WASHINGTON, DC (February 8, 2010) – Former North Park University professor and Covenanter Robert Boncy, who led the school’s first 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 from 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 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 engaging in democratic reforms. As of Sunday, 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 what is taking place “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 for him.
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 devastated those regions. 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 fish pond in Furcy, a rural community located more than a mile above sea level 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 recover 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 reduce the number of family members she had to feed.
Eckhardt asked 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 a way, represented the possibility of reconciliation through understanding and caring.”
Boncy already knew first-hand the power of receiving a helping hand. His father, Roger, was a judge in Haiti, but fled with his family to Congo when his life was threatened under the dictatorial rule of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier.
While in Congo, the Boncys met several 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, Illinois, where Boncy maintains his membership.
The church sponsored the family and enabled them to obtain 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 North Park University.
Covenant contacts made another significant difference in Boncy’s life. He married Ginny Westberg—the daughter of Sigurd and Ruth Westberg, two missionaries who 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.