In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, ISN spoke with two members of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, a Jesuit parish located in Washington, D.C. Below, Kate Tromble, Pastoral Associate for Social Justice and Kittie Fitzgerald, parishioner and coordinator of the sister parish relationship with St Jean Baptiste in Anse d’Hainault, Haiti, share reflections on this sister relationship, the community prior to Hurricane Matthew, and what they have learned about the hurricane’s impact on the community. Via The Atlantic, you can view photos of hurricane aftermath in Haiti, including images from a USAID helicopter delivery of relief supplies to Anse d’Hainault on October 14, 2016.
Can you describe Holy Trinity’s sister relationship with Saint-Jean-Baptiste?
Starting in August 2011 with our first trip to St Jean, parishioners have continued to visit once or twice a year. This summer we will take our first group of high school students to visit the parish. Our visits are visits of presence more than service trips. We stay with the pastor, Pere Medard, meet with parishioners, parish leaders, other community members and coffee farmers. We spend time with the students at the school, doing art projects, playing games, and trying to learn a little Creole. We also attend mass, baptisms, first communion ceremonies and weddings.
Through the time we spend with the people in St. Jean we get to know more about them, about their lives, and about the country of Haiti. Also, we learn about the parish’s needs and this helps us direct whatever aid we send to the parish. Over the past 5 years we’ve offered summer soccer camps for children (talk about hot – spend a week playing soccer in Haiti!), facilitated the rebuilding of the parish’s secondary school through the Digicel Foundation, helped build an agricultural mill, just recently started a university scholarship program, and hired an agronomist to help coffee farmers export fair trade coffee.
During our visits to Anse d’Hainault we learned that the town had traditionally grown coffee (as did the entire region of Haiti). But, when coffee prices dropped in the mid-1980s they stopped growing for export. Most of the plants were lost and people also lost the skill to mass produce coffee. But, people were still growing coffee in small amounts and were interested in expanding. The parish connected with Just Haiti coffee, who provided guidance on how to restart this business within the community. We hired an agronomist for the farmers, but they created their coffee association, elected their association leaders, cared for seedlings in 6 nurseries and then replanted them throughout the association’s farms, tended and harvested the coffee, and prepared it for export. After 3 years the farmers finally started turning a profit! Matthew destroyed all of the coffee plants, but the farmers are determined to start again.
What were some of the challenges the parish and the community were facing prior to Hurricane Matthew?
Anse d’Hainault is a rural, coastal town on the western edge of southern Haiti. It has no electricity, proper sanitation, or running water and there is incredible poverty. People struggle to provide enough food for their family. And homes would appear to anyone not from Haiti to be shacks.
In terms of a relationship one of our biggest challenges is communication. When we first traveled to Anse d’Hainault, no one in our group spoke Creole and no on in their parish spoke English. We had a very hard time understanding one another. We have since improved our Creole and the parish has welcomed new English-speaking Haitian parishioners who are willing to translate. We’ve all become very good at charades.
Transportation is another challenge due to the poor condition of Haiti’s roads. It can take 12 hours to travel by road from Port Au Prince to Anse d’Hainault, a distance of 220 miles. Or, if we are lucky enough to fly into Jeremie, it takes 3 hours to drive the 40 miles between Jeremie and Anse d’Hainault. Also, when we want to send things to our parish we have to do so over water by barrel. These can take up to 2 months to arrive.
The parish was in the region significantly impacted by Hurricane Matthew, from what you have learned so far, can you describe the impacts this has had on the Saint-Jean-Baptiste community?
St. Jean Baptiste is in an agricultural area, referred to as the breadbasket of Haiti. Many people in this area are subsistence farmers. The hurricane destroyed crops, causing a big problem not only for people in this area but also for the rest of the country, which depends on it for food. It also destroyed all the coffee plants the Anse d’Hainault farmers were using as a means of economic generation. Pere Medard says they are receiving food aid, but it is not enough and we know other small communities that have not yet received any assistance.
Most homes, schools and churches have lost their roofs. St Jean Baptiste’s church lost its roof. The parish also had twelve chapels spread throughout the more rural parts of the community, all were either destroyed or lost their roof. Many homes and buildings have collapsed in the area. In Anse d’Hainault we understand that about 75 percent of homes are without roofs and another 25 percent have been completely destroyed.
Cholera is also a concern in this area where clean water was already hard to find, long before the storm. The hurricane also destroyed trees. Prior to the hurricane, this area had many trees, unlike much of Haiti, which has severe deforestation.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the sister relationship, Saint-Jean-Baptiste, etc?
We have been very enriched by our relationship with St. Jean Baptiste. We’ve not only made friends in Haiti as a result of the relationship, but we’ve also made friends here at home with members of other twinned parishes and the Haitian-American community in Washington, D.C. The parishes that twin with parishes in Haiti attend Creole masses now and then and regularly meet at Holy Trinity to share stories, challenges, and successes. Through these relationships we have gotten to know about many other small communities in the Jeremie Diocese. So, Matthew was devastating to us not just because of its impact on Anse d’Hainault, but because of its impact on all of the communities we’ve come to know over the last 5 years.
This past spring, Pere Medard visited Holy Trinity for the first time (his first trip to the U.S.). We enjoyed sharing with him a little of our lives and returning the hospitality he has shown us over the past 5 years. It was especially wonderful for him to be able to speak with Holy Trinity school students about life in Haiti because the children have been involved in our sister parish relationship since the beginning. The pre-k and kindergarten students exchange cards with the children in Anse d’Hainault, the older children sometimes exchange letters, the aftercare classes made solar lamps for doing homework at night, and the school prepared and gave Pere a beautifully decorated altar cloth. That connection was crucial once Matthew hit because the school children, as well as the rest of the parish felt the pain of friends being injured. They immediately rallied with prayers, a bake sale, a clothing drive, donations to Catholic Relief Services, and funds to reopen the parish school so the children in Anse d’Hainault can find some sense of stability in their days.