Samuel Masadieu is a quiet little boy who doesn’t speak English, so it’s hard to know what the Haitian orphan thinks.

But when he giggles, holds Rich Rohde’s hand, or runs his fingers through his hair, it’s clear to Rohde that the boy doesn’t think of him as just a white man with money from some far away place called Johnstown, Pa.

Rohde gravitates toward Samuel, who fades into the background among the many children who arrived at the northern Haiti orphanage months after January’s earthquake left them alone in streets of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Rohde pays close attention to Samuel, believing he could possibly be a future president of Haiti – he believes any of the children at the orphanage could.

That’s part of this Hollsopple man’s motivation to direct the “His Outreach for Learning and Development” (HOLD) orphan-age in LaVaud, Haiti.

Aside from his several missionary visits per year to the orphanage, Rohde works solely from his Hollsopple home office, where he still displays a plaque from Emglo Inc. that commends him for his past life as an air-compressor salesman.

For the past decade, he has worked as a missionary, overseeing seven, one-room schools in Haiti alongside HOLD founders, Don Shreier, also of Johnstown, and Haitian Baptist Pastor Exante Cherelus – an influential church leader for thousands of Haitians in Port-au-Prince.

Rohde said costs of school buildings and training for the schools’ teachers – Haitian natives, many of whom never finished high school – are funded by individuals and church groups from all over the United States.

But Johnstown donors have largely funded the $222,000 orphanage, which opened last December with tiled floors, running water, and staff to educate and provide children three hearty meals per day.

Rohde said that 20 of the orphanage’s 32 children are sponsored by businesses and individuals from the Johnstown region.

Last month, Rohde hired cameramen from 1st Team Advertising, a Johnstown public relations firm, to shoot a video featuring the orphans.

“The media usually shows only the riots and the suffering,” Rohde said. “People need to see kids living happy lives, and being educated so that they can one day earn a living.”

Once finished, Rohde hopes to air the video on a national cable channel.

The orphanage is secluded in the mountains of LaVaud, a suburb of Port-de-Paix, about 100 miles north of Port-au-Prince. The capital city’s crumbled national palace, other than the grass growing around its rubble, looks as if it had just fallen yesterday, said Rohde.

Last month, he visited the wreckage that once housed Haiti’s president.

Cherelus, pastor of the New Haitian Baptist Association and partner with HOLD, said Haiti’s physical, political and economic brokenness falls heavily on the shoulders of the country’s youth.

“This generation has to be educated, so they can make a new way for this nation,” Cherelus said in a telephone interview.

In addition to empowering the orphans in LaVaud, Cherelus, with Rohde’s help, is preparing to lead a prayer rally, Jan. 12

– the anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million homeless.

Cherelus anticipates more than 50,000 prayerful Haitians will fill a stadium one half mile from the shattered national palace in Port-au-Prince.

“There is no peace yet for this nation,” he said, “but it begins by turning to God.”

In his Hollsopple home office, Rohde looks at a photo of the children living at the LaVaud orphanage. Samuel smiles meekly. Could he one day be the man living in a reconstructed national palace?

Russ O’Reilly

For The Tribune-Democrat