Bonswa Zanmi, Hello friends! I have been in Haiti for just over 3 weeks. This time has been both incredibly blessed and heartbreaking. I am excited to finally share updates with you all. Thank you for your patience!
I arrived in Haiti on September 26th with my incredible parents who helped me to transport another 10 boxes of school supplies and spent the week helping me set up the school. The week was jam packed with cleaning, moving supplies, setting up our school furniture and materials, and having various meetings regarding building additional furniture, our lunch program, our electricity, etc. It was such a gift for me to have my parents there to work (and sweat) side by side with me, watch me struggle to speak creole, and to meet the new community that I live with. While I was sad to say goodbye to them, I am thankful that they have been and continue to be so supportive of where the Lord has called me.
Just hours after my parents left Haiti, we learned of Hurricane Matthew which was making its way towards our little home. The day before school was set to open it was decided that we would evacuate to higher ground. I quickly packed up my classroom in boxes, as best as I could, hoping that it would stay safe and dry in the storm. My community then piled mattresses, water filters, clothes, food, flashlights and ourselves into our large canter and drove to Anse-a-Veau, 45 minutes away. We stayed in Father Louis’ rectory at St. Anne’s Cathedral. It was surreal to go, in a matter of hours, from preparing for school to start the next day, to driving away unsure of what would be coming next. It was also very difficult to be able to do literally nothing besides pray.
The hurricane hit Southwest Haiti from Monday night to Tuesday night, and we experienced flooding, missing roofs, & fallen trees. It felt like the rain and wind would never stop and I just kept thinking and praying about my many friends in Haiti, whose homes are right on the water and whose homes would not withstand the storm. Finally, the storm calmed. After the hurricane had passed, many sections of road along our route home were completely ruined and washed away, so we stayed in Anse-a-Veau for several days. We spent our time sweeping out water and cleaning Father’s destroyed home, as well as making packs of beans and rice for him to give out in his town to those without food. Our cell phone service was out so we were communicating with families back home via a satellite phone. On Friday we were given the all clear to return home. We were able to make it only part way before the roads were washed away, so then had to get out and cross a river on the beach by foot, holding the young kids and suitcases above our head. We were picked up on the other side by our Bishop and driven the rest of the way back to our base in Madian.
It was devastating to drive through our town and see streets flooded, homes with mud up to the roof and others crumbled, with all of their belongings washed away. People lost their livestock and gardens, school materials, roofs, and more. It was discouraging to realize this is a country where people are already struggling to recover and rebuild, already suffering in hunger and poverty. However, just hours after the storm passed people were already out on the streets picking up tin, moving fallen trees, and were somehow still smiling and praising God through it all.
At our mission base we had fallen trees all over our property, part of our front wall missing, and some of our roofs gone. The water was not running and electricity was temporarily down. The bright side is that with less trees, our view of the ocean is even better! It was good to be back home in Madian and we were anxious to get to work picking up our home, as well as visiting our neighbors and friends to see how they were doing. My heart was heavy as my roommate and I walked down the streets and saw some of our good friends with no roofs.
As far as responding to the great need around us, it is overwhelming to know where to begin. Even before the hurricane it was difficult to discern who to help and how. You want to love your neighbor as Christ does, but you also want to make sure that what we do empowers them, and is not just seen as a handout that destroys their dignity. You want to give them the love of Christ, but how can you do that if you know they are hungry and suffering? Where do you begin? The hurricane has magnified this struggle in Haiti. For several days our community was grappling with this question of how do we best respond? It was encouraging to have so many people reaching out and wanting to help, but where do we start?! Praise the Lord because He comes to overwhelm what is overwhelming us. After much prayer, the Lord provided clarity on how we are going to be helping our community…More on that to come at the end of this post.
Throughout the storm, I was so worried that our school building would be completely destroyed. I couldn’t believe that less then a week into my time in Haiti, my entire mission here could be completely changed. God is so good because our school building was protected, and actually became a refuge for a disabled priest who lives on our base, who lost his roof in the storm! I spent the next two days busy mopping out mud and cleaning off the bookshelves. When we started to unpack the boxes of materials, I was discouraged to see that some of the boxes had water damage and several materials were too ruined and moldy to use. I then felt frustrated that I was bothered over a few items which can easily be replaced when I have neighbors right next door who lost their entire roof and whose entire belongings were ruined. The Lord was merciful to me and I was encouraged to have so many of my community members helping to get the school set up again. Some of my Haitian friends spent days helping me to sweep and move heavy shelves. Big shout out to my awesome roomie Laura who not only was such a source of encouragement when I was struggling to get everything ready, but who also accompanied me with her mad creole skills to visit my students’ homes and update them on the school.
After 4 busy days, we were ready to begin! We did not have working electricity or running water, but we were able to communicate with our cook & students and felt it was important to start up schoo,l even if everything was not quite in place. Now, more then ever, education is so important in Haiti and in our town of Madian.
The day before school began we had a special blessing over our students during our community mass, followed by a procession to our school building for a blessing (Thank you to Sean for helping to make this happen for us, it was a moment I will never forget!). It was a beautiful time for me to see the many ways God has faithfully provided for this prayer, for His school in Haiti! In the months and months of prayer, in the fundraising, in the students, even in the Hurricane, God has been present and has been working to make this school come to life. How humbling that I get to play a small part in what He desires for this mission.
Our first day of school was surreal!! We had our 8 students arrive at school in their new uniforms, slightly nervous, yet mostly excited to see what the day would hold. The day was just as overwhelming as you would expect a first day of a new school to be, but it was beautiful. My next post will detail what school at Academie Notre Dame a Madian is like and introduce my new students (we have already added another student)!
How to Help:
1. Support The Reveye Initiative as a monthly mission partner. Use the below form to sign up as a sustainable monthly donor. This will help us to cover our monthly operating costs for everything from our lunch program (soon to be expanded), to paying our cook & assistant a small salary, to our electricity & water needs. We have several other upcoming projects which I will be posting about soon. Thank you for your yes in helping to support this mission!
2. Support the Life Teen community where I live (John Paul II Center for New Evangelization) to rebuild, as well as to help our neighbors and greater community. The link is here: ltfn.co/Haiti
You can choose for your donation to go to rebuilding our base (water, roofs, electricity, etc) or to go to local outreach to help some of our neighbors rebuild their homes and to provide water to our town. For $345 a week we can give 9000 gallons of water out weekly! Providing water is extremely important as currently there is not a clean source of water. Most people are bathing, washing clothes/dishes, and getting water for cooking from the same river. After natural disasters, people are very vulnerable to cholera and disease as they are easily spread. We are attempting to educate and help our brothers and sisters to avoid this.
3. Donate supplies! My parents are coming back to visit shortly and will be bringing several boxes of materials for both the school and for our community. We have been making packs to give out to neighbors with items such as flashlights, toothbrushes, soap, etc. If you would like to donate any materials, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will share the list of our needs with you and the address of where to send/drop off.