Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gordon Staff Member Uses Vacation Hours to Serve in Haiti

When word of the earthquake in Haiti hit the States, Marilyn Helgesen had only to look at her husband with the question in her eyes: “So, when are you going down?” Helping people in need is natural for Paul Helgesen, and she knows that deciding whether to go to Haiti after the earthquake is not an option for him.

So from February 19 to March 7 Helgesen worked in the town of Blanchard, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, combining his carpentry skills and compassionate heart with a team of 12 to aid in the renewal of Haitian lives. But where does Helgesen, the director of plant operations and sustainability at Gordon and an on-call firefighter/EMT with the Manchester-by-the-Sea Fire Department, find the time to leave?

“That’s what my vacation weeks are for,” he says. This is not the first time Helgesen has used vacation weeks to serve other people. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, he left for three weeks with the American Red Cross to manage seven disaster kitchens in southwest Louisiana. He’s also been to Mexico several times alongside Gordon students on organized mission trips. “I’m surrounded by a great staff at Gordon who understands this overwhelming desire from the Lord to get up and go serve where I’m needed,” says Helgesen.

In Haiti, along with the other medical and construction specialists on the team organized by the Ipswich-based nonprofit Partners in Development (PID), Helgesen helped reconstruct walls and houses, built exam tables for the medical clinic and created temporary housing for those with nothing. He was able to see firsthand the wreckage of the area and the hope of the people. “I was struck by their dignity,” said Helgesen. “They have so little, and yet they never complained.” He recalls one woman with a sick child who sought help from the medical clinic. She had nothing but only wanted some food for her malnourished baby. She was overwhelmed when, in addition to giving her food, we gave her a tent too. “Parents are the same all over,” said Helgesen. “Help their child and they’ll give you the biggest smiles. They don’t expect anything for themselves.”

Now back in the States, Helgesen sleeps in a warm bed protected from the elements, with food and water at his fingertips—and strives to find significance again. “I would love to go back where the needs are great,” he says. “Everything in Haiti is so vital, and I got to work with unbelievable people. It was an amazing experience.”

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