Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Whither Haiti

Haiti on a Wing and a Prayer

By Skip Sheffield

Never before had I been on an airline flight in which the pilot said, ‘Do you mind if we have a moment of prayer?’ before takeoff.
Mission Aviation Fellowship is no ordinary airline. It consists of fervent Christians, many of them pilots, whose mission is to take missionaries to places they might not otherwise reach. Michael, our pilot, is also a pastor. He has been in Haiti five years. He is truly on a mission from God.
Haiti is no ordinary country. It is the world’s first and only nation founded by slaves who overthrew their masters. It is the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, and it has been even more impoverished since a devastating earthquake struck the capitol city of Port-Au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.
Seven of us departed for Haiti March 5 on an American Airlines flight to Port-Au-Prince, the nation’s capitol. Our mission was to meet with teachers and students of the Christian School of New Vision in northern Haiti. There was one pastor, Tom Tift, and three laymen from First United Methodist Church of Boca Raton. Going to teach the teachers were three staff members of Toussaint L’Overture School in Delray Beach, including the school’s co-founder, Dr. Dianne Allerdyce.
Signs of the earthquake two years ago are still evident everywhere. Our first stop was Grace Children’s Hospital, which was so badly damaged the main structure was deemed unsafe and is in the process of demolition. As soon as the rubble is removed construction will begin on a new children’s hospital. Meanwhile life goes on in makeshift quarters. The Haitian people are both hardy and resourceful. They are also very patient and used to endless government red tape and delays. It is largely through the generosity of American and Canadian donors that schools, orphanages and clinics are being maintained in Haiti.
Christian School of New Vision was founded in 1995 by Ludner St. Amour, 40, a gregarious, cheerful and devout son of a farmer in the mountainous region of northern Haiti.
The main campus of CSNV is in the small town of La Jeune. The school has three satellite branches in the rural communities of Sylvain, Donne and Hide.
Our first stop was Sylvain, not far from the tiny Pignon air strip. Villagers were pumping water from a well constructed through donations from Boca Raton. The “school” is not much more than a shed with a tin roof. As if by magic children began to materialize and fill the hand-hewn benches. Our task was to identify and photograph students for sponsorship in the USA.
It was a short ride to La Jeune, but in reality no ride in Haiti is short. Outside the cities the roads are not paved and are pocked with huge ruts and wash-outs. Ludner drives a 4-wheel drive Toyota pickup made possible by American donations. There are very few 4-wheel vehicles in rural Haiti. Far more common are little Chinese motorcycles. Rarely is there just one rider. I counted as many as five on one motorcycle.
The campus of CSNV La Jeune is high-grade by local standards, with concrete buildings housing as many as 600 students from the outlying areas. The school has its own well and gravity-fed running water. The buildings are wired for lights and computers, but municipal electric lines have not yet reached the school. A large John Deere generator can power the entire school, but diesel fuel is so expensive Ludner can afford to run the power only two or three hours in the early evening, with lights out at 9:30 p.m.
Twenty-five to 30 orphans live on the CSNV campus. They have been rescued from the tent city slums of Port-Au-Prince. Rescuing orphans is an ongoing effort for Ludner and people like him. Upwards to 1 million Haitians were rendered homeless by the earthquake. Haitians do not trust the police or their own government. The educational and medical work that is going on is largely funded by America church organizations.
“The government is demanding customs charges for donations made in America,” explains Ludner. “We have a container filled with sewing machines still sitting on the dock since December because the government wants $4,000 Haitian dollars to release it.”
Public schools are an iffy prospect in the outback.
“Sometimes children walk to school only to discover there is only one teacher or no teacher at all,” Ludner says. “The public school teachers are very overworked and classes crowded.”
A strict regimen is followed at CSNV. All students wear crisp pale green uniforms. There is an assembly every morning at 7 a.m. The Haitian flag is raised and the national anthem sung. Tardiness is not tolerated.
The task of educating Haitian children seems overwhelming. People have not been taught the simplest rules of health and hygiene. At the clinic we visited in Pignon there were posters encouraging people to wash their hands; part of a national campaign.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Since declaring its independence in 1803 the country has been mismanaged by its leaders and mistreated by other nations. Yet there is an undying “joie de vivre” amongst the Haitian people. Parts of northern Haiti are no more advanced than a typical African village, yet the people are happy and hopeful for a better life.
There is a new breed of tourist in Haiti. They are not tourists at all. The waiting room at the Port-Au-Prince was jammed with mission people, many of them college age. Instead of partying for Spring Break, many young people have chosen to volunteer in Haiti.
Haiti will never be like America. It has its own proud history and culture. What Americans can do is lend expertise and material assistance so that Haitians can help themselves. The will is there. With a little help they will find the way.

Note: If anyone is moved to donate, CSNV's American address is LCW-CSNV-Haiti Project,
Powell TN 37849, or call First United Methodist Boca Raton at 561-395-1244.

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