Progress in Haiti – Ralph Reports

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“The Tree”

 

Making Progress in Haiti

Note: This addres was delivered to parishioners of St. Philip the Apostle in Lewisville, Tex. as part of the Annual Giving Garland Campaign.

Good afternoon, I’m Ralph.I’m here to speak about what this community is doing in Haiti. And you are doing some good stuff. When I was there last September, I saw the progress you are making.I saw the difference you are making in the lives of the villagers in Boileau, Haiti.Also, the Bishop at Les Cays took time out of his schedule to meet with us, as your ambassadors, so he could express his appreciation for your help.

Each year we have a fund raiser that starts in July and ends in October.Each year we focus on a specific project – wells for water or tools and seeds and animals for the agriculture project. However, if you are new to the parish, you’ve probably not heard a review of the overall program.

I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about how desperately poor the people in Haiti are.I’m going to talk about the progress you have made in the village of Boileau.But I need to take just a minute to acknowledge the situation.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.The overwhelming majority are desperately poor.About 85% of the people are trying to eke out a living on less
than a dollar per day.There is staggering child mortality, unemployment and starvation.And it keeps getting worse each year.

Following their first Pilgrimage to Haiti in 1999, where the folks from St. Phillip’s parish saw Haiti’s poverty-stricken sights, they knew that they could not just go home and ignore what they had seen. We could not listen to the gospel each week, like last weeks gospel about the Good Samaritan that challenged us to think about who is our “neighbor” or Matthews’ gospel about “whatsoever you do for these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me” and ignore the villagers in Haiti.

They decided to focus on slowing the migration from the rural areas to the slums of the city.They were told of a village called Boileau, a community of some 500 families, that had a desperate need for medical help.For $23,000 they could build a small clinic.That was a “doable” first step.But they also set the goal of helping Boileau achieve self-sufficiency.We wanted to help the villagers in Boileau have confidence that their own hard work could provide a future for themselves and their
children.

You have all heard about how giving someone a fish feeds them for one day, while teaching them to fish provides on ongoing source of food. We took the approach of teaching them to fish. St. Philip “adopted” the sister parish of St. Therese in Boileau.

We should explore what St. Phillips has done for Boileau. The International anti-poverty project has identified some fundamental building blocks as the critical foundation to address poverty. These are Health, Education, Water, Food and Economic Opportunity.

I mentioned that the medical clinic was the first project, so let’s talk about Health.

In 1999, a doctor would come by occasionally and visit patients under a tree. St. Phillips provided a building.Then we learned that just having a building didn’t do the job. We now provide monthly funds for medical staff and medicine.We also provided an electric generator and diagnostic equipment – like an electronic microscope.Incidentally, Boileau does not have electricity, telephones, or running water. It is now the best medical facility in this part of Haiti; some patients walk several miles to get here.St. Phillips has committed to ongoing support.

Another critical requirement is Education.

When visiting Boileau in 2001, the Pilgrims saw a school which consisted of a tin roof supported by several poles.They had 250 students huddled under the tin roof trying to escape the sun’s heat and the rain.The priest asked for help.St. Philips
responded.The new, concrete block building was completed in 2003. But, once again, we learned that just having the building didn’t do the job.The doctor at the clinic, told us that most of the children were so malnourished that they couldn’t learn.We are now providing a school lunch program 4 days each week.For many of the students, this is the only real meal of the day.They have asked us to help with lunches 5 days per week.We are hoping that we have enough money in 2008 to provide lunch all 5 school day s.Since 2001, the number of students has doubled to 500. There are 13 qualified teachers.They now have 3 pre-school groups, each led by 2 Nannies.  The school has classes from Kindergarten through 6th grade.During the past few years, all of the students graduating from the 6th grade passed the national tests. Providing some nutrition, along with the building, is making a difference!

For water the villagers depended on surface water collected in cisterns or creeks and rivers which serve as bathing and cooling facilities for both humans and animals.After just a few months of providing treatment to the villagers, the doctor told us the main medical problem was caused by parasites and bacteria in the water.Again, you responded with the money to drill wells for clean water.The doctor reported that the clean water absolutely transformed the health treatment, to include dramatically reduced the childhood deaths.The contaminated water was causing about 50% of the infant and childhood deaths.The need for clean water was so dramatic that we felt compelled to reach out beyond just Boileau and to help neighboring parishes.You have provided about 15 artesian wells with hand pumps to provide clean water to about 10 to 15 thousand people.They still have to walk for a mile or so and carry the water home in 5 gallon buckets on their heads, but now the water helps them live instead causing disease.

Another critical ingredient in reducing poverty is food.

The Agriculture program is designed to assist people in making more productive use of their gardens.The vegetables and food from their gardens is the primary source of food for most of the villagers.The agriculture project provides hand tools, improved seeds, and instruction on more effective growing techniques.Also, we provide “starter” animals so they can have goats, chickens, and pigs.These people can then feed their families and also have the potential to sell some of the fruits of their labors.An agronomist teaches agricultural skills including water conservation, goat farming, corn production, use of insect repelling plants, soil conservation, and compost heaps.During our trip last September, several of the villagers reported they are able to grow twice as much food.

Last, but not least, a critical ingredient for achieving a self-sustaining community is some form of employment, some way to make a living – economic opportunity.

You might remember hearing a lot about micro-credit when Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for establishing micro-credit programs in Bangladesh.Well,
micro-credit also works in Haiti.The Micro Credit Facility is a very flexible form of help which provides loans to local entrepreneurs.Loans are based on the decision of the loan committee of the villagers, and should help the borrower make money while fulfilling an economic need in the local community.Most loans are under $100.The villagers are very conscientious in managing and reporting to us on their loans.More than 90% of the loans were fully repaid, with interest.The money is then loaned again to other villagers.This allows a continuing replenishment of the loan program.Also, it is helping them learn how to handle a local economy.

Leadership:an ingredient not explicitly identified in formal analysis, but one we consider essential is local leadership.We work through the leadership of our sister parish, St. Therese.

Father Kensy, whom you met last month, is now the pastor of St. Teresa and our focal point in Boileau. We met Father Kensy last September on the most recent visit to Haiti and we have confidence in his ability continue providing the required leadership.  We are, however, nurturing additional community leaders.  We have encouraged Father Kensy to delegate the management of the several programs to villagers so that they can have they experience of guiding programs.  They are each doing great!

That was short review of the assistance in Boileau by the wonderful folks of St. Phillips.I find it easy to praise you and your fellow parishioners since, as a ‘johnny come lately’, I have been a small part of the action.I just joined the group in 2004 and have visited Haiti twice. You all have done so much and have made a great
difference in Boileau.

BUT . . . it is not over . . . which begs the question, ’where are we now?’

Life has improved in Boileau and many of the children are getting educated.The Micro credit program is beginning to provide economic opportunities.But the ‘self-sufficiency’ goal is still down the road apiece.

All 5 of these focus areas, from health to economic opportunities still require our on-going support.Expansion of the education program will be the major project for this year’s fund raiser. All levels of education need to be expanded.Today we cover pre-school to 6th grade.They need to offer some higher level classes as well as some basic trade schooling.They have asked us to fund some training in carpentry and building. Also, we know that adult education is important.Parents need to be able to read and write to help their children. Ongoing support for the school lunches, for the medicine at the clinic, and for the salary of the clinic staff are also vital to maintain the momentum of improvement.

Thus, once again we kick off our annual “Christmas in July” fund raising campaign.It is two-fold:

You can take a tag from the “Giving Garland” and make an immediate donation to fund our self-sufficiency projects. . example, $35 will feed 400 students lunch, now that’s a bargain.$75 can provide a goat that will provide milk and, ultimately, important protein for a family.$200 will provide 2 weeks of essential medicine at the
clinic.

Or you can take a coin box and at the end of every day put your loose change or a dollar bill in the box (which, by the way, is all a Haitian worker makes in one day) and do that until the end of October. At the end of October, bring the filled box here to St. Philip. These funds support our school, the lunch program, pay the doctor, supply medicine for the clinic, expand the agriculture rogram, fund Micro Credit, drill new wells and so much more.

Or you can do both … Challenge yourself to live a little more simply, so others can simply live…take a tag from the garland and a colorful coin box.

We will be in the Narthex after mass to answer any questions you might have.

With that, let me conclude with a huge THANKYOU for all you have done and contributed.Near the conclusion of our trip last September, the Bishop in Les Cayes spoke to us.He ended his talk with these words of thanks which clearly were intended not just for the 10 of us in that room, but for all of you who have given so much.I’ll close with the Bishop’s words.

Only the church can reunite diverse people. This is why the church is universal.I like to repeat often these words from the Creed: “I believe in a Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” And, this is the testimony that you give by your presence here in Haiti. You did not come as tourists.You came as brothers to visit your Haitian brothers.

We do not have great things to offer you. However, we offer you our hearts and our prayers.

Thank you for all you do for Haiti.Thank you for your presence.Let us remain always united.


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.