By Sisters Josephine Dybza and Vicky Della Valle
Sylvania Franciscan Sister Josephine and Aston (Pennsylvania) Franciscan Sister Vicky minister together in Pestel, Haiti, 90 miles west of Port-au-Prince. They help the Haitians with a variety of needs ranging from medical and food to water purification and education. Following, are excerpts from their monthly “Tidbits from Haiti” that will give you a flavor of their mission work.
At the beginning of March we had a group of visitors from Ohio Dominican University in Columbus. Dr. Steve Shoering, an orthopedic surgeon who teaches at the university, and Dominican Sister Margie Davis, Youth Minister, accompanied a group of 17 students. One was preparing to be a doctor, six were training to become physician assistants, and the others were studying to become teachers.
During the five days they were here, they set up clinics in different villages around Pestel. As with other medical groups that come, the lines were very long. One of their clinics was on the island of “Gran Kaymete”. That’s the poorest of all the sections surrounding Pestel. Our people were very, very grateful for their help, and I’m sure our young university students had an experience which will forever enrich their lives.
The Feast of St. Joseph (March 19) is very special here because our main parish in Pestel is named for St. Joseph. Many of our people walk many miles each way to get down to Pestel. They celebrate the feast with a special Mass and lots of Haitian food. Sr. Jo and I were not able to go down because our jeep is still not working. However, we will have prayer together.
In April we had the sad experience of going to the home of two of our children in our little school, whose dad, age 28, died suddenly the day before. In Haiti, there is no embalming, so the person must be buried the same day, or the very next day. There are also no autopsies, so the family will never know what really happened. When we were at the house, we went into the little thatched room where the mother was sitting on a mat on the ground. She said that she saw him before he went down to Pestel for market day and never saw him alive again.
There were people everywhere in the yard around their house, and along the path leading to their house. People continued to come and go all week long. Our little school reopened the day after the funeral. The two children didn’t return until the following week, and according to their cultural tradition, they cannot wear their rose colored shirt/blouse for about six months. They’ve been taking turns getting sick a lot since their dad died. The teachers do the best they can to be of support to the children, but life for these little ones will be very difficult.
Since I’ve been here in Ferye, I have learned quite a few things about farming and farm animals. Recently, as I went up the steps to the front door of our visitors’ house, I discovered something sitting on the porch which I’d never seen there before – an egg! A couple days later, I went up on the porch again, and discovered two eggs, hidden behind a bucket. Then, Sr. Jo discovered an egg on the floor in the outhouse. She left it there, only to discover a black hen sitting on the egg later that day.
We also found an egg on the ground among the trees in our yard. When I was speaking with Loubert, one of our village leaders who is also a farmer, he explained to me that sometimes hens will just lay their eggs all over the place, unless you make a nest for them. Although our little black hen did make a nest at one point, and has one little chick following her around, she continues laying eggs on our porch, and we continue to enjoy eating them. The other day I walked onto the porch just as the little black hen was leaving, and discovered another little gift – still warm.
Even though it is the rainy season, this month has been the rainiest one I’ve experienced since I’ve been here. We’ve had to cancel school, meetings, leadership classes, and work plans quite a few times because the ground has been too slippery and muddy for people to walk or drive their motorcycles up from Pestel. In particular, there is a hill in Ferye that is dangerous even when it’s not raining and absolutely treacherous when it is.
We’ve had many serious accidents happen on the way up that hill. They have been having very serious problems in Port-a -Prince, too, because of the rain. Just recently, homes were destroyed and a family drowned, when a landslide caused their home to collapse on top of them. The good news from all the rain is cisterns are full, and people have enough water to drink, cook, wash themselves and their clothes, water their gardens, and care for their animals. Hopefully, “si Dye vle” (God willing), Mother Nature will balance out for a while, and not head right from too much rain to too little.
Communication in Haiti has always been a problem. Today, (April) we received our snail mail from Jeremi. Sister Vicky got a Christmas card and some letters from her community leadership. I got the chapter packets and March mailing. The joy is news from home. Both of us will spend time reading every word.
We are currently preparing for a mission team, Impact for Jesus, to join us May 8. This 18-member team is installing a solar water pump in one of the villages, having a renewal for 40 villages, distributing 300 water filters, and bringing PVC fittings for 71 KPA cisterns. Praise and thanks to all!
We ask for prayers for four of our Ferye people who will be traveling to Port au Prince for surgery on May 16. Dr. Pierre Perriot from Croix de Bouquet is having a team of American surgeons provide this service. Dr. Pierre accompanied Dr. Paat on a medical mission here in January. Networking is a blessing.
May has been a busy month. Bill Plaza, our missionary friend who comes here several times a year to provide filters, and PVC for cisterns in many of the villages around Pestel, was here with a team of 17 people. Along with the wonderful work they’re doing of providing clean water for the people, they also come bearing other gifts, and often leave us with gifts to be shared among our people. They are an incredible blessing for us and our Haitian villagers.
Yesterday I had another eye-opening experience. A woman came with her tiny infant nephew. The baby was seriously malnutritioned. The mother had no milk to nurse the baby, and both she and the grandmother were physically unable to take care of the baby. I was holding him, and I just couldn’t get over how incredibly tiny that infant was – like a toy doll. He was such a little miracle, as I told the aunt, but at the same time, my heart broke to see that tiny little newborn already suffering so much.
I couldn’t believe my ears when the aunt offered to give me the baby. At first I thought she was kidding, but she kept saying it, and finally I realized that she was serious. I’ve heard of this happening, but it was the first time that it happened to me. I can’t begin to imagine the depth of desperation a person must be experiencing, to offer to give away their own flesh and blood, let alone their niece’s own flesh and blood. Our visitors’ had just left some articles for babies, among them some formula and a bottle for newborns. Sr. Jo prepared some for the baby, and the aunt started feeding him. Then we gave her money to buy more milk at the pharmacy, and told her to go to the clinic on Tuesday, so that our nurse can begin a program of care with the infant. I hope she will follow through.
When I get to heaven, I can’t wait to ask God why these little babies have to suffer so much at the hands of adults, who themselves are suffering at the hands of other adults, who make every effort to advance themselves at the expense of the poor.
On a lighter note, this morning I went over to the visitors’ house, and started up the steps, reaching for the railing without looking. Bad move! All of a sudden I heard a loud scream – mine!! I had impulsively put my hand on a rather big, soft “krapo” (frog). I don’t know who was more scared, me or him. He didn’t scream, but he swung from the railing to the other side of the step, onto the wall, and down to the floor, just like a chimpanzee! Then, he sat there on the floor, looking at me with those two bulging eyes. After that, he went to the corner, and went back to sleep.
The last time I saw Mr. Krapo, he was sleeping on the step. Fortunately, that time, I saw him before I accidentally stepped on him. These guys love our visitors’ house, especially when it’s raining. They have a whole cistern to themselves, and they love “singing in the rain”! Again, thank God for Bill and Renee Plaza, who have provided us with filters to purify the water from our cisterns before we drink it. This way, everybody’s happy!!!
Peace and all good.
Sister Jo and Sister Vicky