|The neighborhood in Carrefour where we worked, and Port-au-Prince Bay in the background.|
Though I have visited and served in many developing countries, still the recent Friar Suppliers’ mission trip to Haiti was an amazing and very moving experience for me.
|Br. Crispin and friend.|
I’m not sure what I expected to find in Haiti. I have been aware for some time that it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with entrenched, grave and widespread obstacles to its well-being and development – so much so that it was hard to understand how it could even continue to function as a society. And on top of that precarious situation, the earthquake of January 12, 2010 caused incomprehensible destruction. Two years later to the day, when we arrived in Port-au-Prince, the scars of the earthquake (for example the ruins of the cathedral and government buildings) were evident, though almost of all the rubble and emergency tent-cities had been cleared away. And the presence of huge amounts of refuse in the streets and canals clearly pointed to a government incapable of meeting some of its people’s most basic needs.
|Nial and Renel.|
Yet what I did find, surprised me. In the midst of this overwhelmingly challenging situation I found people – men, women and children – struggling to survive and emerge from the physical and societal wreckage, but with an amazing resiliency, hope and even joy. One of the first signs of this resilience was the countless colorful and ornately decorated “tap tap” mini-buses and trucks that wend through the capital streets. They are so vivid that they seem almost to jump out at you against the bleak, grey backdrop of much of the city. Even more was the friendliness and eager happiness of the people. And instead of any traces of spooky voodoo, I found frequent indications of the Christian foundation underlying the country. This set the stage for all that we did and experienced during the rest of the trip.
|Fr. Herald and friends.|
The more specific setting for our activity in Haiti was the periphery of Carrefour, a suburb of Port-au-Prince – the outskirts of the outskirts, if you will – a dirt poor settlement that stretches up the sides of the hills that flank a small river valley below. Somehow it made sense (and I think it was really the only response that makes Gospel sense) that we would work really hard and sweat in the hot Haitian sun side by side with those we had come to serve. In my case it meant hauling tools and supplies to homes where we framed, mixed and poured cement slabs over the impressively deep pits that the local people had already dug out of rocky soil, over which the carpentry crew would later construct a shed to finish off the outhouse. Working shoulder to shoulder in this way over the course of a week in a relatively concentrated area cemented a relationship with the people that went far beyond something that only words would have produced.
|Neighborhood children (above and following four photos).|
|Foodline from below (the church is in the background on top of the hill).|
The most moving moment for me came when I met a man on the path while hauling supplies. To my surprise he spoke English and said his name was Sylvester. Then – to my complete surprise – he suddenly asked me: “Do you love me?” I was stunned for a moment before responding with a definitive “Yes!” “Why?” he asked me, and I paused again. “Because God made you,” I replied quietly but firmly. This time he paused, and then said with a genuine smile, “Thank you,” and walked away without asking me for anything more. It was a special joy to see him again the day we did the food distribution.
|Ken and Fr. Herald: "Whadda ya gunna do?"|
As I shared in one of the Masses I had the privilege of celebrating each morning for the team, the trip was really one frame in the slow-motion reverse earthquake that Jesus came to set in motion by inaugurating the Kingdom of God to undo the devastation of sin. But it produced an interior tectonic plate shift of conversion in the hearts of the team members and a tremor of hope in the hearts of those we served.
|Finishing off the slab.|
|A sense of accomplishment.|
|Greg in the doghouse, that is the outhouse.|