive."

The book tells how Trost struggled with Haiti's poverty and her comparative privilege, and discovered serving others could heal her as well.

At first, the program fed 500 children on Sunday afternoons. Original funding came from a $5,000 donation from her father's church organization in Wisconsin. The program continues to be funded largely by donations from friends and family.

"Any amount is enough," Trost said. "It's about love and action, solidarity and connection with this community."

In a country where more than half the people live on less than $1 a day, and where a meal of rice costs 70 cents, feeding them — keeping them alive — is even more important than school, Trost writes.

Motivated by Father Gerard Jean-Juste of Port-au-Prince's St. Clare's Church, where the food program takes place, Trost has energized her own community to support Haitian children.

Patricia Stevens of Walnut Creek, a member of the foundation's board of directors, helped shepherd donations from Christ the King Church in Pleasant Hill.

Twenty years ago, she traveled to Haiti with the same volunteer program as Trost later did, but it was mere coincidence they met in the Bay Area. Another member of the church took donated toys down to Port-au-Prince via the airline she worked for, offsetting the pricey rate of international shipping.

For a woman with no prior knowledge of Haiti's tormented past — the country has been in unmanageable debt for more than 180 years — Trost quickly came to understand the depths of its poverty.

Hurricane Gustav tore through Haiti in late August. Since then, children from around the island have walked miles to St. Clare's for food, but the rice and beans have been dwindling. As Trost started her recent book tour earlier this month, her mind was partially elsewhere, thinking of how and where the next check would come from.

"Piti piti na rive," Jean-Juste wrote her in a recent e-mail — this time retranslated to, "Little by little, we will rebuild."
If you go:

# Margaret Trost reads from "On That Day, Everybody Ate: One Woman's Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti" at two Bay Area appearances: 7 tonight at Books Inc., 3515 California St., San Francisco. 415-221-3666.
# 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley. 510-848-3696.
# Cost: Free
# Information:

Source: InsideBayArea.Com

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