Hope comes to Haiti
Wednesday, Aug. 8
A visiting priest from Haiti, Father Jean Monique Bruno, greets Nancy Gatti, during Thursday’s Northern Haiti Hope Foundation reception at Airlie Confrence Center in Warrenton. Photo by Adam Goings
In August 2008, on Carrie Evans’ first trip to Haiti, she flew from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien in a plane held together by bungee cords.
Duct tape ensured that the door stayed closed. The windows of the plane would not shut.Then, making the flight even more exciting, an engine quit while she flew over the mountains.
Despite this nerve-wracking beginning, the pastor of Warren - ton Presbyterian Church fell in love with the Haitian people. “The first time I went, I left a piece of my heart there,” Evans said. “God did not intend for me to come back whole.”
Eighty percent of Haitians live in poverty, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency figures. Evans said that the unemployment rate in northern Haiti, where Jim Lavin, Patricia “Trish” Putnam and she work,is 85 percent.
Workers make about $3 a day. Haiti has the dubious distinction of being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Northern Haiti is the “forgotten Haiti,” said Evans.
Money poured into Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake, which occurred during one of her trips. According to Evans, the crime, drugs and violence prevalent in Port-au-Prince is less intense in northern Haiti.
“It’s not a black hole,” said Evans. Making a real difference is possible in northern Haiti.
Members of the Warrenton Presbyterian Church put solar panels and a generator for electricity in the clinic in Terrier Rouge, and raised $15,000 for food distribution. They dug two wells and repaired several existing wells.
In addition to supporting triplets, the congregation donated $25,000 to build a high school. And, they stock a pharmacy.
Evans wants to give more.
“I can’t give away enough to thank God for all the blessings he gives me,” said Evans.
Putnam sponsored a Haitian girl. After 12 years, she and her son wanted to meet Ganise . Putnam said she thought she would go to Haiti that one time and that would be it.
“Boy, was I wrong,” Putnam said. The nurse practitioner returned nine times to share her knowledge and skills.
Warrenton Baptist Church, to which Putnam belongs , volunteered in Haiti for about 25 years. A core group of about 15 regularly travel there as part of Friends of F ort Liberte, a Christian organization.
They work in the clinic and on construction projects in Fort Liberte, while Lavin and Evans operate in nearby Terrier Rouge.
Part of the reason Lavin went to Haiti w as to satisfy his curiosity.
“Some people w ant to go to Versailles,” said Lavin. “I’ve seen Versailles. I want to see the other side.”
A former employer whom he admired regularly supported Haitian causes. So, Haiti had long been on his heart and mind, said Lavin.
The Rotary Club of Warrenton, to which Lavin belongs, partly funded a well built in a village where eight to 10 people were dying of cholera every month. His Haitian hosts invited him to see it.
Driving five hours in the back of a truck to look at a pipe coming out of the ground, “This isn’t going to be good, ” said Lavin to himself.
At the end of a haul up into the mountains, Lavin changed his mind.
Smiling from ear to ear, Lavin said, about 100 villagers greeted, hugged and cheered the travelers. They washed the mud from their feet, acquired from pushing the truck out of quagmires along the journey.
“I felt so good about what we had done,” Lavin said.
Lavin returned to the United States. With Evans and others, he organized the Northern Haiti Hope Foundation. Lavin is its first chairman of the board.
Lavin said that he sees tremendous opportunities in this part of Haiti.
“Northern Haiti is the land of hope,” said Lavin.
One of the projects of hope in Terrier Rouge is Ecole Saint Barthelemy, a gleaming white school that Father Jean Monique Bruno started 10 years ago with 30 students.
Each year, the school added a grade, gradually growing to kindergarten through ninth grade. Teachers expect 800 students in September.
Bruno is an Episcopal priest. He said that education is the Haitians’ way out of poverty , and Lavin agrees.
“It is a ministry in itself ,” Bruno said at a reception Thursday night in Warrenton hosted by the Northern Haiti Hope Foundation. Warrenton Presbyterian Church and the Foundation work with Bruno and support his work.
Bruno’s focus is education and healthcare, “to overcome their social and economic situation.”
People dress up in their Sunday best to go to the clinics in Terrier Rouge and Fort Liberte, said Lavin and Putnam. Putnam noted that they may wait for hours to be seen.
Putnam tells a story of when a man brought his unconscious 17-year-old son to the clinic one day. She described him as “just bones.” The boy’s blood sugar was off the charts. He had diabetes, which was consuming all the nutrients in his body.
This clinic had no insulin.
“I pray without ceasing that you will be able to help my son, ” Putnam said that the man told her.
After giving him money, she sent the father to two nearby towns for insulin. He returned only with long-acting insulin, instead of the fast-acting form that the teenager needed.
Evening came, and the boy remained unconscious. Putnam thought he would be dead by morning. But the next day, the boy was awake.
Then the father brought his 7-year-old daughter to the clinic. Also emaciated, she was diagnosed with diabetes.
Each child needed two types of insulin. Nine years ago, insulin cost $34 a vial in Haiti, Putnam said. The average income at the time was $444 a year . Groups from Friends of F ort Liberte brought as much insulin as they could carry when they came.
The next year when Putnam returned, the brother and sister looked like healthy kids . Every year, the father and his children came to thank her.
But, three years ago the girl was absent. Putnam learned that she died.
Putnam observes that Haitians are a loving and welcoming people. And, they have a strong sense of community.
If a parent dies, and no other family is available, neighbors will take the c hildren into their homes, said Putnam. And, even though Port-au-Prince is 70 miles away, northern Haitians housed refugees from the earthquake.
Haitians are a proud people , Evans and Lavin said. Evans can see it in how they carry themselves. They do not beg or complain about their circumstances.
“I want to ha ve the spirit that says I can live with nothing and still count my blessings ,” said Evans.