WAYLAND, Mich. — Telsaint Morisset, founder of nonprofit Figi Jezi, is a long way from his home country of Haiti. Morisset found himself in Grand Rapids after a daunting journey, fleeing Haiti in the midst of political turmoil at the age of just 15.
“I ended up in a boat with 350 people crossing the ocean,” he said.
The group was nearly lost at sea, eventually rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and brought to Guantanamo Bay to stay there. Morisset, to his knowledge, was the only of those 350 refugees he came over with to have permanently stayed in the states. For years, even his own family thought he had died making the dangerous crossing.
Eventually, Morisset came into contact with Bethany Christian Services, who placed him in Grand Rapids. In 2014, he founded Figi Jezi to collect and send resources back to the parts of Haiti most in need.
“Some countries have so much; then you go to a country that has so little,” he said. “You just can't imagine some people live there where they do exist.”
Many residents of Haiti have never received treatment from a doctor or dentist, and Morisset says there are a host of medical issues that go unaddressed en masse in the country.
Three months ago, even amid a shortage, Morisset was able to secure an old shipping container and is now close to turning it into a fully functional medical unit. It was far from a solo effort, Figi Jezi had help from Bruce Heys of Ada-based Bruce Heys Builders.
“Their board member, who is a friend of mine, came to me and, ‘Hey, I've got an idea. This is something we'd like to do with a storage container.’ And I said, ‘Well I'm not familiar with it, but let's see what we can do,’” said Heys. “We have all the trades here; why wouldn't we try to build it out here and ship it down after it’s finished?”
It’s exactly what they did. Lying up against the container, which is currently sitting in a business parking lot until it's finished, are the doors, windows, air conditioning units, office supplies and toys for the people of Haiti – ready to be installed or given out when the unit gets to where it’s going.
“Everybody just using their gifts and talents to turn out something like this, that will bless the people of Haiti, is something super cool,” said Heys.
“It's just unbelievable, how many people come together to make this happen,” said Morisset.
As for the medical supplies and expertise, that’s where Thomas Hamlin comes in. The 2-year-old passed away several years ago from a brain tumor, but now his name will adorn the medical unit that will provide treatment to Haitians – some of them for the first time in their lives.
“For us to think about our child Thomas and the way that he could impact that next generation in the way that these kids think about the world and think about Haiti and think about Christianity is powerful,” said his dad Ben Hamlin.
He and his wife Meredith have been instrumental in collecting medical supplies and support from diabetic treatments to neurology and dental equipment.
“With the right support and the right community, Haiti doesn’t have to be a place that you’re driven to leave,” said Ben. “It can be a place where you’re motivated to stay.”
The new medical unit will round out a complex that was already being built by Figi Jezi in the Cap-Haitien region that includes a covered outdoor area for worship, studying and playing, as well as another structure similar to the shipping container that’s already in place.
Morisset says Figi Jezi means “Jesus’s Face” and their mission has always been spreading their message through that context.
“We just want to go and just give people hope. We just want to love on people,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable how much work they put to this container, how beautiful it is.”
The container will leave West Michigan in two weeks on a journey that will take it from Chicago to New York by truck and train, from New York to Jamaica by boat, then finally on to Haiti. It’s a roughly two-week journey.