SALT LAKE CITY — Brandt Andersen came back from his relief trip to Haiti with two things that will always remind him of his week in Port-au-Prince: the deed to a gorgeous, three-acre plot of land where he plans to rebuild an orphanage, and an indelible vision of the smiling children who soon will live there.
Less than a week after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake rattled the Caribbean country Jan. 12, the Utah County entrepreneur and owner of the Utah Flash was on a plane to Haiti with a group of doctors assembled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His job was to help coordinate travel and fuel for the group, but once he was there, Andersen unexpectedly picked up a few "side projects."
Suddenly, he had new items on his to-do list: buy land, build shelter.
"I definitely didn't go down there thinking I would commit myself to something long term," Andersen said. "But things overtake you and there are powers greater than us that I think ... when you feel that need to do something, you have to follow it."
When Andersen and his friend, Bill Betz, both in their early 30s, stumbled upon the small, nameless orphanage, it was a wreck. The children, overlooked by rescue teams delivering aid to more prominent parts of the city, were sleeping on cots in front of the rented, crumbled building where a pastor tended them. Most of the 50 children in the group have no hopes of being adopted. They simply want to survive.
Yet when they saw Andersen and Betz coming toward their hovel, they beamed smiles so beautiful they melted Andersen's heart.
"I've been all over the world, and I've never seen kids like these kids," Andersen said. "They are so loving and warm. ... I was extremely touched by that while I was down there."
While at the orphanage, Betz found a young girl — one of two in the group who is eligible for adoption — who he hopes one day will be his daughter, and Andersen found his calling.
That night, Andersen and Betz put up tents for the kids to sleep under. By the time Andersen was on the plane home Jan. 24, he had already recruited a local engineer and bought a stunning swath of land with lush green foliage and a backdrop straight out of the Wasatch Front.
It was a miracle. One of many Andersen witnessed during his trip.
"To see it unfold was ... it gave you hope," Andersen said. "You know, it gave you hope that anything — really anything — is possible."
But Andersen isn't finished yet. He estimates it will cost about $125,000 to build a seismically sound building for the children. So far Andersen has raised more than $20,000 in donations for the orphanage through the Flash Family Foundation and at Utah Flash games, but he's not waiting to raise all of the money before going ahead.
Crews started work on the new grounds Wednesday, and Andersen says he expects the dormitory section of the orphanage to be finished in a month — which is when he plans to return to Haiti. After the building is complete, it will be placed into a trust, and the orphanage will continue to be run by the local pastor.
In the meantime, Andersen can't help but remember the Haitians he grew to love as he worked alongside them, smelling the stench of death. Those memories are motivation to keep going — to look after the orphanage for the long haul and to finally give it a name.
"I think the only thing that will haunt the people who went down there, me included, is, did we do enough while we were there?" Andersen said. "Were there areas that we didn't find that could have used our help, or could we have saved more lives? That was a real part of what was going on down there."
Where to help
Donations to the Flash Family Foundation to help build a new orphanage can be made by calling 801-434-4667