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Mission Trip To Haiti Travelogue

By: Rev. Martin Hawley

Day 4 in Country — Wednesday (February 20, 2008):

Awoke this morning as is often the case here around 4:00 am with the sound of many roosters crowing — this in the middle of the downtown area! I decided it was too early and went back to sleep until 6:30. Alan, Crawford, Francis, Gerard, Jean Paul, and I met at the hotel restaurant for breakfast at 8:00 am and then departed for a visit to one of the Catholic schools in the area — St. Mary Magdalene.

At first, we had trouble negotiating the long Souls Winning van to make the turn from the narrow side street into the gate for the school’s compound. Then we realized after we failed to get the gate open that we needed to call the school for help. Francis called and was told that we needed to enter by the main gate, located just off the wider street. We turned back around the corner and after a Haitian vendor moved her portable vendor table out of the way, we entered the gate and parked in the large compound.

We were immediately greeted by Francis’ priest friend (who has responsibility for the school and the church). He was very excited to show us around the entire facility, which said something loud and clear about Francis’ influence among the Catholic leadership. We began with a tour of the school buildings and the individual classrooms. We were permitted to walk into several of the classrooms while instruction was taking place. As we did so, Crawford would often point out to me how many of the children did not have glasses to help them to see the chalkboards or read their lessons.

Our tour included the kitchens, where the meal that day consisted of rice, sauce, and beans. We were also shown the washing system for the children, providing water to drink for many students as well. It resembled a long row of water fountains emanating from the one continuous concrete slab or table, arranged in a double row of fountains. The whole arrangement resembled a sculptural modernist fountain.

The priest showed us their new construction project and answered my question concerning the tuition costs to the students’ parents. For this school in the poor neighborhood area, a child may attend for the rough equivalent of $20.00 US per year. This includes the daily meal, but of course does not include uniforms (which are generally made by the mothers), books, supplies, or snacks.

While we toured the classrooms, Crawford asked me if I noticed that as we went into the more advanced classes — i.e. from the 1st to 3rd grades — that both the size and the number of girls in the classes dropped dramatically. This is because even in the cheaper schools, it is very hard for the families to have all of their children involved. As they have more children or lose income sources, they have to make tough decisions about which of their children may stay in school. In those cases, it is preferred to keep the boys in school. One interesting side note is that we met Jean Paul’s former teacher at this school. He was still teaching new generations of Haitian children.

As we walked from the school buildings toward the auditorium (which doubles as the sanctuary), we stopped in a large open courtyard and were told that a new church building was planned for the property. The children at this time came out into the plaza for a recreation break. Typically schools in Haiti require uniforms, which are made by parents or by seamstresses in the neighborhood. These school uniforms are a badge of honor, not unlike the schools in England. The student’s school can be identified immediately by the style and colors of the uniform. (Jean Paul already has patterns and designs for the school uniforms they will use at Reformation Hope.)

There were more than 100 students at this time playing in the courtyard — some of them with snacks or flavored drinks (the one’s, that is, whose parents had the money to provide them with such things). I began taking pictures of these children and they quickly swarmed around me in order to both be in the pictures and to see the results.

Our next stop was at the Catholic church constructed for the wealthy, located a little further away (but under the same priest’s authority as the “poor” school/church). Interestingly, this wealthy church was to have been Francis’ charge — had he completed his ordination into the Catholic priesthood! This particular church lies within a section of homes that would sell for between $300,000 and $1,000,000 US. Only the wealthy attend services at this church. It is a gorgeous structure, painted in a lovely green and surrounded by lush tropical gardens filled with flowers. There is also an extensive compound of beautiful buildings adjoining the main sanctuary. The interior of the church was designed by an Italian architect and features incredible stained glass and wonderful, patterned floor-tiles.

We left the Catholic church in order to get to our scheduled appointment with Food for the Poor. This is where things got very interesting today. Crawford had mad an appointment with Guy Williams, an administrator at this agency, which provides food and supplies to about 4,000 orphanages and other charities in Haiti. Jean Paul had tried three previous times to get approved for their distribution list, but each time they claimed to have lost his application and his original paperwork.

We met with Guy, who seemed glad to see us and speak with us about ministry and about Food For The Poor’s work in Haiti. We told him of Jean Paul’s plight and asked him for assistance. Guy said that he would have his staff try to locate Jean Paul’s application. We were then sent back out into the large waiting area near the entrance to the facility.

As it turned out, we waited for a total of three hours for things to get rectified. About two hours into our waiting, Francis realized that the agency staff were not doing anything to help us (or couldn’t figure out what to do) and so he boldly confronted the receptionist and eventually led both Jean and Crawford back into Guy’s office. We had prayed just moments before that the Lord would work in this situation and sure enough things began to happen.

Guy took the men upstairs to a higher level of management and eventually they emerged with consent for Jean Paul and Reformation Hope Haiti to go on the approved distribution list! Thanks be to God for answering our prayers so quickly and decisively! Jean Paul went around back of the facility to the warehouse, where he was given mattresses, blankets, shoes, clothing, and cleaning supplies for the orphans.

We returned to the hotel about 3:00 pm and relaxed for a couple of hours before heading off to see some schools up the mountain that Crawford had been working with for some time. Seeing the schools was not really such an adventure, as was the travel getting to and from them! On the way up the mountain, we drove uphill at at least a 20% incline, on roads that were little more than heavily rutted and pot-holed dirt.

While on this trip, we were taken to another church in process of construction along a slope covered by wild vegetation and lots of small pieces of trash. The strength of this structure was impressive, using huge amounts of rebar to reinforce the poured concrete and building block. We learned that this open, sloping area was the place of many political executions in the days of former regimes.

On our way up one of the mountain roads to a school named St. Andrews, we met Jean Raphael Ceon and he showed us one of the homes he was building. I was impressed at the professional quality and the beauty of the design. Jean Raphael will make a fine contractor for our Reformation Hope Education Building!

We eventually reached St. Andrews School near the top of the mountain at nightfall. It was both fascinating and a little frightening to sit inside the school that night and see absolutely no lights anywhere on the mountain, but at the same time to hear thousands of Haitian voices as they continued conducting business, socializing, and working long into the evening hours.

The way down from St. Andrews was quite steep and treacherous on pitch-black mountain paths, all the while dodging people, pets, farm animals, and other vehicles. It turns out that there are actually two traffic lights, recently installed (at several hundred thousand dollars each) close-in to the downtown, not far from the airport and the UN compound. Other than those two intersections, whether out in the country or deep into the city, there was essentially no lighting on the roads. By the grace of God we did arrive back at the Travel Lodge safely.

At 11:00 pm on Wednesday night, there was a full lunar eclipse, which was very visible here in Haiti. Of course, I thought of all the superstition and voodoo in this place and wondered what was going on within their secret societies of voodoo priests. Crawford and Jean Paul explained to me that people in Haiti stay off the streets from around 11:00 pm to 3:00 am, as the voodoo priest teach that that time is the time when the Devil is roaming about troubling people. It is the time of greatest peril according to the thinking of the Haitians.


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