Thursday, January 26, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip - Friars and Sisters

On our way out of the gates of the compound. Br. Pierre Toussaint,
our CFR Creole translator, is in the center.
At the inspired suggestion of Br. John Mary, right after Mass and breakfast on the last full day of the trip and before starting work, the friars and sisters visited the families in the little sector where we had done almost all our construction work of pouring slabs for the latrines. We had gotten to know the families (who live very close to one another) in the course of the week, and Br. John Mary suggested that we take a little time to greet, share and pray with them. We were blessed to have Br. Pierre Toussaint with us, to speak as one of us in the language of the people we were serving. We shared a few thoughts, gave out Rosaries and prayed a decade in Creole with those gathered together. Here are some of the photos from that visit, as well as two group shots from the day of our departure.

Br. Gerard, aka "Aquaman" with his signature water bottle,
and Sr. Ann Kateri.

Praying and sharing with the families in the little sector where we built the latrines.

Group photo (I'm included in the shadow in the lower left corner).

Our last project on the other side of the hill, overlooking the bay.

Sr. Guadalupe and friend.

Sr. Ann Kateri with a Haitian neighbor.

The friar cement crew with Captain Mike and Haitian workers Renel and Nial.

The 2012 Friar Supplier Haiti Mission Trip CFR contingent.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip - Medical Clinic and Food Handout

Patients waiting to be seen at the clinic (above and below).

While the construction contingent was cutting, hauling, mixing, pounding and pouring, the medical unit was seeing scores of patients on a daily basis. By the time we headed out to work after Mass and breakfast, there were already hundreds of people waiting to be seen. We were blessed to have three doctors (a surgeon, a cardiologist and a family practice physician), half a dozen nurses and several very competent assistants to meet these needs. In addition to dealing with general ailments, there was a special effort to address severely malnourished children using a nutrition rich medical food supplement produced right in Haiti.

Mother and child.

A family posing under the palms.

Charlie and Connie helping an elderly patient.

Pre-screening in the church.
All in all the medical unit saw nearly 2000 patients, in some cases referring and even transporting some of the more serious cases to local hospitals.

Blood pressure station.

Annette, Dr. Henry, Pat and Br. Henry at the records desk with Sr. Ann Kateri.

Dr. Joe beside translator Joseph, and Dr. Henry with a patient.
On the afternoon of our second  last full day in Carrefour both the medical and the construction "divisions" joined hands to help distribute more than 13,000 pounds of food to more than 400 families. Each of the recipients received a card from a local community coordinator, based on the need of the family. Rice, beans, spaghetti, cooking oil, sugar, vitamins and other supplies were given out in large, heavy bags. It was especially joyful for us to see some of the families for whom we were building latrines also on line to receive food for their children.

Charlie at the head of the food handout line.

All hands on deck for bagging food.

Helping an older woman with the heavy bag of supplies.

Happy to be leaving with a full load!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip - Construction Crew and Neighborhood View

The epicenter of activity - the church of the Little Brothers of St. Therese,
Carrefour, Haiti.
After arriving in Port-au-Prince we drove directly to Carrefour, a smaller suburban satellite city. Though part of the same "megapolis" as the capital and not far distance wise from the airport, it still took us almost two hours to wend our way through the city and drive up into the surrounding mountains. The roads went from pavement to dirt to a very narrow single lane hugging the hillside. Our destination was the headquarters of the Little Brothers of St. Therese, a Haitian community founded to serve the needs of the country's rural poor. That was our base of operation for the week.

Brother Xavier working at the wood cutting station in front of the church
with head carpenter Bernie (in yellow),a Haitian worker (in green)
and Fritz the interpreter (in red). The color coding was a huge help in keeping track
of the approximately 70 team members who were working together.

Boys outside the a\safety barrier watching the carpenters.

Br. John Mary (in a gray-coded friar work shirt) with children.
The visiting missionaries combined with the local Brothers, 31 Haitian laborers and about 8 translators to form the team. That doesn't include the cooks and other support workers that made our stay and efforts possible. The larger group was broken into two "divisions:" a construction contingent and a medical unit. While the doctors and nurses saw patients, the rest of us headed into the surrounding village with a goal of building 100 latrines for local families.

The area where the friar-team helped build approximately 12 latrines
(the Caribbean Sea can be seen in the background).

Above: the view downward toward the valley;
below: the stream at the bottom used for washing.

Of the six friars and two sisters that came, five friars worked in various aspects of construction, Br. Pierre Toussaint (of Haitian descent) served as a medical translator, with the two sisters also helping in the medical unit. Br. Crispin, Br. John Mary and I, along with Mike from Long Island and two Haitian workers, Renel and Nail, formed a cement crew. In anticipation of our arrival, the 100 families who were to receive latrines had to excavate pits. We were amazed at the depth (sometimes more than 30 feet) of the holes and the work required to hew them out of the rocky soil by hand. The video below, which shows a man retrieving a hammer dropped into one of the unused holes, gives you an idea of how deep and rocky they are, and of how strong and agile the Haitians are.

Mike, Nial and Renal wiring rebar together to reinforce 
the cement slab to be poured into the wooden frame.
As a crew, our job was to place support beams across the pit, construct a frame out  of plywood and planks for the slab, cut and wire a rebar reinforcing grid, and mix, pour and finish the cement slab. That meant carrying all the materials needed about half a mile from the base to the site over sometimes treacherous paths.

Very proud and grateful (and hot and tired!) after finishing the slab for this man and his family.

The shed placed over the slab by the carpentry team.

Br. Crispin putting on the finishing touches in cramped quarters.
Of course, what made it all worthwhile was knowing that children like those below would benefit  from the dignity and sanitary conditions of having a proper bathroom to use.

Though you can't tell from the photo, these girls were
exceptionally lively and joyful.

A "baby in a basin" from one of the households receiving a latrine.
None of the homes where we worked had electricity (or running water for that matter), so our presence became the center of attention. Wherever we worked a small crowd of onlookers would form to watch our efforts.

Construction spectators (above and below).

It was hard to feel sorry for yourself about having to carry cement, wood, rebar and tools to the sites when we frequently saw women carrying water from the church to their homes.

Br. Gerard had the special task of bringing drinking water to the work sites to keep all of us well hydrated in the sweltering Haitian sun. Of course, this became an opportunity for him to evangelize everyone he met along the way, to hand out holy cards and lolly pops (and, "unofficially," some water too) to people he met along the way. By the end of the week he had almost everyone in the village singing "Jezu, Jezu" ("Jesus, Jesus" in Creole) to a little melody he composed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Friar Suppliers Haiti Mission Trip, Jan 12-19, 2012

Last week I had the privilege and adventure of accompanying 23 lay people, two CFR sisters and five of our brothers on a Friar Suppliers' on a mission trip to Carrefour, Haiti. Friar Suppliers is an organization that donates food and other supplies to the CFR friaries and convents in the New York area on a monthly basis; Charlie and Joan Moran coordinate the efforts out of their flower shop in Lindenhurst, Long Island. It grew out of a group of families committed to praying for and supporting the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal. Every year since 2004, under Charlie's fearless and faith-filled leadership, they have made a mission trip to assist the people of Haiti, travelling twice in 2010 in the wake of the January 12, 2010 earthquake that took so many lives and caused such extensive damage. A small parallel medical team has made additional visits in between the larger annual trips. This year we happened to fly into Port-au-Prince on the second anniversary of that disaster.

Remnants of an emergency tent city near the airport. 
A lot has been done to reorganize the capital in the past two years: the removal of rubble and the relocating of the emergency settlements to house those who lost their homes. But the scars of the earthquake are everywhere, most visibly in the colossal collapsed ruins of large buildings throughout the city.

Ruins of the cathedral (above) and a government building (below)
in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was strapped with serious problems, struggling to climb out from under decades of colonial rule, occupation, dictatorship and gross governmental mismanagement. The earthquake magnified that struggle beyond the breaking point. Even basic services such as trash removal seem beyond the capability of the capital municipal government.

A drainage canal filled with refuse.
And yet in the midst of all this there are people - men, women and children - who go about their lives, fighting to survive and striving to somehow come to grips with the mystery of their own existence and all that has happened to them. But for the Haitians, this is hardly a hapless endeavor. There is faith and music and laughter, and against the backdrop of the often bleak urban scenery, color and life explode in the countless "tap tap" taxis, buses and trucks that weave through the streets. An unmistakable sign of the resiliency of the human spirit and the refusal to give up hope, even in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Colorfully painted and richly adorned "tap tap" taxis (above and below).

In the next few days I'll be sharing additional photos and experiences from the trip.