Living La Gonave
As I sit in Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince waiting to board flight 952 enroute to the United States, I find it challenging to say that I’m going home. Having spent the past ten days traveling throughout Ti Palmiste, La
Gonave, Haiti, I have experienced a deep connection to the people of this village and the parish of St. Lucie who live in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There are approximately 80,000 people living on the island of La Gonave and they are poor. Not poor in spirit-but in the monetary necessities of life.
I have had the pleasure of being a part of St. Lucie’s Mission Team Two as it has been dubbed. The members of this mission are Jim Townsend, Ron Schug, Tony Vogel, and myself. Uponour arrival to Port-au-Prince on Sunday, June 11, we were greeted by Fr. Harold Francois of St. Lucie parish and his entourage, the people who would be responsible for our well being while in Haiti. Unknown to me at the time, the young man who would be our interpreter during this mission I would come to call my son and remain in daily contact with him to encourage and support him as he works to achieve success in an unforgiving country where the odds are against him. Fr. Harold and Jim have built an enduring relationship over the years that was apparent as they greeted one another outside the airport. Ron, Tony, and I were received with just as many hugs, well wishes, and prayers for a successful mission making us feel like we too were meeting up with old friends. This moment was a foreshadowing of the greetings we would receive from the communities of St. Lucie, Christ the King, St. Yves, St. Therese, and St. Michel as we made our way around all five schools in Holy Trinity’s sister parish.
Following the introductions and greetings the team and entourage climbed into the waiting machin (Creole for cars) and began the next leg of our journey. Steadily, we made our way out of the city to the ferry terminal at Carries. Once on board the ferry, it would take two hours to cross Canal de Saint-Marc and land at the port at Anse-a-Galets where we would meet up with new drivers. We left the village of Anse-a-Galets having eaten a wonderfully prepared meal at the Lion Bar Restaurant and began our ascent to the village of Ti Palmiste. We would arrive in the community of St. Lucie, our base camp for this mission, after many hours of bone jarring travel over dirt roads that appeared impossible to traverse moving at a top speed of 2mph over a distance of ten miles. Our skilled driver methodically maneuvered the ascent while avoiding the cliff’s edge,washouts, donkeys, goats, people, motorcycles, loose boulders, rocks, and gravel.
Many members of the community greeted us as we pulled in and waited for us outside as we made our way into the rectory. Fr. Harold, always giving of his entire being to the people in his presence, showed us our creature comforts for the days ahead. Clean sheets and towels were a welcome sight after two long days of travel. Fr. Harold and Fabrisses, our interpreter, and Fr. Harold’s nephew, would sleep outside in tents during our stay. Looking back I am in awe of the sacrifice Fr. Harold made for me as it was his room I was given during my stay while Jim, Ron, and Tony were given the guest room . I have come to learn that this sacrifice was not made solely for my benefit or that of the team’s as it is but one of the many ways Fr. Harold has found to give back to God for the many blessings he has been given.
For the next several days, Charles Fabrisses our interpreter, the mission team, Fr. Harold, and our entourage of four or five local young men, made visits to each school in the parish. It was during these visits that I served my part of the mission. Being a teacher I was asked to speak with the principals and their staff to identify ways to help each school provide and improve upon the education of its students. For this work my efforts would have been fruitless if not for the professional assistance of the self-taught English speaker Fabrisses. He is able to speak Creole, English, and French. When there is no translation for a particular word or phrase or when a moment of difficulty arises in conversation due to language barriers Fabrisses remains calm and professional asking the people he is working with to find another way to express themselves. He does not influence the direction or tone of the conversation. He remains polite and professional. Fabrisse
s is a Christian rich in faith. He is wise beyond his years, the result of many challenges he has had in his young life. He understands the hardships facing his country and carries the burden of rising above them. I pray that Fabrisses continues to find work where 80% of the mainland population is unemployed so he can continue to pay for the university classes he needs to continue learning English and earn his certificate for employment and ultimately achieve his dreams.
Conversationally, Fabrisses and I spoke to each principal and his staff to discern both short and long term goals of which there are common needs:
construction, uniforms, food for lunch which in many cases is the only meal a child may have that day, wages for the teachers and staff who may walk 1-2 miles each morning to get to school, clean water, toilets, educational materials, and the action of caring Christians. Seeing the needs of these people up close and personal and knowing the magnitude of the work that lays ahead was at times overwhelming. Despite the challenges that these communities live with everyday the heartfelt prayers and blessings that they bestowed upon me and the team reminded me that with God’s help anything is possible. Each visit touched my heart in ways that will remain with me the rest of my life especially when the children of Christ the King sang and St. Michel welcomed me with a song they had learned in English expressing their happiness to see me. There are not enough words in English, French, or Creole to convey my gratitude to them for accepting me with open arms. I am deeply humbled.
These communities are rich in faith and trust. They trust that we will guide them to a better future for their children. Much progress has occurred in this parish before my arrival-much more remains after it. The challenges on the island of La Gonave are perplexing. There are no roads only dirt and rocks. There are no cars only travel by foot, donkey, or by motorcycle if one is fortunate. There is no running water only wells dug by hand through rock reaching 100-400 feet below ground or those in communities fortunate to have had a drilled well. There is no electricity only generators that run a few hours a day on gasoline that is brought up the mountain from the mainland at over $5.00 per gallon. There are no jobs on La Gonave the unemployment rate is 95%. Life in Haiti is difficult. Life on the island of La Gonave-unimaginable. You have to see it for yourself in order to comprehend it.
My part of this mission continues to make itself known to me. I know that arriving back to the states and to Holy Trinity parish I have much research to do for ways to positively help St. Lucie parish. I will continue to pray for Fr. Harold as he wears many hats for the people of this parish. He is an angel sent by God-a person who is determined to make a difference. Not only a priest but a father, counselor, friend, accountant, doctor, city planner-Fr. Harold is the tie that binds this community together. He needs our continual prayers. He needs our unrelenting help. Fr. Harold told me, “Haiti is two countries in one country.” My eyes and my heart are now open to his passionate message. The island of La Gonave has been forsaken by the government and mainland. It should not be forsaken by us.
Soon, my feet will be touching US soil. My soul however, remains in La Gonave to which I pray God makes my return.
Ms. Robin R. Savino
Third Grade Teacher & Missionary
Holy Trinity School & Parish
1304 Alpine Church Rd.
Comstock Park, MI. 49321