August 5-11, 2014
Welcome to the Haiti 2014 e-Journal.
This page chronicles the story and reflections of our Haiti Missionaries during their journey to Haiti. We will keep you informed via Facebook and Twitter to let you know when a new entry has been posted.
We have arrived! After a few flight delays and a long time going through customs we arrived at the house at 5:45 pm. It is good to see people and be back at the house. We didn’t get much sleep last night because we left OLOL at 3:15 am. We are planning on a good night’s sleep and we will be busy tomorrow. Please keep us in your prayers as we will be praying for you.
Wow! What a day! It is good to be back in Haiti and see our friends. Jean Baptiste made us a wonderful breakfast this morning of eggs, fresh mangos, watermelon, and pineapple. We all remarked how wonderful the fruit tastes down here… it is so fresh!
Andy and Peg tried the spicy peanut butter at breakfast and I think they really liked it! It’s one of my favorites when I come down here.
Our first venture out was to a food program for malnourished children run by Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity. Holding babies was the order of the day and for those of you that know me, that was no problem! However, what was the problem was seeing the malnourished children. The first baby I held, Amellie, was 9 months old, but when I held her she was light as a feather and looked to be about 4 months old. She was crying in her bed as I picked her up and started to sway back and forth with her. Eventually, I got her to quiet down and swayed her to sleep. Placing her back in her bed, another baby cried from her bed. She needed a diaper change so I did that first and then cradled her in my arms. She was not as easily lulled to sleep as the first one so I spent some time with her trying to get her to smile. She was also about 9 months old, but skin and bones and again, light as a feather.
I thought of Fr. Bill’s homily on Sunday…. How many of you have said “I am starving”? And have we really been starving? Do we really know what starvation is? These children at 9 months old (and some even younger) know what it is like. They were starving for food. They were starving to be held and cuddled and talked to. They were starving for basic human needs.
I am not going to lie. Walking into that room with rows upon rows of starving children was heart-wrenching! I wanted to cry for each and every one of them. Instead, I prayed. I prayed for the one whose back I rubbed as they slept. I prayed for the one who played
peek-a-boo with me. I prayed for the one who put his finger out and touched Jackie’s finger just like the ET movie. I prayed for the little boy with the cleft-palate that I fed lunch to. I prayed for the little one that Fr. Frank coerced a smile out of. I prayed for the group of teens from Minnesota and from Florida who were there helping to hold and feed babies. Praying helped to take away the sadness and despair I saw and stay focused on the positive.
In the afternoon, we visited Madame Sansan’s feeding program. For 18 years, Outreach to Haiti has been supporting Madame Sansan and her volunteers so that she could feed the starving children in her neighborhood. Madame Sansan is in her eighties and today we met her son Dr. Wilkins, a general practitioner and surgeon and her grandson, Markeson who now help to run the program. We colored pictures out of a coloring book with the children since it is hard to converse with them in Haitian Creole. (Mine is pretty much non-existent and they don’t speak English). It took them awhile to get the kids to put away the pictures and crayons. When asked if they would rather eat or color, they wanted to keep coloring! Kids! J Once they finally convinced them to put everything away, we helped serve them their bowls of noodles and glasses of juice.
This is my 4th time in Haiti and yet today I had two very new and different experiences which remind me of why I keep coming back. It is the simple things like a gentle touch, being rocked to sleep, feeding the hungry, coloring, smiling and acknowledging someone’s presence that so make a difference in this world! I can’t do it for the whole world, but I can do that for my little part of the world! Today was a good day! Bondye Bon! God is good!
Please pray for the children of Haiti today! Thank God for the children in your life, for their health, for their smiles, for their presence!
In addition, pray for Rolland, our driver down here. He gets us safely where we need to be and if you saw the roads and traffic down here, you would see that is no easy feat! Although the roads are getting better (really, they are Fr. Bill!)
And pray for the staff that takes care of us here at the house, Jean Baptist, Jean Marie Rosebert, Jean Jacqui and Fr. Frank.
PS… We also saw Lanite today. She is the woman who lost her leg when the earthquake happened. She cooked for the house for many years so some of you may have heard her name before. She seemed quite reserved and depressed. She has had the chikungunya virus (most of the staff here has had it too) which causes terrible pain in your joints and it can linger for up to a year. It is mosquito-borne so we are all using a lot of mosquito spray. She just looked… defeated! Pray for her spirits to be uplifted.
Blessings to all of you,
The OLOL five, eagerly awaited day three of our mission trip. The day, like most days, was hot and humid but we were ready and able to what the day had to offer with our hearts and minds open to God’s message for us.
Our first stop was visiting the Outreach to Haiti at the Kris Wa Location. One facet of the program was a pharmacy, a laboratory and a clinic where several local folks were waiting to be seen for some medical issue. It was a modest clinic, taking the place of the one destroyed in the earthquake, until another one was to be built. We had the privilege to walk through the neighborhood and visits the community of people. The arduous road traversed through the “village of tents” was quite a challenge, very rugged, rocky, dusty and up and down very steep hills. We needed to walk carefully through the precarious terrain. This path is taken day after day, by the local people often caring several pounds of supplies on their head. The make shift “tents” with tin roofs, and scraps of any materials to be had, was “home” to the families in the neighborhood. There were many greetings of “Bonjous and Salutes” as we passed by some faces were blank and sad, others were full of smiles especially the little boys Peg presented with a match box car which they held close to their chest. It was a small toy in American standards but like Christmas to a child who has nothing.
Fabiola and Tramarc from the Outreach program accompanied us along our way. We were impressed by Fabiola, a strong advocate for children, who strongly admonished a woman who bought and ate a peanut butter bar that is specifically made for malnourished children which she ignored. Fabiola was a force to be reckoned with speaking up for those who do not have a voice.
We came full circle, back to the clinic and met by a little Haitian boy, shy and soft spoken and noticeable with a sunken eye socket where his eye was removed though he had a handsome pair of white frame sun glasses on his forehead. I wonder what was his story. I gave him a piece of candy, Peg gave him a snack bar and Fr. Frank a few coins. He excitedly ran to his Mother and showed his small gifts. God spoke to us in this people we met along our journey.
Our next stop was Haitian Museum. Valen, our excellent guide versed in English, passionately related a tragic yet victorious Haitian history, where slaves revolted and won their independence, the first black nation to achieve their own independence on their own. Today Haiti is an independent country due to the unstoppable slaves who fought, died and eventually won their freedom. They are a proud people who want to thrive.
Included in the days schedule was stopping at the Artisan Craft Co-Op. A variety of crafts are contributed by artisans all over Haiti. The OLOL five filled their baskets with the beautiful hand crafted work of the artists. It was difficult to decide with the many options presented. Ralph filled duffle bags to bring back to OLOL for the Haitian Craft Sale during Advent. We felt like little kids ourselves with our treasures to bring home and was honored to support the handiwork of the Haitian people.
The devastation of the earthquake was deeply experienced as we visited the site of the Catholic Cathedral in ruins with a shell of a building standing. It saddened us to see a beautiful a stately structure and sign to the Catholic population in Haiti in ruins. Yet, amongst the ruins was one remaining stain glass window standing tall on one of the ruins. Symbolically it is a sign of hope the Haitian people hold that they will survive and go on. All is not lost or destroyed.
There is a Haitian proverb that “little by little the bird builds its nest.” That proverb speaks true of the Haitian people. It is a land of many contrasts. Rich and poor, devastation and survival. We are so blessed to be here at this time with these people to teach us precious lessons of living.
We “Haiti Pilgrims” have left it all behind: families, jobs, cars, air conditioning, and other creature comforts. Our Mission: to connect to those we serve in Haiti. To build relationships and bridges. But how? Read on!
Food! We leave behind the processed foods of the supermarket “middle aisles.” We enjoy breakfast of fresh cut mangoes with Haitian coffee. Vegetables diced so artfully and lovingly by our beloved Jean Baptiste, who delayed his retirement to see us through our trip. Fried plantains, that mysterious spicy garnish called picklies, spicy peanut butter, guava puree, passionfruit and papaya juice, fresh avocadoes, and much more.
Faith! We begin every day with a simple Eucharist with Father Frank in the chapel. We fed starving babies with Mother Theresa’s order, the Sisters of Charity. There are so many Haitian expressions that weave faith into everyday life. So many names of places, people, and so many beautiful artifacts that celebrate our Catholic faith as an integral part of life. I can’t wait to attend mass in town on Sunday and hear the prayers and hymns in Creole. This brings me to number three…
Music! Today we visited with Paula Thybulle at her orphanage, Daughters of God. After hearing her inspiring story and catching up on her life, we went to see the girls. The youngest is 3 years old, and there are several high schoolers as well. We had a bona fide songfest with those children, beginning with our singing Siyahamba/We Are Marching. Then they sang a few, including a beautiful song about peace. This led us to a silly camp echo song Boom Chicka Boom, and ended with the classic, Hokey Pokey, which the girls did with gusto! There is a now infamous t-shirt that reads, “What if the Hokey-Pokey really is what it’s all about?” Maybe there’s something to that. We sang. We laughed, we danced, we bonded. Across language, across culture, across ages and world views. It was Mission! It reminded me once again that the power music holds to lift people’s souls, to heal loneliness, to bring joy, and to bond people together.
Play! We brought more Matchbox cars, more coloring books, jump ropes, and bubbles. It was instant party! Instant energy, love, joy, and again bridging the gap between cultures and hearts. These girls don’t live with their birth parents, but even when children are with their parents, play is not the order of the day. Haiti’s families are in survival mode. Must work. Must sell. Must buy water. The daily task of subsisting takes all of their energy.
Love! Hugs abound. Our youngest orphan came into the living room and sidled up next to my son Andy to give him a kiss on the cheek. Children jumped into our arms, smiled, laughed, giggled. What an grace-filled experience for us to come into the lives of these young girls, if only for a day, and share love, joy, connection, music, and play.
Beauty! I keep hearing that Haiti is a land of contrasts. So true. In the midst of hunger, heat, humidity, noise, and garbage, we have seen countless moments of Beauty. The smiles of the Haitian people are some of the loveliest I have experienced: filled with peace and humor. Those who dwell in what are arguably hopeless conditions create beauty as a part of their daily lives. They paint, carve stone and wood, make jewelry, and shape metal into exquisite art. (Check out the sculpture of the Tree of Life over the bubbler at OLOL. That was a gift to us from Deacon Chuck of Norwich Mission House.) Beauty connects us to people, to the earth, and, yes, to God. The urge to create beauty has been universal throughout time, and it connects us still today. Watch for the many beautiful craft items that will come to Lourdes during Advent in the Haiti craft sale!
Hospitality: We made the trip here and brought tokens for our Haiti friends, but the people of Haiti have given us so much more. Even though we differ from our hosts in many ways, we are smiled at and greeted with a warm “Bon jou!” wherever we go. We have been given ice cold beverages, delicious meals, spontaneous hugs, and genuine welcome wherever we go. Jesus tells us to “welcome the stranger,” and that has been done for us every day here in Port Au Prince. It seems that “All Are Welcome” must be the motto here as well.
Thank you all for your support and prayers. Keep spreading the word about the blog, and about the Tweets. The more we learn, the more we connect, the more we know the human face of those we serve and twin with here in Haiti.
We live in a country where most of us have access to pretty much whatever we want. Yet we often make the mistake of thinking we are missing something; that if we just get a little bit more we will be happy. We are so busy trying to get more that we forget to be grateful for the many gifts we have been blessed with.
I have been coming to Haiti every year since 1996 and I still keep learning that same lesson over and over. My Haitian sisters and brothers who have so little are always so grateful for everything.
I was reminded of that today in a very big way.
Haiti, even in all its poverty, is a land of beauty, One place this is most true is in its beaches. The beaches have warm clear water that is a literal playground. What is sad is that most Haitians do not have access to this beauty because of cost and lack of transportation access. Somehow when it takes everything in you to focus on how you may eat today or provide for your family, a trip to the beach just doesn’t seem to fit on your agenda!
Today we took the staff from the house of Outreach to Haiti to the beach. It is something they rarely get to experience. We see how hard they work the whole time we are here, so it was great to provide an opportunity for them to do something they don’t have a chance to do.
I don’t think I have ever seen so much gratitude expressed over something so simple as a day at the beach. I was personally thanked by these five people 8-10 times each. That doesn’t count how many times they thanked the other members of our group.
They went on and on about how much they love us at Our Lady of Lourdes and how happy they are we come to visit but mostly how grateful they are that we care about the people of Haiti!
It was a blessing to see how much fun they had. We all played together in the water, hung out together on the beach, ate lunch together, and rode in the truck together for an hour trip each way. It was a great bonding day for all of us.
Jean Baptiste, Jean Marie, Rosebert, Jeanne, and Rolland are amazing people. They all have families and work very hard to support them. They feel blessed to have good jobs with Outreach to Haiti. Because of those jobs, they are able to have opportunities that most Haitians do not. They live in gratitude for what they have and are always looking to see what they can do for others. They teach me so much. I need to focus on the many blessings in my life and learn to live in gratitude.
I felt blessed today to be a part of OLOL and to share in the joy and gratitude of the staff from Outreach to Haiti.
It was still dark when we got up to go to church today. Mass was at 6:30, in order to avoid the heat. Despite it being so early, Port au Prince was still out in their Sunday best on their way church. We were amazed by this not because it was early, but because of how nice people looked. They all wore clean and dressy clothing and if you’ve seen pictures or been here before, you would know that this is no easy feat with so much dust and so little water.
Mass was wonderful at Our Lady of Lourdes (the Haitian parish). Although the mass was in Creole, it was still fascinating and had several similarities to OLOL of Milwaukee. The first thing we noticed was the magnificent choir and music. They had several talented musicians and the choir really got into the music often swaying and clapping (it also happened to be their 22nd anniversary as a group).
Feeding off of the energy from the choir were 4 young liturgical dancers. Wearing white blouses and skirts with red sashes they were very similar to our own dancers at OLOL. They danced several times and came up with offerings. Also as part of the offerings several more dancing woman brought up baskets of vegetables on their heads accompanied by two men bringing sugar cane and plantains. Not only was it beautiful, but also full of meaning because these were offerings from those who had no money to give. I had to think about that for a while. It was difficult to wrap my mind around the idea of having no money to give. But everyone contributed what they could. Even with the limited wealth, the sheer number of those contributing must counter that.
After mass and brunch we went to see the metal workers. The sheer amount of work they had was amazing and not a single piece was less than beautiful. There were countless trees, angels, geckos, frogs, bible passages and even the beginning Christmas presents and ornaments. The only problem was that if it were just one or two pieces in the US they would be marveled at and scooped up instantly, but when they surrounded you they almost became commonplace. We had to pick out the individual traits and characteristics to appreciate the artwork. You have to find those that pop out at you and would be the most interesting back home.
I’ve been reflecting on this and I hope you do as well, that this blog and our experiences are only limited to the stories and experiences that pop. These stories are the ones that were the cream of the crop. While there are setbacks and poverty, there always the good things to balance those out. We could only experience and report an so many things in such a short amount of time. Things are improving though, and it is a beautiful and proud nation. I will miss it and hope to some day come back.
On our way home… in some ways it is hard to believe. The week went by really fast! In other ways, it will be good to get home to those things we take for granted like a nice hot shower where we don’t have to squeeze our eyes and mouth shut tight so water doesn’t get into them, or air conditioning! Our cool summer doesn’t seem quite so bad after being in Haiti for a week where the temp was in the 90’s and the humidity was 90% or above.
It is hard to leave our Haitian brothers and sisters behind. The house staff said their goodbyes this morning, complete with hugs. Each of them spoke about how much fun they had with us throughout the week (and we still were being thanked for Saturday’s beach outing). They wanted to be sure to tell the entire parish that they are grateful for our support through our twinning relationship. They also reiterated that we need to keep coming down to visit them; all are invited to visit (sounds like our OLOL “All are Welcome” phrase, doesn’t it?)!
People often ask me about my trips to Haiti. It is hard to put into words all that I experience, even after my 4th trip! Pictures can tell a part of the story, and that is what we tried to do here on this blog, but the sights, the smells, the sounds, the times our hearts were touched… that is hard to put into words and pictures. I know we will be unpacking our experience in the weeks and months to come as we all head back into our daily lives, but I know I, for one, will continue my daily life with a slightly different lens. Haiti continues to teach me about gratitude and the importance of faith in my life. Our Haitian brothers and sisters have learned this lesson well and I can only hope that one day I will be considered a good student in these lessons!
While sitting on the porch last night, we were talking about how to get creative in writing for this blog. In collaboration, we came up with this haiku which sums up our trip:
Our Lady of Lourdes
Connecting our hearts to theirs
Outreach to Haiti
We are blessed to have gone on this trip and thank all of you back at the parish for your support – praying for us, reading the blog, following us on Twitter and Facebook, and monetary contributions!
If you wish to help our Haitian brothers and sisters with financial support, please click the button below.
Reflection on Haiti
“Is this the manner of fasting I wish, that a person bow their head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? “
The people of Haiti are fasting – the impoverished, the poor, the victimized of Haiti fast seemingly without end.
– They know, they live, they experience the emptiness, the longing, the yearning which accompanies an authentic fast.
– They fast longing for that day when their cries will be heard by the rich and the powerful in their land.
– They fast yearning for that day when their voices will be listened to in the chambers of their government.
– They fast hoping for that day when the emptiness and desperation of their lives will be given consideration among nations.
The people of Haiti are clothed in sackcloth – the impoverished, the poor, the victimized of Haiti wear the sackcloth castoffs and surplus clothes from other lands.
– The sackcloth which rubs away at their own dignity and worth.
– The castoffs which remind them that they too are as castoffs.
– The surplus clothes which mark them as little more than surplus on the face of God’s earth.
The people of Haiti are signed with the ashes – the impoverished, the poor, the victimized of Haiti wear the dust of their land as ashes upon their lives.
– The dust of Haiti settling upon them still branding them as slaves.
– The dust of Haiti in their eyes blinding them to their own value and worth.
– The dust of Haiti in their mouths leaving an after-taste of despair and desperation.
– The dust of Haiti continually signing them as a people whose lives are little more than ashes.
What baptismal bath will wash away the dust and ashes? What cleansing water will restore their vision? What baptismal robe will replace their sackcloth? Is their only baptism to be found in the treacherous water passage to an unwelcoming land? Must they be buried in the waters of the sea in order to be free?
And is all of this acceptable to the Lord? Is this the kind of fasting the Lord desires? Do sackcloth and ashes become an acceptable offering to our God?
This, rather, is the fasting God wishes:
– Releasing those bound unjustly – setting free the oppressed.
– Sharing bread with the hungry – clothing the naked.
– Sheltering the oppressed and thre homeless.
This is the baptismal bath in which God wants people immersed.
– The life giving water in which God wants people bathed.
– The robe of salvation in which God wants people clothed.
But the people of Haiti – the impoverished, the poor, the victimized people of Haiti are fasting. But their fasting is not of their own choosing.
– They are clothed in sackcloth – but their sackcloth is not what they desire
– They are signed with ashes – but the imposition of ashes is not of their own volition
– Their fasting, their sackclothes, their ashes are but the signs of their need
– A need that cries out for the baptismal ministry of God’s people
– A need that cries out for the fulfillment of our baptismal ministry
– A need that becomes the cry of the poor – and is heard by the Lord in our hearing – cared for by the Lord in our caring – ministered to by the Lord in our ministry.
The fasting, the sackcloth, the ashes of the Haitian people become the Lord’s call to us.
– A call to loose the bonds of the oppressed and break the chains of injustice
– A call for a day acceptable to the Lord.