Having spent an incredible week in Labrande, Haiti with three amazing parishioners helping Fr. Wilner with his first summer camp he has been able to hold in four years, here are the major things that I took away:
1. The school lunch program that Nativity is providing for the 450 children at St. Anne’s Church school is vital to their health and education. If we were not there, many children would be enlisted by their parents to help with farming or other work. Many of those that would go to school would be tired and maintaining any meaningful level of attention to schoolwork would be difficult. We heard this from the teachers over and over again. They are grateful that we are feeding the children, as is Fr. Wilner, as are the children.
2. You have to be tough to be a Haitian. Life is difficult, what work can be found is arduous and most people in the Labrande area seem to just be existing by farming a small piece of land. Ending the day just as you started is a good day. Progress and growth do not appear to be in their vocabulary.
3. Education beyond primary school is far from guaranteed. There are some public schools (none in Labrande – the closest is in Gonaïves which is not close enough to commute) but they do fill up. Many, many Haitians do not earn enough to send a child to secondary school much less all of their children. Without an educated population, they seem doomed to repeat the past – at least for now.
4. While the difference in skin color was pretty stark on the first day of the summer camp, within a couple of hours, they were all just children. They could have been our children – laughing, singing, running around, playing soccer, jump rope, playing with a few simple Frisbees. They could be us. We could be them. We are all just people. It is an accident of birth.
5. Haitians are rich in ways that we are not. They are not concerned with a lot of things that just seem to get in the way of our having solid relationships with one another. No concerns about having the latest this or that or the latest fashions. They appear to be a community that has no serious crime or violence. They help each other out – as an example, it is not at all uncommon to see a motorcycle with four Haitians on it. The driver is just driving along and he picks up people along the way. And they are a faith-filled people, lingering after Mass on Sunday for long periods and singing so loudly and beautifully that we four just closed our eyes and felt lifted up.
My final takeaway is self-incriminating: before I went, I was satisfied with Nativity’s school lunch program. Now that I see all of the deficits that this community faces, I hope that this is just a start and that we can grow and grow the program so that years from now, our beginning will seem most humble. My dream is that Nativity parishioners will one day ask “When we started out in Haiti by just feeding kids school lunches, was everybody happy that that is all that they did?” I can now say that the answer is “no."