April 2012

Over spring break 2012, Dave Burgess, Chris Kestner, and Mark Bonnema traveled to Haiti to visit with our partner parishes and continue to build the relationships that support our efforts to bring some relief to our Haitian brothers and sisters. The primary purpose of this trip was to evaluate the results of our donations to date, to look at the needs in each area for ongoing projects, and to reinforce the importance of transparency and accountability for the support that St. Paul’s parishioners can provide. The most important thing that we do on these trips is to represent the parish of St. Paul and the love that our parish has for the Haitian people. We bring them hope, and that is in short supply in Haiti.

We were fortunate to spend the first day of our trip, Friday April 6th, touring Port au Prince with the student group from Catholic Central and West Catholic. One of the highlights of the day was stopping in at the Cathedral, which had been almost completely destroyed in the earthquake and still stands in ruins. We happened to get there just as a very enthusiastic prayer service was in full swing. Watching the Haitian people pray with all the passion and faith they can muster in front of the crucifix, which somehow remained standing through the earthquake, and now remains in the shadow of the ruined cathedral, was really powerful.

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We stayed at Gertude’s orphanage guest house on Friday night, then on Saturday it was time to hit the road for an extended tour of Haiti. This report will spare you the details of the difficult and occasionally surreal nature of some of our travels, and will focus in on the key findings related to the purpose of our trip.
St. Louis King of France parish, Pointe Raquettes, LaGonave Island, Haiti
St. Paul’s members have visited this parish many times on past trips, but since then Fr. Roosevelt has moved on and Fr. Tony Chadique has taken over. Fr. Tony is a former judge who couldn’t live with the corruption in the Haitian legal system, so he became a priest. He is no-nonsense, strong personality who is also very kind, funny and easy to work with. Some observations:
  • Fr. Tony has established a number of chapels, schools, and clinics throughout his greater area of responsibility. Even if it is nothing more than a overhead structure made from sticks and a blue tarp (see pictures), he has established a place for people to gather and build their community.  He has great plans for building more permanent structures over time, and just needs some help to make those dreams a reality. In a number of these locations, the land needed for these buildings has been donated and the church holds legal title to it.

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  • We had sent $2,000 as the first installment of the Bucks for a Bag program, and while we didn’t get receipts we verified to our satisfaction that this money went to buy food for the schools that is under Fr. Tony’s responsibility.
  • We will send another $5,000 for Bucks for a Bag food purchases, with the method of distribution up to the parish.
  • There are many projects that can be clearly defined, funded and executed here.  We are also very confident that the money we send will be spent as we direct, with clear verification via receipts and pictures provided.
  • On LaGonave island in the city of Anse-a-Galets, we bought a couple of 25kg bags of rice to verify pricing. The cost came out to right around $24, almost exactly what we had spent in Port de Paix last summer. Good to see this type of stability.

St. Louis de Montfort parish, Port de Paix, Haiti

Fr. Ronald Jeannitte (see below) took over for Fr. Rams, and Don Harmon and Mark Bonnema spent some time with Fr. Ronald last summer to start the relationship and gain an understanding of how our funding of projects needs to work. We sent money to Fr. Ronald from the “Bucks for a Bag” campaign for the clinic roof and for tuition for the orphanage that he is responsible for.

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Our observations:

  • The money from “Bucks for a Bag” (the $2,000 initial installment and the subsequent $5,000 payment) went to buy rice and oil, and the food was distributed to the most needy members of the parish community over a period of 2 months. We were given receipts for the purchases, and some pictures.
  • We had provided $2,400 to rebuild the clinic roof.  After some extensive discussions between Fr. Ronald and the St. Montfort parish council, they decided to do a lighter redo of the roof and use some of the money to pay for the clinic nurses, who hadn’t been paid in 8 months. We were comfortable with this decision, but stressed to Fr. Ronald and the parish council that we would prefer to discuss any changes to the plans before they happen rather than after. There is a tentative plan to build a completely new clinic with help from Mel Harvey and his parish in Iowa. Here is the refurbished clinic:

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  • The benches that a number of St. Paul’s members had worked on in 2010 were finished with the $1,600 that we sent down in December. Fr. Roosevelt’s builder, Jeff, was able to build a total of 50 benches and desks from the materials that we had sent in 2010 and the money sent last December.

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  • The children living at the St. Montfort orphanage needed money to send the16 children to school for this year and the St. Paul’s Knights of Columbus sent down $800 to cover the cost. I had used the standard tuition figure of $50/year to estimate the total. It turns out that $50 is the cost for elementary school, for children in high school or trade school it is quite a bit higher. In order to keep the children from being sent home from school, Fr. Ronald needed $2,200 for the rest of the school year. A benefactor was able to cover this cost, keeping these very needy children in school and giving them hope for the future!
  • The most immediate need at the St. Monfort parish is for new sets of batteries for the rectory and the church. These batteries are a common way to power lights, microphones, and other electrical needs without running a generator. When the city power is on, an inverter charges the bank of batteries. When the city power is then off, the batteries can be used to draw electricity. The batteries that the parish currently has are no good, so they have to run the big diesel generator for most of their electrical needs, including Mass. This is very expensive. To replace the 16 batteries to provide this capability for the church and rectory will cost $2,400 (16 batteries @ $150 each). A donor has been located for this project.

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  • The second project that St. Montfort would like help with is the roof on the rectory guest house. It has been leaking for a long time, damaging the building structure and making it difficult to use for its intended purpose, housing people working for the parish and parish guests. Fr. Ronald had his builder create a detailed estimate of the cost, roughly $12,000. We will discuss this project during our committee meeting to see if we can fund it this fiscal year.
  • We are confident that we can continue to send money to Fr. Ronald, and the projects will be executed and documented with the accountability and transparency that we need.
  • One of the highlights of our visit to St. Montfort was attending a candlelight prayer service led by Fr. Ronald. We began with singing and a very enthusiastic prayer time led by men they refer to as animators, then a candlelit walk around the local streets. Then lots of preaching, singing, praying…didn’t understand a word until we heard the word “Michigan”…Fr. Ronald thanking us for visiting, bringing hope and support to the people of Port de Paix.  A fantastic, insanely hot and sweaty, and very moving evening.

haiti-2012-photo9 haiti-2012-photo10(Truly fantastic photos taken by Dave Burgess.)

Fr. Roosevelt, Port au Prince, Haiti

Our last visit was to Fr. Roosevelt at his new parish about an hour south of Port au Prince. This parish is in the mountains south of town, along a long mining road. Since Fr. Roosevelt moved from St. Louis King of France back to Port au Prince, we have discussed whether or not we can support three parishes in a meaningful way. That question is still open. In the meantime, we have provided a little support to Fr. Roosevelt in his new parish.

Our observations:

  • The money from “Bucks for a Bag” (the $2,000 initial installment) went to buy rice and oil, and the food was distributed to the most needy members of the parish community. We talked to the men who went into town to purchase the food. They did not get the receipts that we need, but we were satisfied with this transaction. We reiterated for Fr. Roosevelt that we will need receipts for the remaining “Bucks for a Bag” money ($5000) and he said he would go to town himself if needed to get the receipts (not really what we wanted, he has enough to do).
  • We explained to Fr. Roosevelt that we are still discussing whether or not we can support three parishes and he needs to know that an ongoing relationship with St. Paul the Apostle is not yet a given. He understands, and looks to God to figure it out.
  • Fr. Roosevelt has an orphanage up north of Port au Prince where he keeps the 13 children he brought with him from LaGonave. We had sent him $2,000 to provide food for the children and tuition for the year.  A visit to the orphanage found the children to be quite well cared for and all in school. We quizzed them about school, what their favorite subject was and so on. It was gratifying to see children we have met before out on the island as they grow up.

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  • The church building collapsed in the earthquake, so Fr. Roosevelt celebrates mass in a tent. A nice tent, but a tent nonetheless. He hopes to rebuild the church, although that is a major fund raising task and requires a very concentrated effort from his benefactors. He shrugs and says “God will provide”.

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  • We are confident that we can continue to send money to Fr. Ronald, and the projects will be executed and documented with the accountability and transparency that we need.

Then we were on an American Airlines plane and back to our amazingly comfortable lives. After a week in the dust bowl that is Haiti, seeing very little green, it was very compelling to fly over the Florida everglades, the green hills of Tennessee, the endless farmlands of Indiana, and the unmatched beauty of Lake Michigan, holding more fresh water than a Haitian person will see in a thousand lifetimes.  Sometimes it makes me wonder why we are so richly blessed.

Overall a very good trip, although physically quite demanding. We advanced the relationships and strengthened our ability to connect the needs of our Haitian brothers and sisters with the generosity and stewardship of our parishioners. We can offer them the opportunity to share their blessings with the poorest of the poor, and we can ensure that every dollar will go to direct benefit of the people, not a dime will go to overhead. We will also verify that the money they give will go exactly where they want it to go.

If you are interested in joining a trip in the future please contact Mark Bonnema.