Visit to Boileau: Progress on a long journey

It was exciting to see the tremendous progress, but sobering to see how much more is needed. Our 6-day visit to Haiti was very productive.  They are entering a phase of their development where our help can open possibilities they didn’t dare dream about a few years ago.

As you know, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  The slums of Port au Prince have several hundred thousand families in the most desperate situations – drinking putrid water and eating dirt in a desperate effort to appease the gnawing ache of chronic hunger.  Parents can ignore their own pain, but are driven to desperation at watching their children waste away.

Yet, rural villagers continue to migrate to “the city”, apparently unable to imagine how desperate life becomes in Port au Prince.  As the hardship of rural life decimates their families with disease and hunger, they abandon the village life which offers no hope, and move to Port au Prince with blind hope that their willingness to do any kind of work will make it possible to take care of their families.  There is no work.  They become victims of the slums.

We are trying to slow the migration from the rural villages to the city slums.  We have adopted St. Therese in Boileau, Haiti as our sister parish. We are striving to help the villagers of Boileau see progress and hope from working within their village.  Our goal is to help the village become self-sustaining, to supplement their work with our help to provide hope for their children.  We are helping them with basic, essential medical care, drinkable water, education, food, and support for micro-entrepreneurs to fuel the start of economic development.

A small group of Haitian Pilgrims visited our adopted village, Boileau, Haiti in September, 2006.  Below is a brief recap of some observations during our trip.

The Medical Clinic  is working very well, almost too well. The reception area and waiting room were full.  The line of parents and children seeking medical help extended outside the entrance to the clinic.  They need additional equipment and staff to keep up with the patient load. They need a new microscope for diagnostics, a matress (patients under observation presently lay on the metal frame since there is no mattress), a blood pressure cuff, medicine, and other basic materials.

The 15 Wells for clean drinking water are the most important improvement to the health of over 20,000 people in the area. The water quality of the wells is excellent, and the clinic reports that water-related disease and deaths are dramatically reduced. Six new well locations were identified.

The School has grown from 250 students to over 500. Of course, there is always a great need for supplies such as paper, pencils,  books, etc.  The headmaster feels more teachers and classrooms are desperately needed.  The quality is high; all the 2006 graduates passed the national standards tests.  The present school only takes them through 6th grade.  They need some vocational and trade training.  Parents need to be taught to read and write so they can help their children.

Agriculture program is working, but not involving enough farmers. The drought and hurricanes last year devastated the initial progress.  We established new goals and reestablished funding for the agronomist. It was estimated that crops had a three-fold increase due to improvements taught through this program.

Livestock, even with the drought and hurricanes, we still had sheep, goats, pigs and chickens being raised in the community. The program needs to be expanded to include cows, possibly dovetailed with the MicroCredit program.

MicroCredit loans are being paid back with interest and the money is being loaned out again. There are wonderful stories from people who have had their lives and the lives of their families improved from loans of less than $100.00.

Finally, the new priest for the area had a real educational experience from our visit, he is now better prepared to lead Boileau and the surrounding area.

Korem: A word with no meaning, that means so much

By Ron Wozny

This past February a group from St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church set off for the fourth pilgrimage to Haiti. As in past years we visited several operations that are helping the poorest of the poor. At each orphanage and school there was one thing consistent among the people we met – they were eager to communicate with us, though few spoke any English. The children sang songs for us and were thrilled when some of the pilgrims taught them our songs. B-I-N-G-O was a great hit!

Our visit to an AIDS hospice was dramatically different. There were no songs or laughter from young children. The common thread, though, was that the patients were happy to see us. A simple touch let them know we cared. Many patients extended their hands and smiled broadly. Others could only look up at us as we stroked their arms or forehead.

But no matter where we visited, we were communicating. Not through words, but through touch, through handshakes, hugs, laughter. Through tears.

The young men and boys we met had an interesting greeting among themselves which they shared with us. It took us a while to catch on, but it goes something like this … the boys came up to us, holding their fists out toward us. We did the same. Then they hit their fist against ours, then strike their chest twice.

So we adopted this as our ministry’s “secret” handshake. What we didn’t know at the time was that this “handshake” has a significant and powerful message behind it. While heading back home on the plane a few of us were practicing this ritual which caught the eye of a Haitian woman traveling to Miami. She beat her chest twice and said “Korem!”

We visited with our fellow passenger for sometime, trying to understand this greeting and the meaning of Korem. She said it meant respect or support. Guessing there might be a deeper explanation we turned to Philippe Calixte, a native Haitian who works for Food for the Poor. He was our tour guide in Haiti.

Philippe writes, “Korem means nothing, in fact, but means so much at the same time. Let me try to give you an explanation. Touch me with your hands and your heart and let me feel that I have somebody by my side to support me. The verb kore is used when you have a car sliding down, so you find a big rock or piece of wood to put behind the tires to stop it, you KORE it. In other words, you do not let it slide or fall. I hope this explanation can help.”

Philippe, indeed, this does help. To our brothers and sisters in Haiti… Korem.

Through the Eyes of the People of Haiti

By Laura Adams

Imagine for a moment, flying over a land of rolling hillsides – but these hillsides have no vegetation, greenery or life. There are miles and miles of metal sheets leaning against stakes to provide shelter. Children run naked through the streets with no regard for their surroundings of debris and filth.

I had read about such places, but, like many Americans, I had not given them much thought. That changed this spring when I visited Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In Haiti, I was given a chance to witness God through
the eyes of the poor.

Starvation is real in Haiti. Children with bloated stomachs and reddened hair are everywhere. Compounding the food shortage is the lack of clean water. Animals run wild relieving themselves in the very water the people of Haiti use for drinking, cooking and bathing.

My experience, while devastating and dramatic, was very positive because I saw a consistent message of love in the eyes of the people. Despite their circumstances I saw love, need and the grace of God in everyone I met. As difficult as it might be to believe in the face of devastation they have a loving way about them. Children run to hug you and cling to your legs, hoping you might be the one who helps them see a new way of life. What the children did not see is that they gave to me a renewed sense of value, peace and humility.

Thankfully, efforts are being made to help the people of Haiti. Through the generous parishioners from St. Philip, the Haitian Pilgrims – working with Food for the Poor—have provided water wells in a remote area of the country. A school and medical clinic have been built in the village of Boileau that gives the community a step toward an improved life. A doctor to visit regularly and daily hot lunches for the children are provided through the continued fund raising efforts of the Haitian Pilgrims.

I hope my personal commitment to the people of Haiti will be an inspiration to those I meet and move them to become involved in such a worthwhile cause. Through the eyes of the people of Haiti I have come to recognize and fully appreciate the blessings that my family and I share. These extraordinarily poor people have enriched my life and have taught me to not take our good fortune for granted. But more than that, they have helped me develop a stronger relationship with our Lord. For that, I am greatly indebted.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3