Haiti is hurting, and as a result, so too is Kokomo businessman and Haitian native Douglas Vaughn. Haiti is an island of layered sufferings. An August earthquake took more than 2,000 lives. A 2010 quake resulted in 220,000 deaths. In between those two disasters poverty, storms, gang violence and political turmoil have taken a ghastly toll. One must be puzzled and perplexed by calamity after calamity that befalls the troubled nation.
That’s why I put this question to Doug Vaughn, who is president of Haitian Environmental Support Program (HESP), a non-profit he founded 40 years ago.
Is Haiti cursed?
“We can’t judge the mind of God,” replies Vaughn, the captivating owner of Rite Quality. “Haiti has a lot of voodoo and witchcraft. Haitian slaves were brought in from Nigeria, and that type of religious culture has carried on. It is furthermore enhanced by poverty, ignorance and voodoo rituals. We being human beings don’t have the vision or knowledge for us to say for sure, but it’s not godly. I’m a Christian.”
Haiti has endured and suffered through a turbulent past, and it has certainly been traumatized recently. After the recent assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July, Haiti is limping along, reportedly under a weak interim government, complicated by fractious warlords and soaring hunger.
“It’s been rough in Haiti, you know,” opines Vaughn. “Now, we’ve lost our president. That’s a wicked situation that remains unanswered as to who the forces were behind it. It took lots of money for that operation. I was told it could have cost $30 million. And, of course, they’re having to deal with COVID-19 just like we are. Now, another big earthquake has hit, and we don’t know all the damages and deaths yet.”
Vaughn’s foster parents, Orville and Lodie Vaughn, rescued and raised him righteously. “He was 69, she was 66 and had never had any children, so I made a lot of adjustments,” he says. They lived at 408 E. Monroe St.
“I feel God had a purpose for making it possible for me to be here,” he continues. “I came here when I was 13, a struggling 13. I didn’t know English, and I only had six months of schooling in my whole life. Here, people were in seventh grade at that age. And the couple that brought me here, I’d only met them one time when they were visiting in Haiti. I didn’t know the culture here, so it was a struggle. Lots of adjustments had to be made.”
While Vaughn loved Kokomo and America, he has continually cared deeply for his native land as well. That’s why in 1981, he and a few friends established HESP. “My idea was that if we could make a positive difference in the life of even one child, that would be a plus. God bless us, since then, we’ve been supporting Haitian kids with food, clothes, and education for 40 years. HESP now supports some 85 students and counting.”
That’s a heavy lift, a rigorous and righteous responsibility. “God made it possible,” says the five-decade- long deacon and Sunday school teacher at Second Missionary Baptist Church. “We’ve never missed a check to them, and nobody [at HESP] gets paid.”
Now, Vaughn is earnestly endeavoring to raise money once again for Haitian disaster victims.
How do you get Kokomo donors and contributors to care or even give a damn about Haiti’s litany of troubles and tragedies, I ask? It’s 1,700 miles away.
“If I came and grew up being known as a bad kid who hangs out in the streets, they probably wouldn’t care, but most Black people in Kokomo know me and respect me. I’m also widely respected at church and among white people. If it was, otherwise, I don’t think we would have had this much success. But the bottom line is that if God was not in it, HESP would have been gone a long time ago.”
His daughter, Christina, suggests that if Haiti is, indeed, cursed, then her father should be hailed as a Christian cure.
“My dad is such a giver,” opines Christina Vaughn, Rite Quality’s VP of Operations. “Someone had to give to him, and they did. So, in time as he grew up, he wanted to do the same. He gives to so many people – locally, internationally – that’s just a part of his DNA. He loves to give. So being able to reach out and help these children, as someone helped him as a child, it is amazing to see, amazing to be a witness of, and to be able to have that example in my life.”
Maynard Eaton of Kokomo is an eight-time Emmy Award-winning news reporter and National Communications Director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).