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Forest of Artists
Haitian Cross

The Forest of Artists Haitian Cross, on which a brown Christ is surrounded on four sides by the causes of the terrible suffering of the Haitian people: hunger, the situation of women, the harsh condition of infancy, lack of homes, deforestation, the death by drowning of those attempting to flee the island for Nassau or Florida.

The vibrant colors signify the resurrection in the midst of so much death: the hope and joy of the knowledge of salvation. The crosses are hand-crafted and painted by young Haitian men and women who use their wages to pay for their schooling. Their work displays a dormant artistic talent that emerges with ingenuity and startling beauty.

 

Reflections 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 some clothes.
  • 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."

The images 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 Miami.


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