It takes a VILLA!
by Cate Murway
“If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother.” Deuteronomy 15:7
Kindness is powerful!
The admirably altruistic JEMS embarked on their trek on the roads less traveled to bring their compassion and help with medical care to one of the poorest villages in Haiti. The Villa Joseph Marie HS students witnessed the suffering of a people who have long lived in a world of extreme poverty, political corruption and roving gangs that prey upon those who are trapped in that poverty.
Young or old, they suffer alike.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”
Their “Gospel” is “love in action.” Love is a verb.
‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’, they say…..together the truly invested JEM squad made a difference!
The college preparatory VJM located in Holland, PA is one of the leaders in providing superior quality education and international community service, designed with thought, consciousness and care.
The students walk an impassioned path of Faith, Education and Service.
One of the most unfortunate conditions of the USA is that most do not know what it’s like to suffer from a deprivation of basic needs, a reality Haitians live through day after day. After all, we live in abundance.
Yet their lifestyle reveals one of the greatest paradoxes, some of the materially poorest of people are also the wealthiest in joy.
Haitian culture is apparently dominated by faith, love, hope, community and gratitude.
It’s the perspective you choose, not the circumstances in which you live that can actually inspire true joy. These service trips are not the long-term solution, but it is a start. Haiti generally ranks towards the bottom of development indicators. Literacy rates are low as is access to electricity, clean water, and hospitals. “Helping people” should be an evolutionary process of first giving them relief, then helping them to recover, and then assisting them to develop toward self-sustainability.
Enter the ardently determined JEM squad!
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Robert Lee Frost [1974-1963]
Shannon Theresa Coleman, VJM ’17 effectively logged her third Haiti trip this summer.
“I honestly just love it so much. I am so happy there. They are so welcoming.”
Shannon initially contacted Mr. Thomas J. Kardish, requesting to travel with the Our Lady of Mount Carmel group. “When Mr. Kardish became the VJM President, I asked him to start this as the VJM international service trip. I helped start the trip at Villa and I still want to be part of it. I thought I could help. My first time going into junior year, I didn’t know what to expect. I was very shocked and just felt very guilty about everything.”
She found a condensed and crowded city where health care is a huge issue. “The closest hospital is two hours away. There are very few cars and the trip was bumpy and hilly even in the car.”
Brigid Eileen Conmy ‘18’s brother, John, St. Joseph Prep/ Fairfield U. had participated in the trip to Haiti
his senior year and “he loved it. He felt he impacted the kids and the trip actually changed him.”
Brigid completed her campus ministry trip application and all 11 of them [10 are seniors] packed lightly and left VJM at 5:00AM for their drive to JFK airport for the 5 hour flight.
Student Council President Kaela Constance Jolibois, VJM ‘18’s parents are Haitian born scientist Kern Gerald, who is working in biochemical pharmacology and toward his PhD in Health Policy, and Chipo [Mafarachisi] Jolibois, Esq.,chemical engineer and ‘Emerging Women Leader’ award recipient.
“I loved the trip. It was my favorite thing ever. I wanted to experience my country.”
The plane landed early evening and the group clamored into just 2 trucks for all the luggage and people,
and headed far off paved roads. “Things got interesting. It was an experience!”
They reached Bois de Laurence, one of the interior communal sections located in NE Haiti at 11:00PM.
VJM President Tom Kardish traveled with 43 VJM students this summer [12 in Haiti and 31 in Europe].
“ I am amazed. Villa girls are so wonderful, never late and always so happy.”
Tom had been involved with pharmaceutical and health care and he began his medical mission work in 1997. “I started bringing medical care to Parish members in Port-au-Prince Delmas for St. Jude Parish that now has a free standing medical clinic.”
In January of 2010, Port-au-Prince, the Capital of Haiti, was devastated by a monster earthquake that literally destroyed the city claiming over 230,000 lives, the strongest earthquake since 1770. Delmas [Haitian Creole: Dèlma] starts at the airport and goes up hill for 30 blocks.
“We worked out of duffle bags. I developed a heart for the place and the people and have made 30-40 trips over a 20 year period.”
Their quarters were 4 concrete walls and a roof with lights powered by a generator. No running water, there were blue barrels filled with rain water. Conservation of water is encouraged; they took “bucket showers”. Only 50% have access to an improved water source, such as a hand pump or a well.
The JEMS’ shared spaces offered a community experience that is part of the Haitian culture.
Platforms protruded from the walls and “we slept on spring mattresses. It was brutally hot and a rooster woke everyone up at 3:00AM”, shared Brigid.
Mr. Kardish had asked them to be flexible.
Day 2, July 9th, started with a Haitian Mass with 9 little girls dancing.
“On Sunday, they take it very seriously and dress up. The church has pews and an altar but not many decorations.
The singing was soulful and energetic and the congregation was so into it. It was nearly 3 hours but it was so interesting!” Kaela informed. They learned one Creole song and sang “I’ve got the joy, joy, down in my heart.”
The girls helped provide relief to an overburdened, under-resourced clinic run by two RN practitioners.
Shannon said, “Use the term ‘help’ loosely. We gave them a baggie with toothpaste and tooth brushes.”
There obviously is no dental care, based on the size of their cavities. They facilitated dental services and painted the cavities with silver nitrate that disinfects and hardens the cavity gaping holes, which stops the decay process.
There were many who came to be treated for their diagnosed hypertension. Hypertension is hereditary there.
25%-30% of the population is treated and medicine is provided for free.
“We filled pill bottles and checked blood pressure and organized files by grade for about 800 kids and weighed some children”, added Kaela. “The homes we saw were very close together. The kids just walk wherever they need to go.” There were also well child visits.
The teachers need to learn how to take care of the kids and keep paper medical records as there is no electricity.
So, “We were helping and teaching them”, explained Mr. Kardish.
The go-to manual for many is Where There Is No Doctor [Kote ki pa gen doktè], a village health care handbook written in Creole, that successfully brings together modern concepts of public health and personal health care into a usable and understandable format. Generations of doctors and medical missionaries involved in village health care and community-based rehabilitation who have worked in under-resourced communities globally can vouch for its value in providing concise reliable information.
Most cannot write their own name so Polaroid pictures were secured to their records.
Another project was painting the cinderblock school building with the big black chalkboard for the students up to the 6th grade. The enrollment rate for primary school in Haiti is 57%, and fewer than 30% of the students ever reach 6th grade. Haiti ranks 177th out of 186 in the world for national spending on education.
“The kids helped us paint part of the church.”
Father Bavon Beckaine, headmaster of St. Jean Bosco, introduced them to the youth group who led them on their walk to the town market for their fortifications: fruit and live chickens. “It was crowded, chaotic with dogs and donkeys everywhere!”
A woman had been hired to cook for them. The Haitian meals were mostly chicken [they ate the chicken they bought that morning] and rice or fish and potatoes that were cooked on plant-based charcoal.
“I tried the goat but I am not a fan”, Brigid stated. Yes, the “mystery meat” was goat meat. “Taste was fine; texture was an issue”, added Kaela.
The cook provided birthday cakes for 18-year-old Meghan Keene and 17-year-old Katelyn Fetzer!
After a breakfast of bread with ‘very crunchy’ peanut butter, [they ate all of their Nutella], mango, pineapple and watermelon, Shannon, the trip veteran, led her team. They planted breadfruit trees on land owned by the rectory; trees that produce in about 3 years. “We thought farm, flat…. Right! We walked for miles to the base of the mountain and climbed up the mountain with the trees.”
Kaela further explained, “The goal is to have kids eat nutritious breadfruit pudding. In the winter, they can dry out the fruit and they would have food year round.”
The potato-like, or similar to freshly baked bread, breadfruit supplies 45% nutritional values and is one of the highest-yielding food plants, with a single tree producing up to 200 or more grapefruit-sized fruits per season, requiring limited care.
Helping Haitians help themselves with an improvement in the area of food security could bring sustainable resources to Haitians that will significantly improve their lives with nutritional food available and perhaps also as a source of income. They could sell their fresh produce in the marketplace, giving them the opportunity to purchase other goods, thus improving the economy, allowing each to become part of the solution toward diminishing poverty.
So many spend each day struggling just to get food as a majority live on less than $2 per day and are
dependent on ‘Food for the Poor’.
Tom Kardish questioned the H.S. principal as he led them up the mountain, “What do you need for you to be able to do your job?” His response, “All I ever need is rain and good health.”
Positive outlook confirmed!
Father Bavon, CICM Haiti, who is a Missionary from Mbuji-Mayi, a city in Kasai-Oriental, Democratic Republic of the Congo, shared that he often felt like an outsider and was lonely as he solved the community’s every issue. He kindly asked the generous VJM students for their names and then returned with pillow cases with their names embroidered on them.
“The kids did a really good job. I could not have done it!” admitted Kaela.
Now they made time for play! The collected cleats and soccer balls were distributed for the youth vs. adults soccer game. The JEMS played soccer with the youngsters who spoke their mother tongue, the Creole language and some knew French, but very little English.
“They were wonderful kids; smart, happy, polite, respectful and thankful for our help”, they all agreed.
The kids were understandably heartbroken and crying when the JEMS departed.
On Day 6, July 13th, they left the compound. MSN/ Nurse Practitioner Deborah Marrington, founder of CI Haiti Community Health, the CIA Sam and a translator plus the entire VJM group literally packed into the vehicle.
Kaela recalled, “The drive back was worse. It was so hot and the roads were bumpy. We made stops for motion sickness.” Dramamine helped a little on the dangerous, tiring roads that get ruttier in the rain.
Their last night was spent in hotel rooms in Complexe hôtelier Moulin Sur Mer in Mountrouis, Haiti near “not a sandy beach, a pebbly one, where the water was clear and blue and warm and calm and no one else was on the beach”. They “ate burgers, spaghetti and ‘regular’ food, then chilled on the dock and relaxed”.
Another early morning; they left for the airport at 6:00AM.
Kaela returned with Haitian coffee and a tea cup for her mom, a painted scene for her brother Aiden Luc and Crémas [also spelled Crémasse], a popular spin on the Caribbean-wide phenomenon of rum cream drink for her dad.
Would they go back again?
“It was an eye opening, humbling experience; a very different way of life but they are some of the happiest people I’ve ever met,” shared aspiring Navy ROTC RN Brigid.
Kaela “knew they didn’t need to be pitied. It was an unforgettable, eye opening experience.”
“I miss it already. If there were a way, I would go back. You can really be happy with life with just anything. The kids were carefree. Sometimes I wish I were as carefree. They enjoy every day!” acknowledged Shannon. She will be attending St. Joseph University this fall, majoring in International Business with a minor in French and International Relations…. and playing soccer.
These unselfish JEMS developed a deeper, humbler understanding of the world. They would encourage others to step out of their comfort zone to live a little and give a lot.
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