Do you love Jesus? Do you love my country? These two questions were asked of me over and over by the young Haitian camp counselors and seminarians who I worked alongside last week. I went to Haiti feeling pretty good about what our parish had accomplished in the short time we've been partnered with St. Anne's Church in Labrande. After all, building a cafeteria and funding a hot lunch program for a full school year for elementary preschoolers to 6th graders is no small feat. I think I was there 36 hours when I realized there was oh so much more to do!
Of Haiti's 8.7 million people, almost half are illiterate. This falls well below the 90% average literacy rate for Latin American and Caribbean countries. About 90% of Haiti's primary schools are non-public. Secondary schools enroll only 20% of eligible-aged children! There is no secondary school in Labrande. The closest school is in Gonaives -- 14 miles away. It is impossible to commute back and forth daily because there is no road for most of this trip and it's necessary to drive through the Labranade riverbed. Only the children who are fortunate enough to have relatives who are willing to support a child can go. Tuition, books, uniforms food and shelter must be provided. Today there are only a select few from St. Anne's who go onto secondary school.
After completing the 6th grade, life then for most teens in St. Anne's revolves around helping the family survive. It's common for 5 or 6 persons to share a one room dwelling. A few families own a small piece of land and cultivate corn, bananas, watermelon, peppers, squash and mangoes. Others work on these farms. This time of year, you'd find teens walking to and from market once a week (a 28 miles journey in one day).
So to Anne Carine, Genci, Donald, Roman and Edsy: Yes, I love Jesus and I do so love the people of Haiti.
My prayer: Lord, you have brought our mission in Haiti this far. Help us to discern how best to improve the lives of the children in St. Anne's Church.
"Only when we cross the road and look in one another's eyes can we see there that we are children of the same God and members of the same human family." (Henry J. M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey)