Three Great Bend Catholics travel
to Haiti to establish sister parish
Jan Frenzl, Jennifer Schartz, and Joleen Tustin recently traveled to Haiti as emissaries for Prince of Peace Parish in Great Bend. Their mission was to make personal contact with Father Roderick Mitial in hopes of building a relationship with a sister parish. They traveled with Star of Hope USA (based in Ellinwood), which has had missions in Haiti for nearly 30 years.
Sponsored by the parish Justice and Peace Commission, the group raised almost $7,500, which will go to the refurbishment of their new sister parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Jennifer, Jolene, and Jan presented $1,000 to Father Roderick, which was used immediately to pay salaries at the parish school, Good Shepherd.
Prince of Peace pastor, Father Reggie Urban, could barely find words to describe the joy he felt in what was accomplished.
“It was just over the top,” he said, proudly. “It was just amazing.”
The three women will share with the parish photos and stories from their trip at a St. Patrick’s Day dinner, Saturday, March 17.
By JENNIFER SCHARTZ
Our mission seemed simple: Make contact with a church in Haiti that could be our sister parish.
What we learned was that any command with the word “Haiti” involved is anything but simple.
The journey actually started more than two years ago immediately after the earthquake in Haiti. The Justice and Peace Commission at Prince of Peace in Great Bend started planning a way to help our Caribbean brothers. Our path eventually crossed with Barry Borror, president and CEO of Star of Hope USA, just 10 miles down the road from us in Ellinwood.
Star of Hope is a Christian, nondenominational organization that has been in Haiti for nearly 30 years. Its mission states that it “equips children across the world with knowledge, physical well-being, spiritual growth and social skills through educational programs and local and international partnerships.”
Through its connections, Star of Hope helped us find Father Roderick Mitial, a priest with three churches and one school in the area of Dubuisson, Haiti. The community is sorely in need of help. A free-will offering following a St. Patrick’s Day dinner last year, hosted by the Justice and Peace Commission, netted $600. The money was sent to Father Roderick who added windows and doors to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a church he was in the process of building. From there, plans began in earnest for Prince of Peace to send emissaries.
Jan Frenzl, Joleen Tustin and I became the three-member team (fondly referred to as the “three magi” by Father Reggie Urban, our pastor) that travelled on Feb. 7 to Haiti for a week long mission. We took with us almost $7,500 from a special collection as well as 150 pounds of donated school supplies.
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It’s early morning in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as we begin our travels to the mountain region where three Star of Hope schools are located. Good Shepherd School, which will become the focus of our Church’s energies, is nearby.
The narrow pathways that serve as roads are congested with children making their daily trek to school. They walk by street vendors who encroach on the roadway and around assorted cows, goats and chickens that wander aimlessly looking for food. The students proudly wear clean, neatly pressed uniforms that identify by color which school they attend. They seem mindless of the trash and garbage in the streets that they must navigate through. They walk mainly in single file because to do otherwise would be dangerous even though it is slow-moving traffic.
At some schools we visit, the entire student population is assembled waiting to greet us; at others, we travel from room to room greeting them. At most schools, children automatically jump to their feet as we enter as a sign of respect. And although there are always lots of genuine smiles, they sit very quietly as we are introduced. When asked if they have any questions, only the bravest will raise a hand.
At the first school, I relate stories about snow and making snowmen through our interpreter, Tony Boursiquot. It was like trying to explain color to a blind person.
Tony asks what subjects they like best and they answer mathematics, social studies and French. There is a huge emphasis on learning to speak, read and write in French, a language that has many similarities to their native Creole. A couple of students divulge some English phrases that they have learned.
The schools we saw were well built and clean and showed little, if any, damage from the earthquake. The thick concrete walls help insulate the rooms from the oppressive heat and a series of small windows allows for ventilation. They are too high on the walls for most children to see out. Some of the schools have rooms that are partially built into the hillside, which offer more insulation, but less ventilation. It’s a trade-off that makes little difference since it is hot everywhere.
No one talks about the heat or complains about it. It is what it is. The kids don’t complain about the long walk to school, either. At least they get to go. However, it’s not as though the heat and long walks don’t take a toll on them. At one preschool room, there was a cot in the back with a 3- or 4-year-old girl asleep on it. We asked if she were sick; no, just tired after her long walk. There will be the long walk home after school for her, too.
We watched as women prepared the school lunch in huge pots over charcoal fire made from wood cut from the few trees left standing. (Soil erosion on the mountainside is a major environmental concern since harvesting too many trees leaves what little topsoil they have vulnerable to rain.)
The lunch ladies make rice and beans every day. Sometimes they alter the meal by adding a brown sauce containing squash or small bits of other vegetables. The amount the children are given to eat is impressive and seems way larger than their stomachs can hold. They shovel it in as if it is their last meal. Unfortunately for some of them, it might be the last one – or only one – of the day.
Teachers, some of whom who actually hold state licenses, stand and teach at the front of the classroom reading from books of which there is only one copy. They write things on the chalkboard and students copy it down and answer the questions.
At Good Shepherd School, which has many more needs than those sponsored by Star of Hope, even very young students stop to sharpen their pencils with a double-edged razor blade they pull from their desks. They may sit five to a bench intended to seat three comfortably.
It is common for certified teachers to make about $100 per month. Uncertified teachers earn around $80. A thousand dollars provided by Prince of Peace Parish allowed Father Roderick to make payroll this month. Had the money not arrived, the teachers and staff would not have been paid. They would have continued to teach because they are committed to the students and they have nowhere else to go. Benefits are unheard of.
As many differences as there are between schools here and in Haiti, we learned that at recess kids are kids. They may be jumping rope on a steep, rocky playground or with a flattened soccer ball, but they are playing. And if all you listen to is the squeals and laughter, you’d think it was coming from a playground back home.
The hand-carried supplies were given to teachers for classroom use, and pens and pencils were personally handed out to individual students. The supplies were donated by honors students at Roanoke (Va.) College through the efforts of Prince of Peace member John Stang, who worked as an intern for Star of Hope last summer.
“It felt really good to give things to little kids that really appreciated it,” said Tustin. “It brought big smiles to their faces.”
We didn’t speak the same language, but the smiles said it all. I felt a little uneasy receiving all of the thanks for the items given by someone else. Of course, the children didn’t know that so we accepted their deep gratitude on behalf of all the generous Roanoke students.
They did all the work and we received all the praise. I hope the photos will help them understand how much their project as appreciated.
Work on the project physically begun by John Stang last summer has finally been completed. However, the ongoing effects of that project will be able to be seen in Haiti for years to come as educated Haitians make their homeland a better place.