(WAVY) – “The whole country is shut down!” Frightening words from Jean Louis Lafort, director of the Maison Fortune Orphanage (MFO) in Henche, Haiti.

“I got stuck in the street, yesterday, between two groups protesting, and I was running back, trying to get stuff for the orphanage. I was scared like hell!”

He is scared because armed gangs now control key areas of Haiti, including its capital, Port au Prince, taking hostages, and shutting down key roads and supply lines. Lafort had been making a 120-mile round trip there to buy food and other supplies. But now, he says, that’s a life-or-death proposition.

“The growing scarcity of food is becoming a big issue,” said Babs Zuhowski, who directs the Maison Fortune Orphanage Foundation, based in Chesapeake. The cost for those food and supply runs is getting incredibly expensive. “On the black market, upwards of $50 dollars a liter,” she said, when it had cost about
$5 last spring. Supplies, and money, are running low. Lafort is desperately trying to find alternate sources, including those from the northern port town of Cap Haitien, and even from the Dominican Republic.

Unrest among Haitians has been growing due in part to the slow recovery from hurricanes and earthquakes in the past 11 years.

Haiti’s president was assasinated in July. And in August, a 7-point-2 magnitude quake killed nearly 2 thousand people.

MFO houses about 160 school-aged boys and girls who came to them from dire circumstances. Lafort says MFO also hosts about 200 children from surrounding neighborhoods for public school. A staff of about 60 adult employees help Lafort run the campus. Funding comes largely from churches here in Hampton Roads. Zuhowski says now, the cost of everything in Haiti has increased dramatically.

“I just wish that the people of Hampton Roads and whoever else are watching this segment would understand that their donation goes directly to the children. And their welfare and safety are foremost in our importance right now,” she said.

Zuhowski last visited Haiti about two years ago. She doesn’t know when she, and other visitors, will be able to safely return. Meanwhile, the MFO Foundation is able to electronically send money through secure banking channels. It’s a lifeline she, and Lafort, are praying won’t break.

Here’s how you can find out more about Maison Fortune Orphanage and Foundation: https://mfofoundation.org

MFO is hosting a Mardi Gras Casino Night fundraising event on February 25, 2022 in Chesapeake. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.