Quiet vacation in Caribbean turns into parish mission


SUMMERVILLE — An unexpected invitation to join his brother on vacation in Belize, Central America, was the beginning of a life-changing experience for Bill Hansen.

A longtime parishioner of St. Theresa the Little Flower Church, Hansen soon ventured from home to enjoy his vacation on the restful Anbergris Caye, a beautiful sun-drenched sliver of land jutting into the Caribbean.

During a leisurely afternoon stroll through the streets of the tiny village of San Pedro, his attention was drawn to the two-story San Pedro Catholic School.

It was March 2001, and he knew that Hurricane Keith had blown through Central America the previous fall, but to view the remnants of damage months later was a surprise. Hansen approached a staff member who was conducting an outdoor class and learned of extensive damage to the building, making many of the classrooms unusable. In addition, their chairs, desks, equipment and supplies were damaged by the catastrophe.

During Keith’s unwelcome visit the building had sheltered area residents on both floors until the roof began to lift from the extreme winds. Everyone was forced to huddle on the first floor until it became so overcrowded that the men were forced back to the upper floor, leaving behind the women and children in relative safety on the ground level. They were unprepared for such a fierce disaster and spent the next two days gathered without meals or toilet facilities.

Shortly after the storm, students and teachers resumed classes and simply made the best use of what little was left. With the help of some generous benefactors, they were slowly getting back on their feet, but much more was needed to help educate the children.

Hansen, who resides in Summerville with his wife, Patti, and their children, Tim and Julie, returned home with a commitment. “I just knew in my heart that something had to be done to help the beautiful children,” he said. Hansen, who regularly assisted at Masses at St. Theresa the Little Flower, approached the pastor, Msgr. Edward Lofton, expressing his deep concern for what he experienced.

With Msgr. Lofton’s support, Hansen began an appeal to parishioners and area businesses to help in any way they could. He had a list of items ranging from art supplies, backpacks, books, crayons, erasers, musical instruments, notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, sports equipment and teaching aids. The list was rounded out with a tape recorder, television set, VCR, computers, fax machine, and photocopier for the school, along with raincoats, shoes and other clothing for the children.

The list was distributed and donations began trickling in. A pile grew and spread over the floor of the parish hall. Soon, a container was on its way to San Pedro. On Sept. 11 the crate arrived in Belize and was held in Customs. Because of the terrorist attacks, everything had to be unpacked, examined and rechecked. Finally, in November, the supplies reached the children of San Pedro School. A second and third shipment followed and both arrived without delay. In addition to the supplies an assortment of stuffed animals, arts and crafts, children’s tapes, rosaries, prayer cards, Bibles and others items were received.

Diane Kochamba and the Builders Club and Student Council at Summerville Catholic School filled a collection container placed there, Grace Curran organized donated items from Bishop England High School, and Pinewood Preparatory School gave, too.

Today in San Pedro, life continues a steady return to normal. Hansen and his helpers in Summerville are collecting, sorting and packing items for a future shipment as additional packages of pens and paper, computers and VCR tapes continue to arrive at St. Theresa’s door. Donations of supplies and financial assistance to help with expenses are welcome.

Greg Orithel spends hours taking inventory; Tom Akins refurbishes the donated computers, and Ted Carin trucks containers from Branton Lumber to Emery Freight.

In the undertaking, Hansen credits Msgr. Lofton for his support; the St. Theresa’s office staff; the David J. Schiller Knights of Columbus Council for their financial support; the Summerville Knights of Columbus Council for their monetary assistance; and Bill Branton of Branton Lumber and Darlene Lush of Emery Freight for their help with shipping preparations and arrangements.

Said Hansen, “I just could not come home to Summerville and not do anything to help the children’s education.” Now, the children of San Pedro will not forget their new friend in South Carolina.