Sister Maureen's many years of teaching serve her well on a recent visit to Haiti.
Haiti: Nine Months Later
Close to nine months following Haiti's massive earthquake, the country finds itself still buried, literally, in the rubble from fallen structures, washed out roads and lack of sanitation. The immediate response to the earthquake was remarkable as humanitarian group, one after the other, sent aid in the form of food, clothes, medical supplies and more. Clearly, a disaster of the magnitude of Haiti's earthquake finds individual people and agencies responding quickly and appropriately
The months following the January earthquake paint a very different picture as Haiti finds itself in continuing disarray. Tent cities seem to grow larger every day as residents who initially fled to the countryside in the first days after the earthquake move back to the capital of Port-au-Prince to receive some of the food distributions. The government is not fulfilling its promise to provide housing. At the same time, private land owners pressure people in make-shirt tent cities to leave, and all this as scantily-clad or naked children scurry among the tents, some bathing in buckets between the tents and hurriedly-constructed gutters used for waste and water spillage.
"I've traveled to Haiti on and off for close to 10 years and I've never witnessed such devastation of land and resources and human suffering," says Sister Maureen Carmody. On a recent trip to Haiti to work with a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in the southwestern town of Les Cayes, Sister Maureen traveled five hours from Port-au-Prince to her destination. "All along the road, on every side, tent cities seemed to erupt out of the land, scarring the landscape and offering little if any beauty to behold There was rubble everywhere an garbage was piled high around and in the tent cities," she continued. Many of the tents, once filled to more than acceptable capacity by large extended families, stood starkly empty, the people having made the arduous return trip back to Port-au-Print for food and water.
Once in Les Cayes, Sister Maureen set about our CSJ "mission": to assist wherever needed, and in ways that would be most beneficial for the people. On a practical level her mission included teaching in makeshift classrooms, counting and bottling vitamins for over 200 children, preparing "sterilized birthing kits" of gauze, cotton swabs and a razor blade for midwives to carry when they went to attend a mother in labor.
When asked what people can do to assist the people of Haiti, Sister Maureen is quick to suggest that educational opportunities for children are high on the priority list. For as little as $50, a child's school tuition is paid for a full year! To us it may seem a small amount, but for a family making between $100-$300 a year (the average annual income in Haiti), tuition is the last priority when compared to food and housing needs.
In response to the question, "Why do you continue to go to Haiti year after year?" Sister Maureen's face lights up as she responds, "because of the children. And because our CSJ Mission calls each one of us to be a loving and compassionate presence wherever there is great need."
The needs in Haiti are great indeed, and will increase without continued focus by governments and agencies worldwide. Be a persistent voice at the table when the topic of Haiti and assistance rises. Give the Sisters of St. Joseph a call if you'd like to donate towards educational opportunities of the children of Haiti. We'll be sure that your 'gift' finds its way to the neediest in Haiti, perhaps held securely in Sister Maureen's hands on her next trip.
And thank you for keeping Haiti and its people in your prayers.