Twinning projects continue because ‘the work in Haiti is never done’
The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time was anything but ordinary at the small, rural Haitian parish of Sacre Coeur, in the Petit Fond Valley of Haiti’s Central Plateau. The church was full – shoulder to shoulder – with another large crowd seated on benches outside. Six priests presided at this Mass to help dedicate a new gift that gave great joy and hope to the people there: a new health center.
Since 1996, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Salem, has been twinned with this community, helping to build three schools, providing student lunches, and sending qualified young people to training schools. The businesses these young people now run in this valley include: a corn grinding mill, two agricultural projects and a welding/fabrication shop.
Health care is an obvious need, so together we decided to start with public health programs. We sent a young woman to a regional master’s level public health school in Haiti. She now supervises 120 community health volunteers, with a second public health student finishing in three years. We started a prenatal clinic with a local nurse midwife, and an LPN-level nurse to supervise 50 or so rural traditional birth attendants.
These health workers needed a better place to operate, so eight years ago I engaged a Blacksburg architect, who had worked in Africa, to visit the community and design a clinic. Land was obtained, and work began slowly due to continually rising costs of material, political unrest, road blockages, and even the sudden death of the work foreman.
Finally, this beautiful clinic building was complete, and it was time for everyone to thank God who had answered their prayers and had not abandoned them. After the two-hour Mass, a procession left the church and headed for the clinic. The cross-bearer led as a cloud of incense wafted over the six priests, followed by the choir singing praises to Mary, and a parade of the congregation.
The crowd gathered as Scripture was proclaimed telling of Jesus’ healing miracles. Then the priests and choir went through the building, sprinkling holy water and incensing each room. Many dignitaries spoke, including the chief doctor of public health for the Central Plateau who promised to send us a young doctor once the clinic was stocked and ready.
Then, like the feeding of the 5,000, meals and drinks were sup- plied for everyone in attendance – a grand celebration with music lasting till early evening.
Twinning in Haiti is difficult – especially given the recent political unrest, but it’s times like this when you feel God’s love and joy. How through prayer and faith He pro- vides. Although the work in Haiti is never done, remember – we are asked not to be successful, but just to love.
Relationships built on face-to-face encounters have been the heart and soul of our solidarity with the Haitian people. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Salem, is one of 51 parishes in the Diocese of Richmond that walks in relationship and stands in solidarity – or “twin” with the people of Haiti. The twinning relationship between the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Hinche is in its 40th year! Over the years, so many lives, both in the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Hinche, have been changed and we are all drawn closer to Christ as a result of these encounters.
Contact Diane Atkins, chair of the Diocese of Richmond Haiti Commission, at [email protected] if you are interested in learning more about the Haiti Twinning Ministry.