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Using hands-on philanthropy to bring Haiti relief

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With 320 beds, Mirebalais Hospital will be Haiti's biggest, at least until the city hospital in Port-au-Prince is rebuilt, which may take years. At Mirebalais, Haitians will have access to basic health services as well as specialty surgeries never before available to them.

To open Mirebalais by November 2011, Ansara puts in 90-hour workweeks, sometimes via laptop and phone from Essex, north of Boston, where he raises four adopted teenagers with his wife, Karen.

Otherwise he's in Haiti, where he lives with an erratic water pump, routine power outages, and a nearby river that makes travel impossible after heavy rains.

Ansara doesn't have to live that way. He's plenty wealthy, even after giving away more than $18 million since he began the process of selling his business, Shawmut Construction, to his employees in 1997.

Still, he puts on no airs. He drives a 2010 Ford Focus. He arrives for a cafe interview in jeans and an untucked plaid shirt.

He puts up with Haiti's frustrations, he says, because "it's absolutely a calling for me. I believe in the social justice tenets of what Jesus taught. I come at this very much from a social justice, equity point of view. I have such an incredibly privileged life that I can never just enjoy that. I have to help – try to help – people who don't have."

Mirebalais is the largest hospital construction project in PIH's 23-year history. The facility will have features that owe their inclusion to Ansara's involvement, says Ted Constan, PIH's chief program officer. They include an easy-to-navigate environment for disabled patients and bedside oxygen stations – a first for Haiti.

"Mirebalais will have elements of infection control that we've never done before, earthquake standards that have not been seen in Haiti, and green technologies," Mr. Constan says. "All of these are things that Jim, with his career in construction management, is making possible."

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