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Staying put: Charlottetown women determined to continue work in Haiti despite civil unrest

Lilly Gillespie, back left, and Paige Biggley are embracing their experience working in an orphanage in Haiti. They are safe from the civil unrest in the country and hope to remain until early May.
Lilly Gillespie, back left, and Paige Biggley are embracing their experience working in an orphanage in Haiti. They are safe from the civil unrest in the country and hope to remain until early May. - Contributed

Two young Charlottetown women are staying put in Haiti despite major civil unrest in the Caribbean country.

Lilly Gillespie and Paige Biggley, both 18, are determined to carry on their work teaching English in an orphanage.

The two women, who graduated from Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown last June, left for Haiti in January through the Utah-based International Language Program (ILP).

Jennifer Ballem said she was comfortable with her daughter, Gillespie, travelling to Haiti to work in an orphanage.

However, about two weeks ago she started getting emails from ILP informing her of the protests and noting they were keeping a close eye on the situation and were prepared for evacuation if needed.

Last week, the federal government issued a travel advisory for Haiti, saying Canadians should avoid all travel to the country as it works to get out citizens trapped there.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa recently the government is deeply concerned about what’s going on in Haiti.

“Many Canadians have family members and friends in Haiti that they are, of course, worried about, and our hearts go out to them,” Trudeau said.

Global Affairs Canada said it upgraded its advisory late last week due to ongoing civil unrest throughout the country.

“The kids are a handful but so sweet. We have a lot of dance parties and walks around the neighbourhood. There is never a dull moment.’’
-Lilly Gillespie

Sill, Gillespie and Biggley are safe where they are, working in an orphanage in Saint-Marc, located about a two-hour drive from the capital city of Port-au-Prince where unrest at times has been most severe.

“She’s perfectly fine,’’ Ballem said of her daughter.

“There is no fear at all…she is very relaxed. She does not want to come home. She would be devastated if she had to come home.’’

Gillespie, in a text to The Guardian, said she and Biggley do not have any concerns for their safety.

“When Paige and I first learned about the protests, I was scared because I have heard about this kind of thing on the news all the time, but I have never actually been somewhere it could affect me personally,’’ she said.

“But I soon learned that we were in no danger where we are.’’

The two Charlottetown women plan to stick to their original return date to P.E.I. of May 2. Gillespie noted there is an emergency evacuation plan in place.

Ballem said the experience in the orphanage is proving to be “life-changing’’ for Gillespie, noting her daughter is impressed with how happy the children are in spite of having next to nothing.

“She expected poverty but nothing like she has seen,’’ said Ballem.

Gillespie said her experience working in the orphanage has been absolutely amazing.

“The kids are a handful but so sweet,’’ she said.

“We have a lot of dance parties and walks around the neighbourhood. There is never a dull moment.’’

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