“What is important is the story. Because when we are all dust and teeth and kicked-up bits of skin – when we’re dancing with our own skeletons – our words might be all that’s left of us.”–Alexandra Fuller, Scribbling the Cat
This is what it is on paper: “The Presbyterian Haiti Mission Initiative Trip,” which is what we’re calling our trip, organized by the Rev. J. Brooks Smith, along with the always amazing Peter Hesse, and steadfast Carol Guy-James Barratt. God willing, six of us from the U.S. will be traveling to Liancourt and Leogane. What’s not on paper is the sleeplessness it’s created for me, and the prayers. I get like this sometimes before international travel, and Haiti will be new for the six of us. What’s on paper says little about the anxiety and soul-searching. It says, hopefully, volumes about those who have worked very hard to create partnerships in Haiti over nearly 30 years.
Liancourt & Beyond:
The earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010 destroyed critical infrastructure and much of the country’s ability to educate its children. Since then, millions of dollars in emergency aid have helped rebuild brick and mortar structures, but now the country must move to more sustainable approaches to improving education. The Peter Hesse Foundation is establishing a teacher-training center to generate qualified new primary school teachers who will manage self-sustaining community schools that meet international quality standards.
Haitian partners, the Peter Hesse Foundation, and international volunteers are rebuilding the teacher-training center in Liancourt, in the Artibonite Region, which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. The Foundation’s Montessori training center and several partner schools were destroyed in the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010. Training of new teachers to meet the demand for education that poor communities can afford has been virtually at a standstill. Haiti’s most vulnerable young children were severely traumatized by the earthquake and left without a safe place to go –even for a few hours a day – while their families went about rebuilding their lives. It is now essential to re-establish this training capacity and continue graduating skilled teachers to educate Haiti’s children and build stronger communities.
This new teacher-training center will re-establish the capacity to train new Haitian teachers and expand quality education to poor communities. This center is still training teachers, as the new center is being built, and will start training additional teachers as soon as it is completed. It will help create safe and nurturing school environments for Haiti’s children. The Peter Hesse Foundation, with nearly thirty years of development work in Haiti, has trained over 1,000 teachers to date. Teacher trainers and Center staff are past graduates of the same PHF Program in Haiti. Following this approach, the Foundation insures high quality standards while building a sustainable network and growing cadre of Haitian professionals training new Haitian professionals.
With a continued commitment to education and teacher training, they are rebuilding with the help of a German comprehensive school, Berufskolleg Kempen, led by the Rev. Roland Kuhne. This building team calls themselves, “Students building for Teachers.” While much has been donated, along with the labor for rebuilding, there is still a need for four dormitories to house ten female students each, housing forty students in total. Each dorm will be basic residential units with beds, mattresses, chairs, and small lockers. The goal of the Foundation’s work with Haitian partners is to improve teacher qualification for better basic education in schools in rural and depressed urban areas in Haiti.
In Leogane, Haiti, we will be hoping to see PHF initiated Montessori pre-schools in operation also. We will be visiting Hopital St. Croix of Leogane, Haiti, a 120 bed general hospital which got its start in 1968, which is the base of operations for the regional health care program serving the Commune of Leogane in the Department de l’Quest. The hospital is owned by the Episcopal Church of Haiti (EEH, Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti), and operated in partnership with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Hopital St. Croix is located in Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake that destroyed much of the city and nearby Port au Prince in January 2010. Much of the hospital structure was severely damaged, and the administrative building, guesthouse, and doctor’s quarters were leveled by the quake. Repairs have been made to the one wing of the hospital that sustained relatively minor damage, and inpatient services have resumed.
A long-term effort is underway to rebuild Hopital St. Croix and restore its capacity to provide essential services to the people of Leogane. There is an FSIL nursing school on the grounds, which opened in January 2005, and offers a BSN degree and now has approximately 100 students enrolled in the classes. The third class of students completed their course of study in December 2010. During the days following the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the nursing students provided emergency care to more than 5,000 individuals in the Leogane area until outside medical resources could enter the city. We will be looking into sites funded by the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program.
We’ll also be listening to stories of compassion, to share with the Charter for Compassion. If you haven’t signed the Charter, what’s holding you back? There are countless stories of compassion. Helen Keller said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” You’ll see big and small stories of Compassion with the Charter; we’ll see big and small stories too, no doubt, in Haiti.
So we take our malaria pills and the chloroquine makes the earth spin a bit. In the 1800’s, the British in India mixed quinine with gin (hence the first gin & tonics), and perhaps were as dizzy as I feel on these pills? We pray. We pack and repack.
We fundraise, we are blessed by our churches, we thank God for those we will meet, we feed our families, watch soccer games, go to meetings, and know that making new friends in Haiti will change us. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide our paths and interactions.
We don’t know what all will have to fall away in our lives. Visiting construction sites, schools, and a hospital in the poorest country in the western hemisphere? We pray that the scales may fall from our eyes (Acts 9:18), so that we might see clearly. Alexandra Fuller says, “What’s important is the story.” We don’t know this story yet. We will. And, we intend to share it. Stay tuned.
Susan Baller-Shepard is an ordained Presbyterian minister, published poet and writer; editor of www.spiritualbookclub.com and its blog of over 170 interviews blog.spiritualbookclub.com, she tweets @yoursbc
About This Blog
"This is what the LORD says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls....'"
Susan Baller-Shepard explores the many roads where faith takes you: the good, the difficult, the impassable, traveling old roads and new construction. In her suitcase, Susan packs warmth, faith, good humor, healthy skepticism, a Bible, Rilke’s uncollected poems, seriously sensible shoes (much to her friends’ chagrin), and an IPOD shuffle.