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September 3, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 22

ARTICLE

photo: With students at College DeCoste in Haiti in the back row, from left, are Allison Moran, Natalie Burke, Brittany Borman and Teagan Grayson. In front row, from left, are Jennifer Piraino, Jackie Stykes and Patrick Costanzo.
With students at College DeCoste in Haiti in the back row, from left, are Allison Moran, Natalie Burke, Brittany Borman and Teagan Grayson. In front row, from left, are Jennifer Piraino, Jackie Stykes and Patrick Costanzo.

William & Mary CCM students told to ‘go with God’

T his past January, after months of spiritual and mental preparation (in addition to several Creole lessons), the College of William and Mary’s Catholic Campus Ministry Haiti Mission finally returned to visit College DeCoste, our sister school in Thomonde on the Central Plateau, after two years of cancelled visits.

During this relatively brief span of time, the people of Haiti experienced a catastrophic earthquake (2010), political upheaval during an election year (2011), in addition to a cholera epidemic that affected much of the nation.

And yet, after witnessing the unceasing efforts of our brothers and sisters in Haiti to rebuild their country, our team realized that our actions today as Catholics working in Haiti were insignificant by comparison.

So why go?

Why spend ten days in a country to which none of us had much of a connection?

How could seven college students hope to help a country that was grappling with so many internal issues?

The answers to these questions became evident throughout the course of our mission as our relationship with the College DeCoste continues to bear fruit through friendship and Christ’s love.

“Mari, ou sen, Ou se Manman Bondye, nou se pechè/ Lapriyè pou nou jodiya/ Ak lè nou prèt pou nou mouri/ Amèn.”

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

Each afternoon, after school let out, we would sit down and simply repeat these words as part of the rosary. But instead of saying the words in English, and expecting the children of Thomonde to follow along, we said the prayer clumsily in Creole.

It was a small gesture to be sure, and would do nothing to instantaneously halt the suffering that most of these children faced in their daily lives, but we prayed nonetheless.

Emile, one of our new friends at College DeCoste, was particularly engaged with our daily prayer. On the ninth and last day of our visit, Emile brought his prayer book to share with us. Then barefoot, he ran home to return with a small prayer card of St. Joseph which he gave to Jackie as a parting gift.

Even after all the kindness we experienced those nine days, we were still amazed that someone so small, with so few material possessions, possessed such rich generosity.

It was moments like these where we were not outsiders coming from above to save the “poor” Haitian people, but simply fellow Catholics enjoying our time as we offered our prayers to Mary with one voice.

Christian solidarity was certainly a primary reason for traveling to Haiti. Unlike many other non-governmental organizations, our team’s objectives were small, focused, and ultimately not driven by personal interest.

It was essential that we put a face to the money donated, and that we not only proved to the children that we were working in solidarity with them, but also with the parents and the adults in Thomonde. It is for this very reason that we attended daily Mass at sunrise every morning, ate frequent meals with Pere Phito (the headmaster at College DeCoste), and forged relationships with the faculty at the College DeCoste.

To avoid what has often been referred to as “service tourism,” we understood that our focus should always be sharing our mutual love of God and each other not only with the children (who are understandably very much fun to work with), but with the adults as well.

Trust was essential for our mission’s success during the 10 days in Haiti, and will continue to be as we work to empower the people of Haiti in the hope that, one day, our aid will not be needed.

With great respect for Haitian self-determination, the CCM Haiti team is working with College DeCoste to purchase biomass water filters from Pure Water for the World, a Haitian-run company based in Port-au-Prince. The company’s mission is itself quite simple and yet so important — to empower the people of Haiti to provide clean water and proper hygiene education for life.

With the help of generous donors and aggressive fundraising, CCM’s Haiti team will help coordinate with Pere Phito and his faculty to bring clean water to the students. These filters are produced by Haitians from natural materials found in Haiti, creating jobs for Haitians which in turn supports the Haitian economy.

In addition to providing sustainable, clean water, their program also trains and supplies teachers and adults with the materials needed to properly maintain the filters and improve the general health of the community. This new project seeks to create lasting, sustainable solutions for Haiti.

What our team does is simply provide the financial means to make this possible, and the rest will be up to our friends. In a country where only 58 percent of the population has access to clean water, health and water rights remain important issues. As more and more Haitians have access to one of life’s most fundamental necessities, we believe and pray that our friends will know a brighter future.

Haiti has suffered greatly and yet their faith remains unwavering, as does CCM’s support. The William and Mary twinning program has remained fruitful because of mutual commitment on both ends.

Jackie Stykes, a 2012 graduate of the College of William & Mary, led the College of William & Mary Catholic Campus Ministry Haiti team for three years. She is from East Atlantic Beach, NY.As we were about to leave for Port-au-Prince, we sadly said our goodbyes to new friends we hoped to see again. Pere Phitot, noticing our sadness and reluctance to leave, granted us one final piece of wisdom.

Life, he told us, often presents us with two clear paths; one of joy, and one of sadness. When faced with such moments, “Go with God.”

Those three small words summed up everything that had brought the seven of us to that very place. We hoped the same would be the case for our dear friends in Thomonde.

As Haiti continues to fight for stability and prosperity, the CCM Haiti team offers up a simple prayer — that we all follow Pere Phitot’s advice.

It is the Catholic way, it is Christ’s way, and it is the path that God has paved for students of Thomonde and Williamsburg alike.

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