February 2013

What a great trip! With 5 first timers, the purpose of the trip was tw fold – to advance our collective relationships with the priests and their parishes, and to expose the new people to as much of Haiti as we could pack into a week. And we packed a lot in!
One of the more notable elements of this trip was that, in addition to three people from St. Paul;s (Ben Doctor, Meg and Nate Whitmore), our team included Jim Townsend and his daughter Katie, from Holy Trinity. Holy Trinity has been supporting St. Louis King of France (SLKOF) parish in Pointe Raquettes for a number of years, and Jim has been the leader of their efforts. Nobody from Holy Trinity had yet been to visit Haiti, so this was a nice opportunity for Jim and Katie to see first hand he needs and to begin to build a relationship with the people. The overwhelming consensus was that, in addition to having an compelling emotional and spiritual experience, everyone had a lot of fun as well. I don’t know if this had anything to do with the Prestige, but it didn’t hurt to stay hydrated.
group
(Patrick Alziphat, Fr. Roosevelt, Mark Bonnema, Ben Doctor, Megan Whitmore, Nate Whitmore, on the roof of Fr. Roosevelts rectory.
A fantastic view of Port au Prince can be seen from here)
So, a little detail on our activities and experiences:

Friday February 22

Travel was disrupted pretty heavily (left Grand Rapids at 2am to catch a 6am flight from Detroit), but we all made it to Port au Prince safely and on time. We spent the night at Gertrudes Guest house. The new dormitories look beautiful. This is always a good way to ease into the travel experience that is Haiti, as it is generally a little more comfortable than the outlying areas.

Saturday February 23

Left for Miragoane to catch the boat to La Gonave. Our driver (Paul), while clearly a very talented driver who was intimately familiar with the road between PAP and Miragoane, was a little too, let’s just say, enthusiastic for our comfort level. Patrick  subsequently arranged for a driver more willing to put our comfort level ahead of his schedule (name was Dealer, for reasons we elected not to delve into). For future reference, the car (a 10-12 person minivan) and driver for this trip was $100. We arrived at Miragoane, and instead of going from the primary dock that we had used before, we used a little side dock that was a little less hectic. Worked out nicely. The boat that Fr. Tony arranged is a roughly 22 footer with twin outboards, and been donated by Food for the Poor, and is now owned by a private “captain”. They had life jackets, and some of our group brought their own. The trip went smoothly, roughly two hours to the dock at SLKOF. As it would turn out, Fr. Tony did not give us a price for the boat ride, he said it was on him. He had talked the captain into doing the trip for the gas, so we ended up sending him $150 each way for gas. Saturday night sleeping in the big tent looking over the South Canal of the Gulf of La Gonave, we experienced a first – we had to turn off the fans during the night because we were too cool!

Sunday, February 24

Fr. Tony had us sit on the side of the altar during 7:30 mass. His delivery style is very rapid and very stern. Not understanding the language, it feels like he is clearly lecturing the parishioners. Patrick explained after that some of what he was saying echoed the homily we heard last year, that he is doing a lot for the people and they don’t appreciate what he is doing. After a couple of observations and some background information from Patrick, we would characterize the relationship between Fr. Tony and his parish as uneasy. We couldn’t help but notice that the church was only about half full during Sunday morning mass. It seems that much of the previous congregation has wandered away, and the people that are there followed him from his previous location. We spent a good deal of time touring the school, clinics, chapels etc., will sum up the key points as follows:
  • The brick maker that Holy Trinity donated a while back was there, in good condition and being used. They are making their own bricks for projects as they are able to complete them

bricks

  • The clinic is being expanded with a lab, expanded dispensary, and treatment rooms. Their facilities remain quite crude – one of their requests was for a birthing bed/table given the condition of the existing one (see picture). They have a doctor (Ricky, I believe) who was educated in Cuba, that the government is paying for for a couple more months. Their primary needs are for antibiotics and other medications. Ben is evaluating the possibility of supporting the medication needs of this clinic to some level.

clinic

  • We were pleased to see that the chicken coop is still standing, in good condition, and has two turkeys and one rooster living in it. Not clear on where this may go, but it’s something.

turkey

  • A very interesting topic was micro-lending. Fr. Tony and Tony, along with a couple others, were suggesting that with $50,000 ($1,000 to each of 50 people), they could make loans to fund small businesses and seed economic growth. We had extensive discussion that micro-lending tends to be much smaller loans, and that beginning a program in the $5,000 – $10,000 range was much more achievable. The core problem with this is that Fr. needs an accountant to both run the program and to manage the finances of the parish, and without a larger program he can’t pay that person. We didn’t resolve this, but expressed a lot of interest as a big step towards economic self-sufficiency. One of the local guys runs a nightclub and also shows soccer matches at a price. He wants to borrow $1,000 to buy batteries and an inverter so that he can run his business without running the generator, which costs him a lot of money. We got pretty close to agreeing to this, with the stipulation that he and Fr. Tony write up a formal agreement. They did, and Patrick read it after dinner. I asked that they add the key phrase that I had requested earlier, that if the borrow did not keep up the payments, the materials would become Fr. Tony’s property. Fr. Tony went off on an extended, fairly heated explanation that boiled down to this: he is responsible for all of his people’s problems and giving them help, and can’t be in a position where he is taking things from people. The fundamental issue is that the priest can’t be in business with his people. So, we currently have not agreed to this project.
  • The highest priority need that Fr. Tony has is to begin work on a school up in the hills. We saw this location last year, where they are holding classes in a stick structure with tarps for a roof. Apparently (this is an important point) when I expressed interest in this project last year, Fr. Tony assumed that I was saying we would proceed. He then told the people that the project would proceed, and it seems that he is therefore in an awkward position. We need to be very explicit and clear on what we do and don’t commit to. The pictures below show the current structure which is school, chapel, and medical clinic.

school-1

school-2

  • Jim Townsend and I agreed that we would do our best to fund the first portion of this project, two rooms for $5000. While we were not able to get an itemized estimate of costs, we were comfortable that we had a common understanding of what would get done for the $5000. Funding this project should be a fairly high priority for us.
  • After our extensive discussions about accountability and the need for receipts, I agreed that we would wire to Fr. Tony the $8,000 for SLKOF’s share of the Bucks for a Bag money. I need to include in this wire the money we are paying him for our accommodations and the boat trip, I will coordinate this with Sue Hooper.
  • So we need to provide an answer on the school building for $5000, the funding for the $1— microloan to Rubens, and one other item. One of the kitchen women asked that we provide a letter of invitation so that she could apply for a visa to come to the U.S.. I told her we would discuss it with the committee and give a response.

Monday, February 25

  • Monday we spent our time touring and a fair amount of time with the kids in the school attached to the church. It was great to see the “green-eyed girl” (her name is Erica) who had been featured prominently in some of our communications to our parish. She is doing well, working hard in school, and looks quite healthy. I also found the tall girl in the picture below that we had met in 2009, she is also doing well and attending school.

girls-1girls-2

Tuesday, February 26

  • Early morning on the boat through choppy waters. An experienced captain and a lot of prayer ensured a safe journey. Then the car ride back from Miragoane to PAP.

boat

  • Car ride from Miragoane back to Port au Prince was thankfully much less dramatic than the drive out. Flight up for Port de Paix was on time, it appears that more flights are available within Haiti now, which is helpful.

plane

  • After dinner on Tuesday, we attended the prayer service at St. Montfort. During Lent, Fr. has a prayer service (I believe it is every night) that has to be experienced to be believed. To say that it is enthusiastic and very hot doesn’t do justice to either word. The church is packed, the singing is beautiful, the preaching intense, and the Holy Spirit is making his presence known.

prayer-service

 

Wednesday, February 27

  • Wednesday morning we packed into the truck to see a couple of the outlying chapels that Fr. Ronald is responsible for. The second community we stopped at was Mosquito Bay, which I had last seen in 2009. Among the many needs of these communities is the need for reconstructing their churches. As the buildings deteriorate from weather and time, there are few funds to repair or replace them.

chapel-1 chapel-2

  • One of the nicest surprises of our trip was our visit to Mosquito Bay. One of the poorest communities we have seen in Haiti, it is also on a beautiful ocean bay. The community treated us to a wonderful lunch on the beach.

mosquito-bay

  • Fr. Ronald is very organized, and keeps great records of what his expenses are. He reviewed this book of expenses for the St. Montfort orphanage, where he cares for 15 students of varying ages in very difficult conditions. The orphanage weighs heavily on his mind, as he has limited resources to care for the kids. Many thanks to the St. Pauls Knights of Columbus, who have been supporting the orphanage for several years now. The money is very much appreciated, and well spent!

receipts

 

Thursday February 28

  • Off to the airport for the early flight back to Port au Prince. We spent some time with Fr. Roosevelt, and shared a great meal. One of the projects we had been able to help him with was his truck – he got hit by a jeep whose brakes had failed, and did substantial damage for both front and back of the truck. Thanks for a generous donor, the truck now looks great!

truck-1 truck-2

  • Then off to Fr. Roosevelts orphanage to visit the kids. Fathers adopted daughter, Maryann, lives here with 12 other children that Father has taken on over the years. We have known several of these kids for years now, and it is great to see them growing healthy and strong, and attending school. The girl on the left is Layla, who I first met 3 1/2 years ago now out on LaGonave, Maryann is in the middle and Emyion is on the right.

girls-3

Then time to go back home, and do what we can to make life a little easier for our brothers and sisters in Haiti, for whom life can be a difficult daily struggle for survival.

If you’re interested in joining a future Haiti trip, please contact Mark Bonnema.