The Haiti Initiative - Mission Report from Pam Lownik - August 2003

Report from Latiboliere
Trip Date: August 4-10, 2003
Delegation Included: Nancy Hibbard, Barbara from Portage, Fielding from Kentucky, Sally Rupel, Laura Schachtlie, Pam & Beth Lownik
Submitted by Pam Lownik to Parish Council on August 12, 2003

There are two critical components to our Haiti Project. First, our goal of establishing a vital relationship between two cultures that are a world apart. Second, the business of providing supplies and funding from St. Mary's to the village of Latiboliere and monitoring the effectiveness of these efforts. I will do my best to report on both.

It has been over two years since our parish sent the first delegation to Latiboliere. I was a part of that group but haven't been back since. The parish of Latiboliere has been visited five separate times from people representing our project over this two year time span. Two medical teams worked in the clinic. Three groups went down to bring supplies including two water purification systems. We have sent two sea containers with needed items and Father Tony has visited St. Mary's twice. All of this contributes to the vital relationship that exists between our two parishes.

It is an honor to be the chairperson of the Haiti committee and represent our parish in Latiboliere. I found a sincere, open, trusting, love for us here at St. Mary's that is quite humbling. The vitality of this relationship is in the hands of a spirit that comes from the youth on both sides. The four young women who accompanied me on this visit were welcomed with pure joy by the children and teenagers of the community. This is Beth's fourth visit there and true friendships have been established. She walks through the village and the children flock to her. She has learned the language and can communicate with them without the need for an interpreter. They smile and giggle and share an easy compassion for each other. I have become simply "Elizabeth's Mama". Following Beth's lead, the other young people immersed themselves into the community and the results were a cultural exchange that was full of life, love, and simple fun.

The reception we received from the community leaders and adults was equally as positive, albeit a bit more subdued. When walking out in the village with Nancy Hibbard the adults welcomed us with open smiles and came up to Nancy often (who speaks Creole well enough to get by) and simply thanked us or asked question about when we would be bringing back the doctors. Father Tony, Madame Renel (mayoress), and Brother René are all pleased with the progress we have made so far. My conversations with them are open and frank. Therefore, I can report to you that the relationship is alive and well. I encourage any parishioner to visit. Father Tony says we are welcome anytime for any reason.

It is with confidence that I am able to report about the generous monetary and supply contributions made by the parishioners of St. Mary's to the project:

  1. Water Project: Brother René and Madame Renel are supervising. Repairs are being made on the water line that connects mountain spring water down 3 miles to Latiboliere. Funding so far includes: $1,250 given to Brother René from our parishioners when he was here last November, a $1,000 donation from Senator Herb Kohl, a $500 donation from the Milwaukee Rotary Club, a $2,000 contribution from Father Tony (taken out of our mission Sunday collection), and a $300 donation from the Haiti committee fund during my recent visit. A total of $5,050 has been given, $1,500 of which came from outside of the parish. While I was in Latiboliere we made a video tape of the water line. Brother René narrates and explains what has been done and what needs to be done. This video will be available to any parishioner who wishes to see it. In my estimation we can confidently continue to work with Brother René. He gets the most out of every dollar we give him. More funding is needed to complete the project.
  2. Medical Mission: The total cost to St. Mary's for the medical mission last March was about $4,500. The medical team saw 1,000 patients at a cost to us of only $4.50 each. Of course the team spent personal money and many of our parishioners donated supplies, but I am proud of what this group accomplished in Latiboliere for this small amount. (Last years team spent $10,000) Father Tony and the community are very pleased with the results from the clinic. I can report t the very small premature twins that may have died if not for our medical team, are now 5 months old, holding up their heads, and looked quite healthy to me. Another team is getting organized for a January Medical Mission.
  3. During this visit we were able to make a connection with the Haitian Health Foundation Hospital. The young people in our group worked extremely hard helping in their meal program. I was able to establish a relationship with the HHF director Sr. Maryanne. Father Tony and Brother René are both excited about the possibility of support from HHF in the Latiboliere clinic. Working together with this organization will mean additional doctors for Latiboliere. Sr. Maryanne shared with me appropriate local treatment protocols, paper work needed at the public health department for visiting doctors, and purchased 2,000 worm pills for us for only $125 (much less than the quotes I received here in the US). This will treat 1,000 patients in Latiboliere. She confirmed that the Children's Nutritional Program we began this summer is the appropriate thing to be doing. She suggested that we extend our effort to any child six months or older. She based this recommendation on a recent Cornel University study which showed that 100% of the children tested at 6 months or older were anemic. Iron is so important for these children that we shouldn't wait until they are school age. She suggested that we work with the Women's Cooperative to distribute vitamins to preschool age children and educate Mom's on how to administer. Rosalie Gerlach will try to get this started when they take down the large water purification system that they are donating for the school (purifies 720 gallon of water a day).
  4. Bother René's trade school is growing. This project is a vital part of the community of Latiboliere. We made a video tape describing it and showing the young men at work. Again, this will be available to any parishioner who is interested. A new development, stemming from the school, is a building project which Brother René calls the "Happy House" project. He had just completed the first of these homes. We donated the paint and while we were there the girls painted the house along with some of the young men from the trade school. These residents can be bought for only $500. The family goes through a process to qualify for available homes. They individual family provides all of the simple labor, such as gathering the stones for the foundation. Brother René supplies them with the steel for the roof, cement, and skilled labor. A graduate of the trade school functions as the project supervisor and upon successful completion receives a certificate from Brother René which help him to go our and get other work or establish a small business of his own. With the pictures and video, we hope to put together the marketing tools to advertise this project for Brother René. It is our goal to offer the opportunity to sponsor a "Happy House" not only to our own parishioners but also to outside groups such as the Rotary Club.
  5. Since the beginning of our sister parish relationship we have tried to work with the Woman's Cooperative. This group tries to form small businesses by providing small loans to individuals who have an idea of a sustainable business. This effort is the one area that hasn't been very successful between our two groups. During my visit I was able to address some concerns regarding past failed efforts. Madame Renel I came to understand each other better through this process. The Haiti committee donated $200 to the group. We also sent fabric and other needed supplies. They sent some handcrafted items back with me to try to sell. Our goal is to find some projects that are sustainable in order to provide a steady income. It is difficult. I was told that the women like to be paid in common household items like soap, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. It would be nice to help them out with these things.
  6. Father Tony uses the money from our annual Mission Sunday appeal to support the chapel school system paying the salaries of his teachers and catechists. He buys gas for the generator. He supports the clinic and pays the salaries of two nurses on the staff. He is attempting to finish building a chapel school. As stated before, he contributed $2,000 from last year's collection to the water project. Last years collection totaled about $9,500.

This is a quick summary as seen from very tired eyes of the first day back from my trip. It is with quiet confidence I can assure you God's hand is at work in this project. I offer as evidence the past week. My travels were without one mishap, not even a late plane. All of the projects that needed attention, or the places we wished to work at, fell into place. Great contacts were made at both HHF and Mother Theresa's Orphanage in Jeremie. The team bonded and the girls rolled up there sleeves to work joyfully.

Father Tony confirmed his priorities are in line with what we are trying to accomplish.

There are hundreds of touching and heart wrenching moments to share. It was harder for me this time because the friendship and love I feel for the people of Latiboliere is as real as I feel for my closest friends here. When I hug a child, or one of the young adults that I care about, I can feel their frailty. Even the lucky people don't have quite enough to eat. When you walk around the village you see the poverty and sickness. Yet, all you feel is tenderness, happiness, and a love so strong it hurts.

I thank you all for supporting our efforts in Latiboliere. Your generosity has changed lives in both places.