Part I: To Love One Another
Imagine yourself being a child in Haiti. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. Well, in all likelihood, you might not have shoes. If you are lucky, you might have a pair of worn-out sandals. You are eight years old, and you live in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. You and your family are trying to survive on a dollar each day. Your access to clean water is limited, and your access to education is nonexistent.
Like Joseph, the vast majority of Haitian children already faced this dire situation back in 2009, when CARITAS For Children first developed a relationship with the indigenous Congregation of the Little Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. We began envisioning ways to help the Sisters educate local children like Joseph, so that one day they could lead their families and communities out of the ashes of poverty.
Having achieved steady growth in our African program, CARITAS sought to help our brothers and sisters suffering in extreme poverty much closer to home – only 700 miles from American shores.
Fast forward to January 12, 2010. Put yourself back in Joseph’s shoes. Your fragile world has been destroyed, torn apart by a terrible earthquake. Your sister has been killed, and your mother badly wounded. Fear seems to be your only friend.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, we decided to escalate our engagement in Haiti. Some relief efforts focused on immediate, temporary aid; however, we took a purposely different approach. We not only focused on offering temporary aid, but more importantly, we sought to assist with sustainable development initiatives. CARITAS For Children's mission has never been, and will never be, about temporary relief: we build long-term relationships with our Catholic ministry partners.
Three months after the earthquake, we arrived in Haiti with six people, one tent and eight days to assess the destruction and establish a base. Over 150 children had been crushed to death when one of the Sisters’ school buildings collapsed upon them. Four nuns themselves had been killed. No place was comfortable.
The only consolation we could truly provide was our presence. In the midst of desolation, we stood with them in solidarity. We talked together. We prayed together. We ate together. Simply put, we did our best to love one another.
Indeed, this is what the Sisters have been doing in Haiti since 1948 – loving one another in imitation of Christ. Just as Jesus, the Suffering Servant, gave his life that we may live forever, so too have the Sisters given their lives in service to those who need healing, particularly the children. They focus their efforts on helping people like Joseph, members of Haiti’s “peasant” class, who subsist on about $1 per day and comprise about 85% of the population. The Sisters strive to bring the Good News of God’s saving power to the poor, to educate both children and adults, to meet their medical needs, and to promote the well-being of women.
During our time together, we discovered that the Sisters exercise incredible stewardship of their resources. Like true salt of the earth and leaven for the Kingdom of Heaven, they’ve established multiple hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the elderly, as well as:
- 44 elementary schools and 3 secondary schools that educate 23,420 students
- 2 centers that serve about 750 handicapped children,
- 20 technical centers to teach women and girls how to cook and make clothing
- 16 clinics for medical treatment
- 3 pastoral centers for religious education
- 4 farms to teach agricultural techniques
- A school of education, to train the teachers of tomorrow.
Yet, within seconds, the earthquake had left so much of their good work in ruins.
On this first trip to Haiti, in the midst of unimaginable suffering, we saw so many faces like Joseph’s — the face of Christ Crucified. Like Mary, Jesus’ Mother, and His beloved disciple John, we could only stand beside them at the foot of their Cross. They had very little faith in us, because so many outsiders had come and gone, but never came back. As we took our leave on the eighth day of the trip, the sad eyes of the Sisters and children told the true story that their smiles tried to hide — they never thought we would return.
But we did…
See the second installment in History of CARITAS For Children in Haiti: Part II: Becoming Brothers and Sisters.