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

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Haiti

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.