Monday, May 13, 2013

Local woman takes an eye-opening trip to Haiti by Michelle Libby

The Reverend Wendy Rozene, Deacon at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham, and her husband Dick went to Port-au-Prince, Haiti at the beginning of April for a conference for all of the priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and many from the US and Canada. Their plan was to discuss the church’s connection with Haitian churches. They were accompanied by John Arison, the chair of the partnership program for the Diocese of Maine and Sarah Danser, the chair of the Haiti commission. There were 265 partners and approximately 90 Haitian priests in attendance, according to Rozene. It was their first trip to the island nation, but it won’t be their last.

“You realize that our poorest in the US is nothing compared to the people of Haiti,” she said. They took group tours through the cities devastated by an earthquake in 2010. The cities have not finished rebuilding from the disaster.

“I was pleased to see all of the rubble has been cleared away,” said Rozene. She said they are still knocking down unsafe buildings and clearing that debris away. Many men from the area take the cement blocks from the demolition and bring it back to their homes to rebuild those.

“It was very hot, 96 degrees and 100 percent humidity all the time,” she said. “The poorest of the poor are still living in tent cities.” The tent cities, however, have been moved out of the major areas, some people were paid to move their tents into the mountains out of view of the public, said Rozene. Fifty-thousand people still live in tent cities.
Those who have houses live with walls cinderblocks high with no roof. The fortunate ones have a tarp over the top of the structure, she said.
“It’s been two and a half years and there are still electrical wires hanging down. A lot of people have lights and electricity, but it comes and goes,” Rozene said. There is no running water, no mail and everyone uses cellphones to communicate.

“It was the poorest country in the western hemisphere before this happened,” she said.

St. Ann’s along with other Episcopal Churches in Maine donate time and money to raise funds for their sister parishes in Haiti. St. Ann’s is partnered with St. Barnabas in Treille, Haiti. The village sits in the northern mountains and has 8,000 people, roughly the size of Cumberland, said Rozene.

The keynote speaker at the conference was the minister of foreign affairs in Haiti. He spoke about what the Episcopal Church of Haiti is doing to drill wells and start up businesses in Haiti. They are also rebuilding schools and houses. The donations from churches in America have been immensely helpful to the Haitian government, said Rozene.

Without running water, the people use watering stations and cisterns that are used to collect rain water. On the city tour, Rozene saw a man in his twenties or thirties stripped down to his “tighty-whities” taking a sponge bath.

Treille has a new well that encapsulates a spring head and has a cistern that collects the water. The villagers are now in the process of running PVC pipe down to the church where they will have their first watering station. This mountain village is only accessible by a footpath, a two mile hike up the mountain. Before the well, the women were carrying five gallon buckets on their heads up the mountain.

There is also no electricity in the village. “When you look at Google Earth, you don’t see many buildings at all,” said Rozene. The houses that are there are hidden under trees to protect the people from the sun.
Schools are now being reopened after having been leveled to rubble during the earthquake. The school buildings today consist of a sheet of plywood two feet off the ground and with four feet on top open for air circulation, and they might have a corrugated roof. Public schools are free, but Catholic and Episcopal schools cost $100 per child to attend the one in the mountain village and between $800 and $1,000 per year at Holy Trinity School in Port-au-Prince.

Despite the adversities, the people of Haiti are of wonderful spirit, very hopeful, faithful people, said Rozene. “They are more thrilled that we pray for them and they pray for us,” she said.

“The poor here in the US have so much more than the people of Haiti, yet so little faith,” said Rozene.
The place that touched Rozene the most was a visit to St. Vincent’s School for the Handicapped. Children. The children are deaf, blind or without limbs, through birth or the earthquake. She was able to use American Sign Language to communicate with some of the children.

Pere Jonas, the priest in St. Barnabas, is in charge of eight congregations, four schools and three clinics. It is unlike what we have in Maine, where one priest has one parish. Children in St. Barnabas can go to school up to fifth grade. If they want to attend the high school they have to make the two hour climb down the mountain, then take a two hour drive into town. Students who do this find residential placements.
Rozene and her husband hope to return to Haiti next February when it will be a little cooler to hike into the mountains to visit St. Barnabas.

Konbit Sante will host its 4th Annual Maine Walks with Haiti and 4-Mile Run on May 11 starting at 9:30 a.m. The run cost $20 to register on that day.  The walk is $15.  Proceeds from the event go to support programs in Cap-Haitien.  Gather at Back Cove Park on Preble Street across from Hannaford. Kids under twelve are free, 13- to 21-year-olds are $10, and adults are $15.

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