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Alumnus and Haitian Native Helps Spearhead Earthquake Recovery Efforts

North Park University Alumnus Robert Boncy

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 8, 2010) – Former North Park University professor Robert Boncy, who led the school’s first ever mission trips to his native Haiti, is now helping coordinate the U.S. government’s recovery efforts in the decimated country, where he lost two relatives.

Boncy graduated North Park in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and taught the subject at the school from 1980 to 1984. He now serves as a desk officer with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in its Office of Caribbean Affairs. Boncy has worked extensively throughout Africa as well as in Washington.

USAID is the principal government agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engage in democratic reforms. As of last week, the agency, along with the Department of Defense, had contributed $523 million in aid to Haiti, according to a USAID release.

Boncy works to ensure full cooperation between initiatives “on the ground” and headquarters throughout that region. He also supplies information to Congress and fields queries from the public.

When the earthquake reduced much of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and other parts of the country to rubble, Boncy was specially assigned to help plan USAID’s transition from disaster relief to recovery efforts that will take place more than 90 days after the earthquake. The work is deeply personal.

Two cousins in Boncy’s large extended family were killed by the earthquake. “We lost two wonderful people,” he says. One was a mother of two children, and another was the father of three.

He has helped provide assistance to numerous countries following ecological calamities and wars that had devastated countries. This is the first time he has been involved in work following a natural disaster such as an earthquake. Boncy says he is especially grateful for the opportunity to play a significant role in helping his native country.

Boncy first learned of the earthquake about 20 minutes after it struck. He had been driving home but immediately returned to the office. Since then, he has worked from early in the morning to late at night with little rest.

Boncy has been working for years to expand others’ understanding of Haiti and to generate assistance for its people. Along with philosophy professor Mel Soneson, he led the first work trips of North Park students to Haiti in 1983 and 1984.

The trips also were among the first anywhere to be funded by Covenant World Relief. The students built a fishpond in Furcy, a rural community located more than a mile high in the craggy Haitian mountains.

Although the students knew Haiti was impoverished and a dictatorship under the rule of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier they could not begin to comprehend the implications until they arrived.

Boncy, the only Creole-speaking member of the trip, had to navigate the Haitian bureaucracy to get back film that was confiscated at the airport when the team arrived on the first trip. North Park junior Susan Eckhardt, wrote in the June 1984 issue of The Covenant Companion that a woman offered to sell one of her children to Boncy for five dollars. She eventually lowered her price to 20 cents in an attempt to lessen the number of family members to feed.

Eckhardt asked of herself, “How does one act— react—to this? Why am I so privileged? When am I going to take responsibility for this problem? After dinner?”

In a 1983 article for the magazine Boncy wrote, “Being originally from Haiti, the project had special significance to me. It reaffirmed the linkage of my worlds, and in however small away, represented the possibility of reconciliation through understanding and caring.”

Boncy already knew firsthand the power of getting a helping hand from others. His father, Roger, was a judge in Haiti, but fled with his family to Congo when his life was endangered under the dictatorial rule of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

While in Congo, the Boncys met Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries. Two of them, Daniel and Anne Ericson, met the family at a worship service. They ultimately connected the family with North Park Covenant Church in Chicago. (He still maintains his membership with the church).

The church sponsored the family and enabled them to get permanent visas. Boncy’s mother and three siblings arrived in the city in 1963. His father followed later and subsequently taught Latin and French at the University.

Covenant contacts made another significant difference in Boncy’s life. He married Ginny Westberg— the daughter of Sigurd and Ruth Westberg, two missionaries that helped his family in Congo.

Ginny graduated from North Park in 1968 with a bachelor of English degree. She is now a support services officer in the Casualty Assistance Office of the U.S. State Department. She works with families of State Department employees who die overseas. Ginny was responsible for making sure the body of an embassy employee killed by the earthquake in Haiti was returned to the United States and that all necessary assistance was available to the family.

“She puts a human face on the bureaucracy,” Boncy says.