By Anne Marie Amacher
BETTENDORF — After an outpouring of financial support for the people of Haiti following a massive earthquake there in January, St. John Vianney Parish staff and parishioners wondered what more they could do. In response, they have formed an exploratory committee to look at options.
Father Robert McAleer, pastor, said the parish raised more than $30,000 during a second collection in January. That money is being forwarded to the Diocese of Davenport to be sent to Catholic Relief Services. Because of feedback from parishioners, he decided to hold a meeting March 1 to determine the parish’s interest in a long-term commitment to helping Haiti. He noted that many people had told him they would like to go on a mission trip or become part of a team to help those in need.
During the March 1 meeting, parishioner Andrea Coleman gave a presentation on Haiti, which she has visited in the past. She began the meeting by asking the dozen or so people in attendance why they were there. One parishioner said he was an engineer and wondered if water purification could be done. Another parishioner has made several medical mission trips to various countries, including Haiti, and felt it would be a good idea for the parish to offer a mission trip. Others had also been on mission trips or knew of friends who had been. Still others were curious to learn about Haiti’s needs.
Coleman showed slides and gave an overview of Haitian life and options for the parish to consider for a future project. She had been to Haiti previously to visit her son who was doing work there.
In Haiti, 60 percent of the people are without primary health care, she noted, and the country ranks 153 out of 157 countries for quality of life. Only 40 percent of the country had clean water — before the earthquake. Unemployment is 70 percent. Sixty percent of Haitians’ income is from relatives and friends who live outside the country and wire money back home.
“But despite all that, they have extreme pride in cleanliness and attire,” Coleman said. Parishioner Edline Evans, a native of Haiti, agreed. “When the people of Haiti go to visit the missions or visitors at clinics and other sites, they dress in their Sunday best.”
When people in Haiti need medical care, they are expected to bring to the hospital items they will need and cash to pay up front. Diana Lovett, a friend of Coleman’s and frequent visitor to Haiti, said, “There is no care without paying up front.”
Coleman then talked about the schools. They have a blackboard, chalk and a teacher who might have a ninth-grade education. “There are no books, paper or pencils.” No food is offered and most families cannot afford to send food with their child.
After sharing more stories on health care, education and other topics, Coleman asked her audience, “Can we make a difference? Yes. We bring hope.”
She suggested taking up another collection as one option. The group agreed it wanted to do more.
A second option would be to raise funds and do a single project — such as building a well. She noted that several organizations could assist with that project. A third option is a long-term partnership with such organizations as ServeHAITI or Friends of Children of Haiti. The final option Coleman offered was parish twinning. That program does not have many guidelines, so it’s up to the parish to determine needs.
Evans thinks St. John Vianney should do a parish-twinning project, perhaps with her home village of Chaneieu. “It’s a peaceful town.” Connections with religious organizations or trusted community members are still necessary for a project’s success.
Dr. Mark Blaser, a physician and member of the parish who has made medical mission trips, said, “This parish is crying for something like this.” The group in attendance agreed.
Further information about options will be sent to those who attended the meeting and they are encouraged to spread the word. A future meeting will be held to continue exploring options. Coleman said she could have members of various organizations speak to parishioners about their programs.