Haiti Day 5: Rain, Swimming Holes and Work Crews

Location: Marbial, Haiti

Population: Local; 5,000, Area; 15,000

Weather: Rainy, Cloudy, Humid with little sun

Region: Mountainous

Access: Hiking, Walking and to carry heavier goods like building materials, medicine and farming equipment – Donkeys.

Our day today started with rain pounding on our steel roofs. It rained all night so we felt like we were back in BC. I awoke at 6am and we had breakfast as a group at 7:15am. We had a great breakfast that included quiche and porridge. This was all homemade and very good. Everyone was moving slower as some were sore and all of us were tired of the tropical warm rain that made our mountainous hikes for dinner and to the school treacherous and dirty as this mud would stick to you like clay.

Our school project was going well and we were pouring our breams and posts around the block walls. We had a steel Rebar crew led by ‘Smokey’ Jeff Foster, a concrete block crew led by “Viking’ Kristian and a truss crew led by Dan and Kyle.  Our social crew was finishing school benches and giving candy to our helpers.

For lunch we had leftover goat, quiche, and macaroni – the food was all amazing and fresh. By this point, Jeramy was starting to feel better so at around 3 pm I went up the mountain to bring him down to the river so he could bathe, cool off and enjoy a good swim.  The hike from our bunkhouse accommodations to the river and back was long even with full energy. Jeramy is so tough and I am so glad he was feeling better at this point from Heat Stroke. He was awesome to have along and many thanks to all the care the ladies gave him.

We finished the workday with a great swim in the bathing hole at the river as a group. The river was swift-moving and 12” higher than the day before from all the rain, but it was warm and it felt like a luxury to us all at the end of each day.

The river is the lifeline of the Haitian people in the mountains. In the morning a few of us would get up and climb to the top of our mountain and look around in the valley to watch the activity of the people throughout the hills. Farmers were all over the hillside, kids dressed up going to school, women going to the river to wash clothes and get water. This was an amazing view and from here you can see the world stayed the same in the hills since man came to Haiti in the 1500’s.

That evening was filled with Q & A’s with our host Daniel, a wonderful God loving man who loves his people and giving back to others. Their ministry is very real and filled with love and selflessness. I would like to thank our entire team for being wonderful, caring individuals.

May God bless all of you.

This update by John Tilstra.

Haiti Day 4: Waking up in the Mountains of Marbial

Well, I just woke up from our first night in the mountains of Marbial and aside from some pretty intense snoring, I slept better than I thought. One would think after a 3-hour journey from Jacmel that included a 90-minute mountain hike, sleep would be the easiest part but this was different… Bunkhouse in tropical mountains, surrounded by a mosquito net, wildlife calls you’ve never heard. Needless to say, I was happy to be on the top bunk with Dano guarding me below. What I knew for sure was that I was just a few hours into the most amazing adventure in my life.

After breakfast, we made the short but steep hike to the school to not only see out Haitian friends were already hard at work (Love you Toto!) but the sight of hundreds of beautiful Haitian children of all ages sitting in classrooms learning. I couldn’t help but ask myself how they look so great each day living in this terrain, as we struggle to roll out of bed each day living in the blessed and prosperous conditions we have been fortunate to know all our lives. They were simply so grateful for the opportunity that Marline and Daniel have provided them with.

The work started and to be expected after a few minutes of laying concrete block it became apparent that my job would be to carry block and mortar as my skills didn’t match those of guys like Kristian & Kyle and the Haitians were too polite to tell me to get out of the way. 🙂

The workday came and went with us successfully building two-thirds of the first classroom. Exhausted and soaked in sweat, Jonas & Kenault led us to the local swimming hole which was nothing short of amazing. Marlaine and her kitchen staff cooked us a wonderful meal before J.T. lead us into a group conversation to learn more about one another, our life story and why we chose to take this opportunity to help the Haitian people. There were some tears and lots of amazing stories that made me realize I was part of a wonderful team. At 8 pm, which became the norm, it was back under the mosquito net for another deep sleep.

Thank you to J.T and the entire Centra team, but most importantly to Marlaine, Daniel, Kenault, Jonas, Toto and all my new Haitian friends who have made this an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.

This update by Steve Bartlett.

My harrowing experience in Haiti

I was looking forward to our trip to Haiti.  Maybe a little nervous as I personally had never traveled to any other countries outside of Canada other than the United States and Mexico.  The closest I had come to experiencing a country similar to Haiti would be when I left the resort compound while staying between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, in Mexico.  A far stretch I know.  But nonetheless, I had confidence in Jeff and Lisa Bontkes, our leaders who had been to Haiti more than a few times combined, and in John Tilstra and Jeff Foster, the two within our Centra group who had both traveled to Nicaragua for similar trips in the past.  Not to mention the remainder of the Centra family members who were also participating in this trip to Haiti.  We had a great group of people, before we even started the adventure.

The first day (Saturday) in Haiti and exiting the airport, we were all gung-ho to get in the trucks and experience Haiti.  A whole new sight and experience for most of us.  I found the heat and humidity to be hot for sure, but not to the point where I felt it was slowing me down.  I felt good and was proud to be at our destination.  One more step closer to helping out where help was needed.  That afternoon, after lunch, we all went down the hill, across the river, and up the other side, to the location of the Marbial school.  A bit of a trek on its own to get to, but all part of the adventure.  Work began, in the hot sun – or at least I thought it was hot, not wasting any time we had to ensure we completed our tasks and contributed as much as we could.  We were a team and working well as one.  Everybody had a job.  From keeping the block layers loaded up with concrete blocks and mortar to laying the blocks themselves, or assembling benches for the classrooms.  It was all getting done and we were making progress.

The next morning (Monday), we all meet for a delicious breakfast, then head over to the school for more of the same.  Continuing on where we left off.  One difference was Andrew Creighton and I both living in the moment and carrying buckets of rocks on our heads, just like the local ladies were doing.  Or at least we thought we were doing it just like them.  They weren’t using any hands, and made it look easy, by doing it all day.  I managed 2 trips, Andrew did 3.  That was tough, but an experience I’ll never forget.  Including all of the chuckling while they watched us struggle up the hill.  By the day, I was ready for a break.  I had taken several breaks throughout the day and was drinking lots of water, but I was hot.  A dip in the river was in order, to clean up and cool off before dinner.  I must add that the food we had throughout the trip was awesome, especially while staying in Marbial.

That night, I couldn’t sleep.  I was hot, and unable to cool down.  And there was way too much snoring happening in our bunkhouse.  I decided to get up and get some fresh air.  While climbing down off the top bunk, I blacked out and hit the floor.  Woke up thinking, “man does this cold concrete floor ever feel good”.  Wait a minute, “why am I on the floor, it’s dirty and I have a bed”.  I sit up and right away my bunk mates (Stevie B., Kristian, Kyle, and Dan) were awake to see if I was ok.  All but Doug, he snored through the whole ordeal.  Haha.  Kristian got up out of bed to make sure I didn’t fall over again, Dan immediately gave me a container of water with electrolytes in it, and made sure I kept flexing my hands as they were cramping up and I was unable to move them.

Tuesday morning I couldn’t eat.  Every one of our team members had heard what happened the night before and was asking how I was feeling.  It was very nice to know they were concerned and cared.  After all, they were my family for the week. Turns out I had heat stroke, and I was down for the count for the next two days.  Unable to help or contribute in any way.  I was very disappointed.  I had come all this way to work with our team, be part of our team, and help those that we came to help.  But couldn’t.  All I could do was rest and get better.

While the rest of our team was working, I stayed at the main house with Marlaine and Daniel, our hosts.  Using one of their beds to lay motionless in the 40 degree celsius hot and humid air, trying to stay cool as much as possible.  Marlaine would come in and check on me every half hour or so to refill my water bottle and rewet the cold cloth Lisa V. had left me to use.  Making sure I was ok and feeling better.  This was of great comfort knowing I had someone watching over me.  Isaac, the school principal, even came down to see how I was doing.

By Wednesday afternoon, after another low key day, I was starting to feel better.  Which was good, considering Thursday morning was our hike back towards Jacmel.  After all, I did not want to have to hike while sick with heat stroke.  With John T’s help, I was able to make it down to the swimming hole with the rest of the team at the end of their work day and cool off.  Something I didn’t have the energy to do the day before, but probably would have helped tremendously.  That evening we were served a delicious spaghetti dinner, and I’m sure that helped in my recovery.  It’s one of my favourite meals.

From Thursday on I was almost back to normal.  Making the hike back, at a slower pace of course.  Helping with mortar and blocks again, at the orphanage, and playing soccer with the kids.

A pretty quick recovery considering the circumstances.  But, I am convinced, I wouldn’t have gotten through it nearly as quick, without knowing that our team was behind me, and genuinely cared about how I was feeling and if I was getting better.  Each and every one of our team members asked me both days I was sick if I needed anything.  They were very supportive, such good people.  I am proud and thankful that we were there together.  I will never forget that.

In no particular order, Jeff and Lisa B., John T., Jeff F., Ed and Lisa V., Doug M., Kyle H., Steve B., Dan H., Lana G., Andrew C., Marlaine, Daniel, Isaac and of course Kristian D.  Thank you very much, I appreciate the level of care and concern you showed for me.

Given the chance, I’d go again in an instant.

This update by Jeramy Smith.


Haiti Day 2: Journey to Marbial

Well, where to begin?

I started Sunday morning waking up to waves crashing against the shore and my roomy Kyle in a slight snore. The sun rises early in Haiti, so it’s hard to tell the time but I think it was a little after six am. So I decided to take in the morning view and go to the patio deck to find a cup of coffee, but what I found was Jeff, John and Doug already up enjoying the morning scenery and solitude, so I joined them.

The following next few hours were spent in conversation, excitement and nervous anticipation for the adventure to come, as everyone woke and joined the group. We all had breakfast and packed for our trip to Marbial. As we stood out front of the Hotel waiting for our Big Blue caged truck to show up there was nothing but smiles to be seen. Finally, our truck arrived and we packed it up with the help of three young men, Kenault, Jonas and Milo and we were off.

We now had a two and half hour drive to the market and from there we would need to hike for one and a half to two hours up the mountain to Marbial. In the back of the truck, we had the three young men, John, Andrew, Jeff, Jeramy, Lana, Doug, Ed, Lisa and Steve and following behind us was a little black truck with the rest of the crew in it. As we drove through Jacmel and up into the mountains following the river all the way, you could hear numerous conversations about the beauty of the scenery, and in the same breath the shock of the pollution, garbage everywhere!

We followed the windy river through the mountains running out of road and making our own, crossing the river many times in our big blue cage caravan. At every corner, there were little clusters of homes, children, animals, and women doing laundry and then we made it to the market. By now it was about 12:30 pm and it was starting to get hot and really humid as I jumped out of the big blue cage, I was immediately met with a huge smile and handshake by a local named Toto shouting Bonjour to our whole crew. He was truly happy to see us and made me feel very welcome and charged with energy.

I thought “I’m going to crush this hike and day”. So we all put on our packs and lead by Jeff and Lisa Bontkes, we started our hike. I noticed as we started up the river that we had more than just our group, we had women, children, young men and girls with us carrying all our tools, extra luggage, vitamins, and clothing. It was amazing to witness and I was in awe at that moment.  Our hike began and up, and up we went and with each step I had a little boy or girl pass me, carrying luggage. The girls carried luggage on their head and the amazing thing about this was they were dressed in their Sunday best for church and weren’t even breaking a sweat.

Dan Holmes

I began to get a little discouraged towards the end of the hike when the little old ladies started passing me and asking if they could carry my pack. Soooo… I did say no but I can’t lie that I didn’t think about, it was very hot and humid, LOL. We made it to Marbial by 1:30 pm and it was one heck of a hike but our journey was only half over. We still had to hike to the other side of the valley and start the forms on the school addition before it got dark and Jeff said we were behind schedule and had to pick up the pace. So we all quickly dropped our gear at our new home for the next five days and raced down the mountain to get to work on the school for the first time……. To be continued


This update by Dan Holmes.

Haiti Day 1: Travelling to Port au Prince & Jacmel

Our Centra Cares team at the Port au Prince aiport.


Our Trip Started at 2:30 PM Friday Nov 3. It actually started many months prior and all the planning has finally come together. The group of 14: John Tilstra, Ed and Lisa Vandermeer, Kristian DiGuistini, Steve Bartlett, Jeramy Smith, Lana Gordin, Kyle Herd, Doug Morelli, Dan Holmes, Jeff Foster, all from Centra, and from BC Building Science, special guest Andrew Creighton along with our 2 hosts Lisa and Jeff Bontkes, are all very excited to get going. We all know each other a little bit and there is nervous anticipation as to what we will experience.

We crossed the border without delay and made our way to Seattle for a 10 pm flight to Miami, landing at 2:30 am. A bite to eat and a 3 hour layover then off to Port au Prince. Once landed we collected all our baggage and then waited 45 min or so for our transport. The local transportation operators were not too excited about losing these possible fares to our Haitian hosts vehicles and there was much yelling and gesticulating of arms etc. But the police got involved and then we were ushered outside to load and off we went.

View from within a transport vehicle.

Exiting Port au prince was a huge eye opener. Most of the crew rode in a large 6 wheeled truck resembling a Prison Vehicle. Very uncomfortable wood seats with no bars to hold on to. It was however somewhat open aired so at least they had ventilation. Some rode in the back of a pickup and a lucky few rode inside with air-conditioning. The sights and sounds as we traveled through the town was like nothing I have ever experienced.

All traveling vehicles fight for space and constantly cut each other off. A small toot on the horn is the equivalent of a signal light indicating a horn. So horns are constantly being honked, cars and trucks are moving all over the place and this is nothing compared to the motorcycles that weave in and out at twice the car speed…barely missing each other, or almost getting squished between passing vehicles. It is utter confusion and very slow moving.

It took 2.5 hours to get beyond town, (15 KM) and then we moved into the mountains and less traffic. The part of Port au Prince that we traveled through is not very pretty. All garbage is tossed to the ground and left there. Plastic bottles seem to float to the surface and they are everywhere. Imagine all the bottles and cans that your household uses in a month being left in your yard, lying beside the road etc. Now imagine jamming all the people in say the Langley area, into the Walnut grove area. Any yard space from current homes would then be filled with tents. All boulevards and open spaces filled with vendors, kids and tent cities. And all that garbage is left lying about. No city workers to pick it up. You get the idea.

But once over the mountains and into Jacmel it’s a very beautiful area. Jacmel feels clean and safe in comparison to P.A.P. Our Hotel is small and quaint, but safe. It has its own compound and feels very safe. We arrived to the hotel at around 2 PM Saturday with little or no overnight sleep. All were tired and hungry. Dinner, a little planning for tomorrow discussions, and off to bed. Tomorrow will be another long day!

This Update by Jeff Foster.

What does it take to be on the Board of Centra Cares?

Our Centra Cares BOD is comprised of volunteers who have a passion for giving back. Their time is donated and many hours go into organizing our fundraising efforts and events. We want to take this moment to thank two important outgoing Board members; Emily Parson and Jeff Foster whose contributions have been many during their term with Centra Cares.

Jeff Foster

Jeff Foster

Emily Parson

Emily Parson

Dear Emily and Jeff, Thank you for your commitment of spirit and time!

Emily and Jeff’s impact on our local and global community through Centra Cares cannot be accurately measured or adequately thanked since the work they do is so far-reaching, their time is given freely and they ask nothing in recognition of what they do. Along with the other members of the Board, their time and dedication have allowed Centra Cares to support many local organizations, held successful fundraising efforts such as our Annual Charity Golf Tournament and made two mission trips to Nicaragua.

In 2013 Emily traveled to Nicaragua and in 2015 Jeff made a similar journey in hopes of helping those less fortunate.

Emily climbing a tree

In 2013 Emily was part of a dedicated team of Centra Cares Volunteers who traveled to Diriamba, Nicaragua to help less-fortunate families in need. This team volunteered in the small community of Mojica to help repair their local school, donated playground equipment and built a rancho community center.

Jeff Foster Reviewing Plans

Jeff Foster Reviewing Plans

In 2015 Jeff traveled with a new group of dedicated volunteers to Diriamba, Nicaragua where they donated their time to help build a health clinic in the small community of La Chona.

These charitable missions are an opportunity to make connections, form friendships and gain a new perspective on life. These trips take a commitment of time, money and a mindset of dedication and resiliency in the lives of those that sign on. And while it may seem that we give a lot to these communities, it is our Centra Cares volunteers who take away so much more than they could ever give in these experiences. In order to make a difference, it takes extraordinary team members like Emily and Jeff behind the scenes and on the ground willing to do the work.

Outgoing Board Members Emily and Jeff with re-established 2017 BOD

Outgoing Board Members Emily and Jeff with re-established 2017 Board of Directors. left to right; Rick Heinen, Bonnie Ahara, Emily Parson, Jeff Foster, John Tilstra, Nathan Veenstra, Carey Day (not pictured: Steve Ponte)

Sincerely,  your Centra Cares team.

La Semilla Nicaragua Trip Update

It has been a little while since our Centra Cares trip down to Nicaragua to help build a medical clinic. Luckily, the amazing folks at La Semilla Ministries have provided us with an update to let us know the progress that has been made since our trip!

To find out more about the Centra Cares Nicaragua Trip, click here.

Its been awhile it seems since all you nice people were visiting us in Nicaragua,

I finally have wonderful news to report on the hard work you all put into the clinic project. The road to this point was frustrating at times but the community and local government finally came to an agreement and its officially open!!!

They will be staffing it with a nurse 5 days of the week; a doctor & one more nurse at least 2 days per week.

This is what the community leader sent to me as a message:

Nuestro agradecimiento a usted a la Iglesia Evangélica Libre de Canadá, por so valiosa aporte ala salud de las familias de la Comunidad, también quiero transmitir mi agradecimiento alas dos brigadas que arduamente trabajaron,para convertir en realidad este sueño…Dios me los colme de bendiciones..Muchas Gracias..un fuerte abrazo.

Our gratitude to you and the Free Evangelical Church of Canada, for your valuable contribution to the health of the families of the Community, I also want to convey my gratitude to the two teams that worked hard to make this dream come true … may God bless you richly … Thank you … a big hug.

Thanks again for your donations and dedication towards this project and La Semilla Ministries.

Today I received a few pictures of the first day they are attending to patients, you will find them at the bottom.


Thank you for the update La Semilla Ministries! We are overjoyed to hear that the clinic is fully open and operational!




Highlights from our 22nd Annual Centra Cares Golf Tournament

Our 22nd Annual Centra Cares Golf Classic 2017 was a great success! The donations raised at this year’s tournament will be donated to Make-A-Wish BC & Yukon, Faith and Love Children’s Ministries and a variety of other charities that Centra Cares Foundation supports.

Thank you to everyone who participated and thank you to all of our donors and sponsors! Here are some of the highlight from the tournament.


Centra Cares 2016 Holiday Raffle


Centra Cares Foundation in partnership with Centra Construction Group and it’s employees sold raffle tickets in order to raise $20,000 for local Food Banks in need of financial support in each community we work in. This community initiative would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors.

The $20,000 raised will be distributed in the following communities:
– Lower Mainland, Cloverdale/Surrey
– Victoria, Mustard Seed
– Nanaimo, Loaves and Fishes
– Kelowna
– Kamloops Food Bank

We gave away prizes donated by our sponsors each day from December 1-25th on Centra Windows’ Facebook page by releasing a video each day with a holiday themed skit. To view those videos please head over to our Facebook page (Centra Windows).

For photos of the Centra Cares Holiday raffle, view our gallery.

Centra Cares Holiday Raffle Cheque Donations

Kamloops Food Bank

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Langley Food Bank


Nanaimo Loaves and Fishes Food Bank