San Diego attorney Art Moreau is used to counseling developers and contractors as part of his construction law practice.
For five days in December, he got to personally experience the type of work his clients do.
The shareholder for Klinedinst traveled to Haiti right after Christmas as part of a humanitarian effort to rebuild an orphanage ravaged by last year’s devastating earthquake.
“You go down there thinking you’re going to have an impact on someone’s life,” he said Wednesday while recounting his trip, “and you come away with the experience having a more significant impact on you. It certainly changes your heart.”
Moreau and his teenage daughter went with a group from Canyon Springs Church to Croix-de-Bouque, a village approximately 15 miles from Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
The orphanage sponsored by the Children’s Heritage Foundation houses approximately 60-70 children, ranging in age from 1 to 19.
The facility’s buildings and infrastructure were almost completely destroyed in the 7.0 quake last January.
Moreau and the rest of the volunteers spent their time digging foundations for three dormitories, building a new shower facility, and rehabilitating and painting existing structures.
Unlike most construction projects Moreau’s clients undertake, the San Diego volunteers had to prepare the site by removing rubble piece by piece without the help of a backhoe.
They worked from 7:30 a.m. until sundown, usually 5:30 p.m., each day.
Their contribution wasn’t just physical labor. The group, which consisted of a dozen teenagers, helped with the orphans’ emotional recovery as well.
“They’re starved for affection, and the little ones just want you to hold them,” Moreau said. “We played games, had Bible school and held a Christmas party at the end.”
Moreau’s practice at Klinedinst includes negotiating and litigating business-related issues with an emphasis on real estate, land use and construction. He assists clients with entity formation, deal analysis and contract development.
Some of Moreau’s client interactions came in handy while he was in Haiti.
“By osmosis, you learn how things are built,” Moreau said. “I used some of that knowledge about how buildings should be built properly. We had a couple of general contractors with us, but we got a chance to get our hands dirty and have an immediate impact on somebody’s life.”
Each volunteer raised $2,000 to fund the trip. American Airlines (NYSE: AMR) helped out by letting them check a second bag for free. It was used to store clothes and toys for the Haitians along with tools needed for the work.
“It’s very beautiful from the air -- beaches and forest,” Moreau said of the Caribbean country. “When you land, you know you’re in a Third-World country.
“There has not been significant progress in the reconstruction. There’s a lot left to do, so much that it’s like you’re not making a dent in it.”
He was impressed with the resident’s resilience, especially considering what they’ve been through.
Canyon Springs Church plans to make three more trips to Haiti this year and Moreau said he’ll be making a return trip as well.