Benefit concert to build a Haitian home

  • Peterson Volmar and his mother pose at their house. Volunteers work on a house in Haiti. —Submitted photo

  • Peterson Volmar and his mother pose at their house. Volunteers work on a house in Haiti. —Submitted photo

  • Peterson Volmar and his mother pose at their house. Volunteers work on a house in Haiti. —Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2018 5:05:24 PM

Katherine First and the Kitchen Party are performing a benefit concert on Saturday, but it’s really more of a party for those building a house for 14-year-old Peterson Volmar to live in with his seven siblings and parents.

While the band plays a blend of Scottish, Irish, and old-timey styles in a festive Cape Breton “kitchen party” tradition, the concert at All Souls Church on Main Street in Greenfield, which begins at 7 p.m., is all about Haiti and helping volunteers for an Athol-based organization build a concrete, earthquake-resistant house to replace the one largely destroyed by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010.

“This will be my 10th trip to Haiti,” says Tree of Hope Haiti volunteer Leslie Harrison. “But this trip, in particular, is especially near and dear to my heart.”

Next March’s week-long trip will be the first Tree of Life house-building project for Harrison, who met Peterson a couple of years ago. That was while building a house for Be Like Brit Foundation, named for the 19-year-old missionary killed in the 2010 earthquake.

“I met Peterson as one of the kids around the work site,” recalls Harrison, who began visiting Haiti in 2014. “There are always kids around work sites. He captured the hearts in our group, and we’re going back to build him a house.”

Although the boy is turning 15, he’s in the second grade, “to give you an idea of education in Haiti,” says the Northboro woman, who works as a health-care software consultant. She also began sponsoring Peterson so that he could start attending school.

Harrison, who plans to spend three days beyond the week-long house-building for her first touring around Haiti, explains her connection this way: “It’s a country that’s hard not to love, with an extremely complicated past” that includes its birth from a 1791 slave rebellion that indirectly led to the Louisiana Purchase by this country — and an international shunning that resulted for the former slave nation.

“Between national disasters and political intervention — including from the U.S. — it’s known as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” she says. “They’re an incredibly strong people, through an earthquake, the hurricane two years ago and a hurricane in the north recently. It’s a country that can’t catch a break. This trip is very personal for me, because it’s about Peterson.”

Harrison’s friend First suggested the benefit concert in a conversation with Jim Emerson, who began running a series of house concerts with his wife, Kate, soon after moving to Greenfield from Newton a year and a half ago. He suggested doing the concert at All Souls, where they’re members.

Peterson’s house at Grand-Goâve, about 40 miles west of Port-au-Prince, will be the fourth concrete dwelling, and the 20th overall, built by Tree of Hope Haiti since the organization was created five years ago by Angela Parayson and her husband, Kervince ‘Gama’ Parayson.

“Their resilience is amazing,” says Angela Boudreau Parayson, an Amherst High School graduate who met her Haitian-born husband on a 2001 mission trip, married him five years later and returned together after the earthquake that destroyed 90 percent of Grand-Goâve to build the Be Like Brit orphanage there.

Using the skills he learned during that construction, their organization began building houses in 2015 as part of a mission that also involves providing safe drinking water and sponsorships to enable children, like Peterson, to attend school.

“It took at least three or four years after the hurricane before we could see visible change — with things starting to get repaired. Then (2016 Hurricane) Matthew hit in the south. They just got up and started rebuilding again.”

Tree of Hope Haiti’s wooden houses, whose cement floors are an improvement on dirt-floor homes, all managed to withstand Hurricane Matthew when it struck that part of Haiti, even though they take just a week for 10 to 15 missionaries and seven to 10 Haitian workers to build, says Parayson.

“They’re so thankful to receive a house that has a locked door,” she says. “The house not only helps the family receiving it, but it also means a job for the Haitian workers that provides them with dignity. They’re able pay for food and education for their own families.”

Parayson, who spends nine months a year in Haiti and three months in Athol, says it’s a sacrifice being away from her family, but seems well worth it. The couple travels along with their two children, whom they home-school.

“I go down to help,” she says, “and I’m constantly amazed at the faith they have. Their sense of community and of helping others is what shine through for me. God is the one that gives me the strength to stay, to not give up.”

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