“Choose love rather than hate,
This time last year, I wrote about our beloved chapel, St. Philomena, which had stood through the destruction and shock of 2010. She was cracked and weakened, and held up by struts, inside and out, which looked like crutches. A church on crutches—a fitting image in a country where so many people were left limping, or limbless, or worse.
“Choose to build rather than to destroy”
During 2011, the chapel enjoyed an artistic renovation, and a beautiful painting of resurrection now covers the once broken stones of the back wall. The front wall was repaired and secured with additional support. Throughout 2011, we find ourselves to be guided by the spirit of Resurrection, as we rebuilt so much of what had fallen, and even more beyond that. Building up healthcare, education and outreach services, building up programs and people, such that of all our leaders are Haitian, many of them hailing from our original home and school, St. Helene. The post earthquake programs of 2010 have flourished and continued to grow to serve the marginalized and unfortunate, and give dignity to thousands.
“Choose to heal rather than to wound”
As we reflect on the second anniversary of the earthquake, which is also our 25th year in Haiti, we can see very clearly the fruit of our labor in all we have accomplished.
“Choose to give more than to take”
“Choose to love rather than to hate”
On this 25th anniversary of our programs in Haiti, it is worth to remember our mission. Fr. Wasson built NPH on the gospel values of unconditional love and acceptance, and of indebtedness to the community. Work and responsibility were cornerstones of the home. In the 1980’s, NPH started becoming multinational, extending to nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean today. When I joined Fr. Wasson I did not work with him on the traditional program but rather on social aspects of the program. I worked on projects such as community involvement, life food distributions to Yucatan, explorations of Central America to find the sites of new homes, and incorporation of the elderly and mothers with AIDS into the program in Honduras.
When I came to Haiti in 1987 to start the home, the number of dying children offered for our home was alarming. Most suffered from malnutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia, and a new sickness called HIV/AIDS. So in Haiti, we started a hospital as well as an orphanage.
The orphanage was named St. Helene and has had a population of about 400 children for 25 years. A subgroup are 35 children with severe disabilities who require lifelong care and supervision, who live in our Kay Christine home. Our pediatric hospital, St. Damien, had about 15,000 outpatients a year and 4,000 admissions a year. Throughout the years we have attended to over 500,000 children.
Seeing such great need in Haiti, and since our St. Damien Hospital was developing so fast, I attended medical school in 1998 and became a physician. After I studied medicine, things changed. We had more contacts, more openings for community involvement, and people counted on us more in Haiti through hellish social problems and upheavals. In 1999, I started roaming the slums to help out of a truck. I was helped by “ex-pequeños”, the name we give young adults who grew up at an NPH orphanage. It was beneficial to all of us because previously they had no work – 80% unemployment persists in Haiti.
Our team began to set up clinics and schools, so we created a second generation program led by ex-pequeños called the St. Luke Foundation. The Foundation was named for St. Luke because St. Luke was both an evangelist and a physician.
We also began having the team from Kay Christine come with us, to provide mobile therapy for disabled children in the slums. All of this mushroomed. The St. Luke program grew to 28 schools in very poor areas – we call them street schools. One street school is for blind and deaf children; another is a beautiful high school called Academy for Peace and Justice, funded mostly by Hollywood celebs; a third is a vocational school sponsored by the Mexican government, called St. Francis Vocational School.
Some of the clinics have turned into permanent centers – two are maternity centers and one is a new hospital called St. Mary Star of the Sea in Cite Soleil (Sun City).
The St. Luke Foundation also started a production center called “Francisville” which makes construction materials and essential foods. It was named for St. Francis of Assis and operates under the slogan, “Works of justice are works of peace”.
Then came twin disasters: the January 2010 earthquake and, only a few months later, the outbreak of cholera in October. Both NPH and St. Luke went into high gear:
Thanks to your generous help and our strong Haitian team, we’ve been working day and night to build bridges of light and hope, of friendship and solidarity, traversing deep valleys of sorrow and hardship.
“Choose to persevere rather than to quit”
In memory of Fr. Wasson, and his commitment to children, at a moment when the earthquake dead were being recounted under high publicity, I imagined the many children of Haiti asking to be counted as the living…
To view a slide show of our work visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmLlwo0PFNQ
Fr. Rick Frechette, CP