By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — A group of Catholics from the Diocese of Davenport involved in projects in Haiti gathered last month to talk about their efforts of the past two years.
Kent Ferris, the diocese’s social action director, organized the meeting to “more fully appreciate the sheer magnitude of effort and generosity that has been displayed as a diocesan community. Having a better idea of who is undertaking efforts will allow us to better describe volunteer opportunities and use available resources, while working toward supporting Haitians in reconstructing their country.”
Participants at the meeting talked about projects that have been completed, are underway or planned for the future.
Ferris noted that people from the Davenport Diocese were serving Haitians more than a quarter of a century ago, according to diocesan records. Sister Marie Vittetoe, CHM, for example, has worked on and off in Haiti for the past 25 years.
Jane Brokel of St. Mary Parish in Riverside spoke by phone with the group to talk about her work with ServeHAITI, whose local organizer is Liz McDermott of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. “My focus has been on the talents of nursing and educating that population,” Brokel said. Her efforts include helping to update nurses on ways to provide services and to educate their patients.
Ann Wester, chair for The Haiti Connection at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, said her parish got involved after the devastating earthquake in 2010. She said parishioners responded tremendously with financial donations following the quake, but parishioners wanted to do more. So Father Robert McAleer, the pastor, asked a committee to investigate options. A parish twinning program was established with Our Lady of the Rosary in Jean Denis. Through a fact-finding mission, the Bettendorf parish learned about the community’s needs.
Parishioner Pat Monahan said the first project St. John Vianney undertook was to send $1,000 for fans to cool the church. Next, the parish assisted a child food project – securing funds for a storage facility that allowed the school to get free food through a United Nations grant. The Haitians built the facility. “Now 600 kids each day are fed a meal at school.”
The next focus was teacher salaries. “Teachers work there for free — literally,” Monahan said. The Bettendorf parish raised funds to provide back-pay and set a pay schedule through the year. A future project could include a new parish hall and activity center. Other ideas include a new school and microcredit program. A team is now preparing to travel to Haiti and bring about $5,000 in medical supplies on its mission trip. “We have clearly defined goals,” noted parishioner Mike Laas.
McDermott of Our Lady of the River Parish shared the history of ServeHAITI and how diocesan parishes have become involved. The effort began as a partnership between the LeClaire parish and Sacred Heart Parish in Atlanta, Georgia, about a decade ago. It has grown to include St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt and St. Joseph Parish in Bellevue and individuals from other parishes, such as Brokel, and Lynn Leming of St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport.
During a fact-finding mission years ago, volunteers learned of the need for health care in Grand Bois. “We found a physician and paid him once a month to spend two weeks at a time at the church” (which served as a clinic during the week). Eventually Serve HAITI helped build a clinic, completed in 2005, and the physician serves there year-round. Six months after the clinic was built, it needed more space. “We built a second story,” McDermott said. Annual fundraisers between the eastern Iowa parishes and the Atlanta parish help support their projects. Other projects ServeHAITI has funded include water wells, solar power, radio transmission facilities, clinic overhead and nutrition programs.
Leming has been to Haiti twice to teach educators, and is encouraged by their sense of hope. “They have an ‘I can do this’ attitude. I help inspire them to inspire their students. My teaching is lifesaving. I’ll always go back to Haiti.”
On last year’s trip Leming brought 300 handmade dresses sewn by ladies at St. Mary Parish in Lone Tree and neighboring parishes. Leming was deeply touched by that generosity.
Lending a helping hand is important, but fostering self-sufficiency is vital, the volunteers say.
“It’s not about us helping the people in Grand Bois,” said Gary Froeschle of the DeWitt parish. “It’s about the people helping themselves.”
He hopes to see business plans created and carried to fruition. He knows of a group of Haitian women who want to open a bakery in Grand Bois. They are working to establish a business plan to sustain their bakery. “We want to help them. We make no promises. But we will help them step by step,” he said.