Saint Joseph’s First Journey of Hope to Haiti with Food For The Poor
Written by Kiki Latimer
Jim and Kiki Latimer, Maria O’Connor and her son Brendon made this trip.
Jan 10 & 11– We travel to Fort Lauderdale and meet with our contacts and travel group at Food For the Poor (FFP). I also meet with Fequiere Vilsaint of Educa Vision, the publisher of our story Islands of Hope. The purpose of the book, which will be published in English and Kreyol, is three fold: to encourage other churches across the USA to do what we have done, to provide more funding to Saint Joseph’s village in Haiti from the royalties, and to provide a link between the children here and the children there. At Educa Vision we pick up $1200 worth of educational books (bought by Saint Joseph’s Haiti Project) to take to our village school. Most are children’s picture books in Kreyol with English translations in the back.
Jan 13– We fly early morning to Haiti and land in Port au Prince, where 5 million of Haiti’s 10 million live. Our plane descends on a country far more mountainous than I had expected. We land and depart the plane onto the tarmac. As we walk into the terminal a band of drummers greets us with traditional Haitian music and big smiles. Bonjou! Bienvenue! Welcome to Haiti! We struggle through customs with our carry-ons and four large suitcases carrying 120 lbs of medical supplies. Outside we are instructed to huddle together through the crowd for safety as we are herded to our air conditioned bus. I have never felt so white. As we reach the bus a lone Haitian man stands with a trumpet and plays the Star Spangled Banner for us. I have never felt so American. Tears run down my face. I nod my appreciation, hand him a dollar, and get on the bus.
Our first stop is at a gas station for ice for the cooler filled with water and sodas. A short way and we are at FFP’s first feeding station. We drive through the armed and gated entrance. The place is surrounded by razor wire. Here they provide 15,000 meals a day. Did you get that? 15,000 meals a day! Huge vats of corn meal and bean soup are cooking inside in the heat. We begin to ladle out food. Jim brings up a scoop for an old woman and up comes a ham bone. She has won the lottery! She beams with joy! We leave and drive on through Haiti’s capital city. Nothing that I saw in India has prepared me for what I see here. The “living” conditions are beyond belief. The filth, the garbage, the dirt, the open sewers running beside the road, the chaos, the most deplorable conditions, no doubt in the world, and the children, everywhere the beautiful children playing in this cesspool, beautiful thin little children, big dark eyes and hungry faces, little hands wave and smile as we drive by. Lord when did I see you hungry or imprisoned?
We drive through this hell, safe and well fed, our babies and grandchildren well protected in another world. We drive through. But the heart of Haiti begins now to throb painfully within us.
Our next stop is an FFP orphanage for girls. Here children from the streets have been pulled in to food, education and safety. They have prepared song and dance for the visitors that are their only means of support. We are enchanted for an hour as we laugh and hold children who clamor to be touched and hugged. We tour their bedroom and see their one little stuffed animal on each bed. One little toy each. They give us drilled coconuts to drink as we leave and we drive away knowing that these are the lucky ones. Shelter, food, education- provided by you through FFP. And a little stuffed bear to boot.
Our next stop is FFP’s home for sick children. I mean really sick. They lay on beds and in cribs under an outside tented area and are tended by several Haitian woman and some volunteers from the US. I see little arms and legs like toothpicks. Swollen hydrocephalic heads, crippled, some have rashes oozing and we are told not to touch them Little Benjamin toddles up to me. I sit down and pull him onto my lap. He is 3 years old but looks no more than two. Born hydrocephalic he received a shunt and it worked. I am told he could become normal if he now gets physical therapy each week. The therapist comes twice a year. Oh well. He is on my lap and has plans to stay there forever I can tell. He leans his head against my chest. We watch as little one-year-old Rose runs around us. She lost her whole family in the last hurricane and she was dropped off here. Soon it is time to go. I put Benjamin down and walk away. Just like that. I just walk away. We just get on the bus and leave. Ah, you think, says the heart of Haiti beating deeper, stronger within us. Tears run down my face as the bus pulls out. “Cry, the beloved country.”
Jan 14-We travel by small plane to Cap Haitian, where about 1 million live. About a half hour trip over mountains and valleys. By road this trip would have taken us 10 hours. We step out of the plane as a UN helicopter takes off. In the 95 degree heat UN troops roast in full combat gear with assault rifles and guard the airfield as we walk to the terminal. This area is immediately different from what we saw in Port au Prince. More rural, less complete and utter filth; more hope. Ah, I think, here we can make a difference.
We will travel again by air-conditioned bus to our village in Bord de Mer. When we get there a large banner proclaims “Saint Joseph’s Village” and lots of happy faces greet us. A large solar light stands in the dirt area between our village of 14 double houses and that of Notre Dame Village next door. I am ushered into a home where a woman sits holding a newborn baby boy. I stroke his head and little arms. She has given birth here is this little house that you built for her. She has a table and chair; there is no bedding. She and her husband and little son have been housed and fed by you through FFP. He hopes for work in the agricultural project to come.
All FFP housing projects have three components: 1) housing/sanitation/water 2) education 3) a means to survive independently through either fishing/aquaculture/agriculture. We go over to the school and deliver the books that you have sent. Together in Kreyol and English we all sing with the children “Our God is a great and awesome God!” In one and many voices they all say over and over “mesi, mesi” – thank you thank you!” Maria gets all the children together in the dirt courtyard to do the “Hokie Pokie.” They get it and the language barrier has been broken. Lots of laughs and smiles. But still they take us aside and pat their tummies and say “Mwen grangu.” I am hungry. Father Ducan tells them to behave. They are fed here. But they are skinny.
We walk over to the new well and see the clean water flowing into buckets. I am so proud of what all of you have done- Saint Joseph’s in the far away Valley of Hope. I reach into my pocket and pull out the little container of dirt that I dug out from below our statue of Mary in front of our church in Hope Valley. I sprinkle it on the ground of our village in Haiti. I scoop up some dirt to bring back to Our Lady and to all of you. We are joined now both by hearts and by soil.
Jan 15– We travel all day to see the many projects done by Father Martin’s Nativity parish in Virginia. This church is known as “The Giving Church.” Ten years ago Fr. Martin realized that if every family gave 50 cents a day through Lent they could build a village. And they did. Then they did it again. And then the tilapia fish farm, and then the school, and then the fishing village, and then the medical clinic. Every Lent. Every year. (And they still do the Catholic Charity Appeal every lent every year). The medical clinic is where we delivered all of the medical supplies that you bought.
Last of all we traveled out to see a field. Just a field. FFP has purchased 30 acres of field. This is the agricultural survival project associated with Saint Joseph’s Village. It is the hope of Father Martin that we at Saint Joseph’s will join with Nativity to start the farming of this land. I stand in the hot field and do the math This will take 200 families of Saint Joseph’s each giving only $100 in 2009. I twirl in the hot sun and face the camera and smile because I have hope and trust in the hearts of the people in the Valley of Hope. I realize that this beating heart of Haiti is the heart of Hope. And Hope always beats strong.
Our final stop is a semi-filled in mosquito swamp that still holds a several make-shift shacks. Here I meet a mother and her little baby girl Tamay. I reach out and the baby takes hold of my finger. She hangs on tight. Little Tamay you hang on tight. We’ll be back soon. I will take your picture back to the people of Saint Joseph’s in the Valley of Hope. We’ll get you out of the swamp. Little Tamay and her mother are waiting for an FFP house. That $100 I mentioned above will be enough to include a little FFP house on dry ground for Tamay.
Jan 16– We fly back over Haiti to Port au Prince. And from there we fly out to the United States of America. “This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine; but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine… O hear my prayer, O God of all the nations, myself I give thee, let thy will be done.”