By Celine Klosterman
By the time of her third trip to Haiti to train teachers, Lynn Leming made a discovery.
Simple number and alphabet charts brought to the rural region of Grand-Bois years earlier still hung in classrooms there. Fancier manipulative instruments donated to help teach math – which some U.S. educators use — sat in a closet.
“We have to create a new way of doing things that works for people in Haiti. That way may not be how teachers work here,” said Leming, who teaches eighth grade at St. Paul the Apostle School in Davenport.
She made her third annual visit to Haiti earlier this summer, joining one of three Iowa delegations that journeyed to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation in June and July. The faith-based organization ServeHAITI organized the weeklong summer trips, which focused on educating a total of 75 teachers over three weeks. But about a dozen Catholic volunteers from the Diocese of Davenport brought knowledge and skills in nursing, entrepreneurship and other areas, too.
Leading a workshop, Leming worked to help teachers embrace educational methods beyond rote memorization and simple lectures. “They said they wanted to teach the number 20. So we went outside and put 20 rocks in a bag,” she recalled. Then she showed how to use those rocks to visually illustrate addition, subtraction and fractions. “Their eyes just lit up.”
Fellow volunteers included her daughter Whitney Leming and Abby Peters, who led writing and art exercises and helped deliver donations of soccer balls and jump ropes. But the Haitian teachers especially appreciated gifts of desks and chalkboards, said Liz McDermott, local organizer for ServeHAITI. “One grown man started jumping and clapping his hands when he saw his desk,” said McDermott, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire.
Also on the trip June 29 to July 6 were Jane Brokel, Connie Shaw, Lori Roling, Kate Daniel and Meghan Kane Jamison.
A nurse and member of St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Brokel trained a few nurses at Saint Vincent de Paul Health Center on pain management, cardiovascular assessments and interventions, and dementia, delirium and psychosis interventions. Because the clinic has limited access to pain-relieving drugs, she focused on nonpharmaceutical pain management. Since diagnostic technology also is limited, she taught how to look for patients’ physical signs and symptoms of heart conditions.
Brokel relied on the evidence-based practices of the University of Iowa College of Nursing’s Center for Nursing Classification and Clinical Effectiveness and Hartford Center for Geriatric Clinical Excellence, she said.
Her ministry in Haiti also benefited from St. Mary Parish and religious education students, whom she said donated a total of more than $700 to send infant ibuprofen to Grand-Bois.
Members of the cluster parishes of St. Joseph’s in Hills and St. Mary parishes in Lone Tree and Nichols also have contributed. Catholics raised more than $10,000 to drill a well near Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Zoranje, Haiti, said Connie Shaw, a Hills parishioner who traveled there June 29. One parishioner made Stations of the Cross for the church, and numerous Catholics sewed 250 dresses and 180 shorts that Shaw and other volunteers gave to children. Some boys who accepted shorts had been wearing nothing but long shirts, she recalled.
Children received the clothes as they came for fluoride treatments that volunteers administered in two villages. Kids also received a sack with a toothbrush, soap and chlorine tablets to purify water.
“I’d been told people would push each other out of way to get the fluoride,” said Whitney Leming, who will soon be a freshman at Drake University. But rather than competing, parents let each other know about the opportunity for children to receive the treatments. “It was good to feel like everyone was on the same team.”
Helping the Haitians was rewarding, said Shaw, a nurse practitioner. But challenges included sweltering heat; little sleep; cold, short showers; a four-hour, nerve-wracking drive up a rocky path to the medical clinic; and, for several travelers, diarrhea. “When I first got there, I prayed, ‘Lord, help me do this for a week!’ But on Tuesday, I got to work and forgot about myself,” she said.
Now, she appreciates more what she has. And having seen Haitians’ faces makes praying for the people more meaningful.
“Their sacrifice is hard to comprehend,” said Gary Froeschle, a member of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. He has watched Haitians walk three hours in the rain to attend seminars that he and others have led on microfinance and entrepreneurship. He runs an independent insurance and investment agency in DeWitt and has traveled to Grand-Bois four times in the past year-and-a-half to guide Haitians in developing business plans. In November, he’ll return there. “ServeHAITI is about teaching people to help themselves. I’m overwhelmed by their commitment.”
Despite “mind-boggling poverty,” Haitians show resilience, said Debby Smith. She and her husband Christopher Smith, members of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, traveled to Grand-Bois in June. There they visited orphan brothers they’re sponsoring, and Chris helped assemble desks and blackboards donated to teachers.
JoAnn Marriott, a LeClaire parishioner, babysat children at the clinic during a June trip to Haiti. Standards of living there are incomparable to the U.S., she said, “but regardless of our living conditions, we can all work together to help each other.”
ServeHAITI will hold a fundraiser Oct. 13 at the Redstone Room in downtown Davenport. The event will include food, drink, live music, a silent auction and Haitian artisan market. For more information, visit www.servehaiti.org.