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Painter selling art for Haiti

Staff writer

There are lasting images and events Rebecca Hofer holds after her first trip to Haiti in the summer of 2010. They have influenced her decision to return to the island nation this May.

She arrived in Port-Au-Prince nearly six months after an earthquake devastated the city. With as poor as the nation was and continue to be, the circumstances for Haitians had not improved much in that time.

People begged Hofer to pay them to carry her bags. Piles of rubble were visible lining city streets and piles of trash in the center of the road way. The sewer system of the country consisted of ditches.

With their homes in ruins hundreds of thousands of Haitians were living in tent cities. It was common in those camps to have more than 1,000 people sharing a portable toilet.

Hofer and her father Stuart Pederson of Nebraska volunteered at an orphanage for children age 2 to 18. At capacity with 50 children, it was turning away orphans back to the streets.

The harrowing environment inspired Pederson to return to the orphanage regularly over the past two years.

Circumstances have improved for Haitians over the last two years, but not enough to match the living conditions of the poorest slums in the U.S.

While much of the rubble has been removed, people are still living in tents, some by choice — they are afraid the concrete structures will collapse in a cruel replay of January 2010.

Hofer will still need to use purified water to brush her teeth this May. Natives and visitors alike are not recommended to drink the local water.

“It’s definitely a culture shock,” Hofer said.

There were positive experiences, too. Every child in the orphanage accepted Hofer, asking for piggy-back rides and hugs.

The English-speaking host family went out of their way to be hospitable. On one occasion, they cooked spaghetti to make their American guests feel more at home.

The combination of the deep need of Haitians and their affable nature has inspired Hofer to spend nearly 500 hours in front of her painting easel. She has 41 paintings to sell and auction April 21 at the Historic Church on the Tabor College campus. Some of those paintings even depict the toothy smiles of the children from the orphanage.

Hofer expects she can sell the larger pieces for multiple thousands of dollars; the smaller pieces may go for as little as $20. The funds to toward the trip, Hofer and her husband Roman will fly out of Omaha, Neb., and the orphanage in Haiti.

“Twenty dollars goes a long way in Haiti,” Hofer said. “It can provide food or clean drinking water.”

Even without selling a single painting, the Hofers will be Port-Au-Prince three days after the end of the Marion Elementary School year doing what they can.

This will be Roman’s first trip. He plans to help build apartments where older children can live when they are too old for the orphanage.

Hofer will teach a cake decorating class to adult women — a marketable skill for people desperately looking to work. She also hopes to teach a painting class to the children at the orphanage.

“We just hope we can help and share the love of God when we’re over there,” Hofer said.

Last modified April 11, 2012

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