This recounts part of a recent trip to Haiti by a group from Catholic High School. A second aspect of the trip, which focused on planning for future medical mission efforts, will be the topic of the September Update.
The group returned from Atlanta around 1:30 am, very tired and a little sunburned, after a seven-day trip to see first-hand our mission outreach efforts in Haiti. The group included six girls from Catholic High School and Father Arthur Torres of Sacred Heart Cathedral, whose multiple language skills proved on more than one occasion to be invaluable. The trip was part of an on-going effort to introduce young people from Knoxville to the extraordinary challenges in Haiti, with the hope that some of them will be attracted to participate in the educational, medical and spiritual outreach programs supported by our Haiti Outreach program.
The trip was both physically and emotionally challenging for the girls, most of whom had not previously been outside the United States or exposed to the level of poverty found in Haiti. One goal of the trip was to visit some of the remote “chapels” that are an extension of St. Michel’s, our sister parish in the town of Boucan Carre. The chapels are small outposts in very primitive buildings located in villages throughout the mountains surrounding Boucan Carre. The chapels do not have a full-time priest and are served by a sacristan under the guidance of Father Duportal, the priest at St. Michel’s in Boucan Carre.
On the first full day in Haiti the group made the grueling seven-hour trek over the mountain in one hundred degree heat to Bouly, where we have been operating a medical clinic for about a year. All of the girls should be commended for enduring a hike that included fording a river seven times and trudging across a dusty mountain in the midday heat with virtually no shade. Almost every member of the group was on the edge of exhaustion at one time or another. By hanging together through extreme adversity, they accomplished the most difficult physical and mental challenge of their young lives. They are all much stronger for the experience.
After returning to Boucan Carre, the group stayed in the new rectory, where even cold showers and toilets were luxuries after the conditions in Bouly. Their time was divided between activities that acquainted them with our outreach projects and the opportunity to interact in more personal ways with the Haitian people. Some of the girls painted furniture in the local primary school. Others took a second hike to the chapel at Guillaume, a two-hour trek into an extremely remote section of the Haitian Central Plateau where no one from Knoxville had ever visited. The group was met by more than 100 people from the surrounding area eager to have access to primary medical care.
In between their tasks the girls had the opportunity for a number of unique experiences. They attended “market days” in Bouly and Boucan Carre, where hundreds of people come to buy and sell produce, animals and a wide variety of household commodities. The sights, smells and sounds of the Haitian market are like nothing in America. The girls sought refuge from the heat by swimming in the river. On their last day, they went to the little home of a severely handicapped Haitian young man, located deep amid the corn fields and coconut trees away from the dirt road. They presented him and his mother with a new wheel chair--brought from Knoxville--that will provide a modest improvement to a difficult life. The last evening was spent at the convent of the nuns, who prepared a traditional Haitian meal that all agreed was the best of the trip. The trip back to the airport in Port au Prince included a stop at Mother Teresa’s Sister of Charity orphanage. The chance for each of the girls to hold one of the dozens of tiny babies, many of whom had been left on the doorstep of orphanage, was the most powerful moment of their time in Haiti.
The girls will likely not fully absorb the impact of their trip for some time. While each girl brought back a different set of memories and experiences, all returned with a greater understanding of how one-third of the world lives, and how Knoxville’s Haiti Outreach program is making a lasting difference in a small piece of that world.
The next meeting of the Haiti Outreach group will be at 6:30 on Thursday, August 3 in the library of Sacred Heart School. Those wishing to learn more about our program can visit our website at haitioutreachprogram.com