We Are Called to Stand With Haiti
In an effort to expand Old St. Pat’s global outreach, a group of five of us recently went to Duchity, Haiti to spend time with the people of the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Duchity parish has been in a “twinning” relationship with St. Thomas Aquinas in Naperville for 20 years. We went with open minds and hearts, viewing the trip as solidarity mission. We committed to being fully present throughout our experiences and encounters with the people of Haiti, and especially with those in Duchity. Pope Francis speaks often and demonstrates how we should “encounter” people. He reminds us of Jesus’ time on earth. When Jesus encountered the sick, the poor, or the outcasts, he responded with compassion and got close to the person, often touching them, speaking and weeping for them. As Pope Francis demonstrates, he asks us to be fully present with others and “to work for the culture of encounter, in a simple way, as Jesus did.”
In this village hours up mountains from Port Au Prince, there is no electricity, running water, or Internet. Cooking is done over an open fire outside. Duchity, which is near the ocean, was spared the destruction of the 2010 earthquake, but has not yet recovered from Hurricane Matthew. Homes without roofs remain, as well as tent cities. As in most of Haiti, there is no government support of schools, medical care, or even garbage pick-up.
It is easy to get close and encounter people who live without the distractions that isolate us in the United States. Each of us on the trip spent time doing different things depending on our knowledge and interests. Mike, who is a carpenter spent time with a man who runs a vocational program designed to teach the building trades. Kevin, a retired high school French teacher, got right into classrooms and taught English lessons. Nereida brought materials from Junior Achievement for the secondary students. She, Josh, and I worked with students in the classrooms and met with those who wanted assistance at developing business plans for their future. I attended the dawn-breaking daily mass and experienced faith, prayer, and community through a rich music liturgy. While I didn’t understand a word that was sung, its meaning and soulfulness went deep into my heart.
One afternoon, we took a 30-minute walk to an orphanage and school. We met brilliant, fun-loving children who enjoyed drawing and playing with us. Eritha Pappion, the orphanage and school founder, gave us a tour. The school’s buildings were very much like the ones at St. Thomas Aquinas, built of concrete, with little holes to let in the sunlight. Beyond the wooden desks and blackboard, the classrooms have no materials or books. The teacher’s only tool is a piece of chalk. The children very studiously copy the teacher’s words onto paper with their pencil. While this barebones classroom is a stark contrast to those in even our most impoverished schools in the US, the families of Haiiti scrimp and sacrifice to have daily access to an educated teacher. Many children walk up to two hours a day to school while suffering the effects of malnutrition. Eritha has sought help from many within France and the USA to feed the children and pay the teaching staff. She invited Josh and I to meet with her school board and hear of their sustainable plan of providing each of their families with sheep to raise. The sheep, who feed off of the land and need minimal care, will allow them to both support themselves and pay tuition to continue their children’s education. The school board is interested in a loan, not a handout. These proud people want to be self-sustaining. We left the meeting energized and committed to finding a loan source. In a country with an economic and political system such as Haiti, micro-loans seem to be a beacon of hope. I imagine finding generous people to fund a $25,000 account that the school will repay and be able to draw from for future loans.
Our journey home took us back to Port Au Prince. As we paused at the statue of the runaway slave, Nèg Mawon, we pondered the fact that Haiti is the only country that led a successful slave rebellion. I repeat; the only country whose slaves successfully fought back and freed themselves. Imagine the future that they saw for themselves. Not only has nature not been kind to Haiti but forceful countries including ours have dominated them and depleted their resources. We have an opportunity to make reparations through solidarity and sharing what we have. As Christians, we are called to be one with the “other.” There is no quick fix solution to Haiti. We have no control over their economy and government. However, knowing their needs, we cannot ignore them. Many say that we should help those that are in our city before we go beyond. I say that we have enough for both. Just like parents who wonder if they can afford another child, somehow it works out. It costs $80 per year to provide tuition for one student in Duchity, Haiti. I hope that our collective efforts help a village fund a sustainable plan toward self-support of their children’s education. Let us turn our hearts and minds to the “other,” standing together with them as they make their way through life.