By Leslie Nacke
I’d like to bundle up every St. Philip parishioner, every American for that matter, and have them experience what I have seen, heard and smelled on my three trips to Haiti.
As we drove through the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince we saw many children in neat, clean uniforms. Their parents sacrifice greatly to buy these mandatory uniforms just for the opportunity to send their children to school. As they walked, their heads were held high with purpose. As a teacher, it was reassuring to see such determination in their faces.
We visited a boys’ orphanage. One young boy, about 6, had me sit next to him while he proudly read from his book. He was eager to show what he had learned. His warm smile melted my heart. We delivered a few of the 25 soccer balls we
brought with us. The boys were so grateful to kick a real soccer ball since so many Haitians substitute a wad of tied up old socks for the real thing. Soccer is, after all, their only national sport. A group of boys, determined to learn a few English words, chanted after me “Kick soccer ball!”
On a previous pilgrimage we brought along 400 St. Philip “holy bears”. Their destination was Cite Soleil, the slums where 600,000 people live in squalor. Cardboard shacks pass as housing. Open sewage runs in the street, with no fresh water. Our bus drove into the heart of the slums to deliver these bears to a group of more fortunate children who attend a Food for the Poor kindergarten. This class is a pure oasis in devastating surroundings.
Children lined up in their crimson uniforms, each with their right hand on the child’s shoulder in front of them. We walked down each row, placing a teddy bear in each set of arms. Their eyes danced and the sweetest sound I ever heard fell from their lips….Merci. It broke my heart when to think that when the bell rang at 3:00 the locked gate would open and they would return home to the sewers and the shacks beyond the gate.
There are smells in Haiti. While on our way to visit our sister parish in Boileau we drove through the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince and witnessed MARKET, a means of daily survival. Streets were packed with people who had a few wares to sell. Open sewage was everywhere. It was a horrifying, yet bustling, sight.
When we returned from Boileau it was dark. MARKET was now in full swing, lit by kerosene lamps, with sellers trying to find buyers for their mangoes, pieces of fabric or chewing gum. The air-conditioning in our bus gave out, so we had to
open the windows. The most repugnant smell hit us with an odor we will never forget.
The daily conditions of Haitians are filled with sights, sounds and smells that are so removed from our sheltered, comfortable existence in America. I hope you will consider joining a Haitian pilgrimage to see for yourself this unique
culture because you will be forever changed and your fire will be eternally lit to keep this ministry alive.