on my trip to Haiti
I was blessed to be part of a St. Thomas University mission
group who visited Haiti between May 2 and May 8 of 2008.
We traveled through the diocese of Port-de-Paix,
located in the North-West of the country; and met with the people
in the towns of Port-de-Paix, Jean-Rabel, Mole St. Nicolas, Bombardopolis
and Baie de Henne.
The mission trip to Haiti impacted
me spiritually in a deep way. When I came back, my sister
asked me, "Did you plant a little seed among the Haitian
people?" And, my response was, "I am not sure if I did
that; but I am sure that the Haitian people and their life circumstances
planted a seed in me."
While I was in Haiti, I felt a deep
sense of purpose that was accompanied by the Holy Spirit's love,
peace and joy. I was completely immerse in the experience, and
was able to be with the Haitian people, to pay attention to their
needs and dreams, to see their innate beauty, to let them teach
me about things that I don't know and remind me about important
things that I had forgotten. Finally, I had opportunities to express
my appreciation for them.
Perhaps, the experience that
impacted me the most when I was in Haiti was our meeting with
the artisan women in Bombardopolis. These women, along
with other women in nearby towns, were the ones who did the embroider
ornaments that were ordered by the Archdioceses of Miami to celebrate
its 50th anniversary in 2007. Working in this large project, gave
these women an opportunity to use their talents and to earn much
needed money. During our conversation, we asked them if they would
share with us how they improved their lives with the money that
they earned. They generously shared their stories; and each one
of them I treasure in my heart. These are some of the testimonies
that marked me forever:
- One woman said that she was not able
to see well. She needed surgery for her eyes, but could not
pay for it. However, with the money that she earned she was
able to pay for the surgery, and now she could see well.
- Another woman expressed that her
father was diabetic and needed insulin; so with the money that
she earned, she was able to buy the medicine for her father.
- An older woman said that she lived
about an hour's walk away, and that she had to carry very heavy
things over her head every day. With the money that she earned,
she bought a donkey to help her carry what she needs. She also
showed us a knitted top that she was wearing, and proudly told
us that she bought the materials that she needed and made that
top for herself.
- A different woman conveyed that she
finally was able to send her children to school and buy them
- Yet, another woman said that for
the first time in her life, she was able to make a contribution
to her household.
- There was a woman who told us that
she had used the money to pay for the funeral of her sister.
- Another woman expressed that she
bought some materials to begin to build a house.
- Later on, a missionary Sister told
us that one of the women that were present, used the money that
she earned to get some dentures, because she didn't have teeth.
The Sister explained that the woman was too embarrassed to share
her story with us.
The women's stories touched me deeply
and bonded me with them. Now, Haiti was not just "the poorest
country in the western hemisphere." Haiti was real people,
who had faces and life stories that began to stir in me the need
for some form of solidarity.
There were many other things that the
Haitian people taught me while I was observing them. For example,
considering their dire material need, I was amazed to see how
these rural people still smiled and acknowledged each other's
presence by saying: "Bonjour," "Bonsoir,"
or "Bonne nuit." What a great example for us the city
first-world country citizens who are spoiled rotten with material
things, and are often rude, dissatisfied and depressed! In a similar
fashion, every morning at Mass, I watched the poor people bringing
their contributions at the time of the offertory. Just like the
widow in the Gospel, they were probably contributing their livelihood;
instead, I was just contributing with my surplus.
However, it was when I came back to
the USA, when I fully experienced the spiritual impact of my mission
experience in Haiti.
I began to see clearly the enormous contrast
that exists between my abundant material life and the scarce material
life of the Haitian people. While I was driving in paved highways
and streets, I remembered their dirt and rocky roads. As I was
crossing bridges, I recalled that Port-de-Paix did not have a
bridge, and that people had to cross by foot, on donkeys, or on
little boats. Although I was used to seeing thousands of cars
circulating in our roads, I recollected the caravans of women
and children riding donkeys or walking along the dusty roads,
in order to get from one place to another.
When I arrived to my house, I looked
at it and thought, "I live in a mansion."
of the little huts with dirt floors and palm roofs, and even some
well-built little houses that I had seen, offered me this contrasting
perspective. When I opened the doors of my refrigerator and pantry,
and saw all that they contained, I remembered the hungry children
who walked in the morning for more than one hour to go to school
and then back again in the afternoon; and who were not fed at
school because there was no money for that.
As I was simply opening the sink faucet
and watching the abundant flow of water wet my hands, I had to
close it and then readjust the flow so that I would not waste
the water. The images of women and children carrying home jugs
of water from the public "fountain" reminded me of how
precious water is. While I was walking along the clean and organized
aisles of the supermarket to get the groceries that I needed,
I remembered walking with Sister Nazareth through the meat section
in the market of Jean Rabel. Just as she had previously told us,
I could perceive the smell of poverty especially in this area
were non-refrigerated meets and fish, as well as goat heads, some
full of flies and dirt, were sold.
Furthermore, I was challenged to reflect
on the way that I spend my money, after listening to Sister Nazareth
say that her team could built a house for a needy family for only
$3,000 (we saw one in Jean Rabel); and the wonderful dignifying
effects that a house had for its new owners, who partially contributed
to its building.
All these experiences and reflections
led me to a radical conversion that manifests in a different way
of thinking, speaking and acting. Once I saw what I saw, I cannot
un-see it! Therefore, the new awareness started fueling the fire
of social justice within me; and I am hopeful that as a group
we will find ways to work and pray in solidarity with the Haitian
people of the Diocese of Port-de-Paix.
- Maria Teresa Isava (6/14/08)
A project of The Archdiocese of Miami
Global Solidarity Committee - A project of St. Thomas University,
Amor en Accion, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of