Following are updates received during the recent pilgrimage trip to Haiti by eleven parishioners of St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Lewisville, Texas.
Tuesday, February 5 – by Sue Ogle
Took my first solo taxi ride in Port-au-Prince this morning …. it just doesn’t work well when two people don’t speak the same language …. the only word we both understood was ‘airport’ – that’s not where I was going, but that’s were I got!
Met up with the St. Philip Haitian Pilgrims contingent and experienced many heart wrenching and warming events. We stopped to visit Citi Soleil, one of the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince. Inside the compound the Pilgrims erected a jungle gym for the students in a record two hours. We fed the poor at the Food For the Poor kitchen, by scooping rice and beans into plastic buckets (1/2 gallon) that would
be the only meal that day for the hundreds of people in line to receive this meager meal.
We met a woman who had lost her husband in the earthquake, she and her 4 children were living in one of the plastic tents, but proudly on the land they had purchased just before the quake. Now, three years later, she smiles broadly as Food For the Poor is building them a small home that will complete their dreams. No longer will she have to stand up each time it rains to avoid the water.
Wednesday, February 6 – by Keith Hilton
I have mixed emotions about yesterday. As I reflect on it, I feel sad that people have to live in such horrendous circumstances, but at the same time I saw hope and happiness for things that would make us feel like our world was ending. I saw more poverty than I could ever imagine. Thousands of people living in shanties and tents. It’s unimaginable how vast it is. Everywhere we drove around the city was worse than anything you could see in the states. Miles and miles with people everywhere. 3 million people live in Port au Prince and 85% of them are unemployed. The average daily wage for those with jobs is $3/day. But what impressed me the most was the hope that I saw everywherre. School children in a school in the middle of a slum area that were excited to be there and happy wearing their white and blue uniforms, singing songs for us, trying to pronounce our names, excited to have their picture taken and then giggling as we showed them the digital image. Reaching out and taking our hands as we walked around, thrilled for us to be there so they could show us what they’d learned.
Then we visited an area called City of Hope. A collection of cinder block 2 bedroom homes that had been given to people in the slums. I will never forget the image of a woman that showed us her home, beaming with pride just because she owned a home. The people living there told us that by owning a home meant they weren’t animals anymore. The last place we went was to visit a woman and her 4 children that were living in a tarp shelter. Her husband had been killed in the earthquake but prior to that, they had bought a piece of land. She had built her tent on the land and had written Food for the Poor asking for them to build a home for her. She’d just found out that it had been apporved and they would build the house for her this month (it only takes 3 months to build these homes). We can’t comprehend the impact something like that has on someone in this situation. The pride and dignity that they feel to own a cinder block, 2 room house is incomprehensible in our world.
Wednesday, February 6 – by Sue Ogle
What a day for Haitian Pilgrims! We visited a government run secondary level school this morning. These teenagers struggle to learn in unconditioned classrooms with 106 students per class. They were very interested in talking with us and many asked us questions in exceptionally well spoken English. Better, their behavior was respectful, attentive and curious.
This afternoon we put our work gloves on …. 200 trees were planted at Foundation Montesinos in Titanyen, Haiti, an orphanage run by Pere Charles Moise who worked beside us with many of the children helping with the planting.
Some of the Pilgrims worked in the library relocating over 1,000 books to protect them from the elements. The 85 children range in age from 3 to their early 20s, many of which lost their parents in the earthquake, or were rescued from prisons. They are taught Creole, French, Spanish and English languages. I was especially touched by an 18 year old girl named Sarah, an energetic leader who really liked my neon blue nail polish. My prayer for Sarah is that she continues to learn and develop her leadership skills and not be entrapped in the black hole of poverty that supresses so many talented youth in this country.
Thursday, February 7 – by Sue Ogle
Thursday in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, the Haitian Pilgrims visited a Senior center managed by a Korean order of nuns (formerly by Food For the Poor). Homeless Seniors who have no family are given a 10×12 foot home with a bed, dresser and table. They have a small front porch with a plastic chair from which they sit and visit their neighbo…rs and visitors. We were divided into teams and sent to help in housing sections. Keith and I were sent to section C, we didn’t know what we were going to do until the worker in the section met us. We were humbled to hear that we would be bathing women and sweeping out thier homes and washing the front porches.
As you can well imagine, I bathed the women and Keith swept out their homes (a really heads down sweeper). The women sat in their front stoop chair, removed their clothes and I was given a bowl of warm water, bar of soap and towel. I was humbled and blessed to care for them; once bathed I dressed them in clean clothes. When finished the women reached out to give hugs and kisses of gratitude. One of the women was blind and she took my hands and kissed them. I was reminded of our Holy Thursday foot washing tradition and I could not get the ‘will you let me be your servant’ hymn out of my mind. The morning visit ended with dancing in their center pavilion to upbeat music. A very spry Haitian man kept me dancing the entire time. What fun!
Thursday afternoon the Haitian Pilgrims visited the Orphanage for Handicapped Children. What a beautiful environment these physically and mentally challenged children of God have to live each day in dignity, care and love. We moved from bed to bed touching, talking, stroking and praying for them; some could respond, many didn’t appear to know we were there. Their fragile, thin bodies contorted in unnatural angles, heads bent back and eyes starring out to never, never land. I am reminded that my three children are perfect, living with every opportunity available for the taking. Why … the eternal unanswered question begs for reason, solution and absolution.
The children with mobility, voice and cognition teach us that they are here to bring us joy! We played soccer (with a basketball), blew bubbles at which the children screeched with joy and reached out to grab. Little girls grabbed at my neon blue nails and gave me that (are you really an adult?) look. One girl in a wheel chair wanted each of us to give her a fast ride; we would push her up and down the room until she reached out and grabbed another one of us – it was now their turn. Our hearts filled with joy, we say farewell to our new playmates whose faces will stay with us forever.
Friday, February 8 – by Sue Ogle
Friday 2/8, the Haitian Pilgrims last day in Port-au-Prince. With suitcases pack tight in the bus we head out to go shopping! Buying Haitian art for our relatives, friends and sponsors gives us a sense of contributing to the economy…
We then head over to the Bernard Mev’s Hospital, one of the few to survive the earthquake. We visit the children’s area to find volunteer doctors and nurses from Cincinatti! Eager young adults on their first medical mission, eager and happy and determined to return. They love working in an environment where their medical skill to save lives is more important than avoiding law suits and completing insurance
We’re also invited into the neonatal room where a 2.1 lb baby is being held by its mother, so tiny, so perfect. Others are under lights or in incubators being cared for by attentive staff. A short walk to the roof takes us to a room where artifical limbs are molded. There are feet, legs, metal knees and molding equipment scattered throughout. A very proud technician shares with us that they are using the same technology that was used in the movie ‘Dolphin Tail’. A silicon sleve is displayed and it’s explained that these are used for patients with thin skin and bone issues (Ah Ha Moment!), those are issues my Dad struggles with daily …. maybe I’m in this room for a reason.
Our mission to Haiti comes to an end; our incredibly talented driver, Daniel, delivers us to the airport where we do a little more shopping and wait for our return flight to reality.