Efforts to serve Haiti are stepped up

Frank Dohmen of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire used a donkey to move supplies between Grand Bois, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic during a mission trip last week. A Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti has made travel more difficult.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Liz McDermott of LeClaire was re-dressing the wounds of a Haitian woman severely injured in last month’s crushing earthquake in Port-au-Prince. The woman had suffered the partial amputation of one foot and an above-the-knee amputation of the other leg.

“I said, ‘I’m so sorry for you. I wish I could help you more.’ And she just looked at me and said, ‘Anpil mize,’ which means ‘so much misery.’”

McDermott, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, had traveled Jan. 25 to Port-au-Prince with her sister and two others to deliver 400 pounds of supplies and medicine to Matthew 25, a guest house for missionaries in Port-au-Prince that has been converted into a temporary tent city and health clinic.

McDermott and her sister, Cindy Broders, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Bellevue, alternated between tending to the wounded at Matthew 25 and helping Wendy Strassner achieve humanitarian parole for two Haitian children. Strassner hopes to finalize adoption of the children in the United States.


Strassner and the other adults are members of ServeHAITI, a non-profit, faith-based organization that works with the people of Grand Bois to achieve a better quality of life. Several parishes in the Diocese of Davenport — including Our Lady of the River, Holy Family in Davenport and St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt — support ServeHAITI.

Grand Bois sustained minor damage in the earthquake; so the women went to do what they could to help the people in Port-au-Prince.

“I took a little bit of video of Port-au-Prince on my flip camera,” McDermott said. “It takes your breath away. You drive by these homes — three stories, flattened. You get to pockets of stench and you know there are bodies under there that will never be recovered. The people can’t even grieve and mourn because they have no closure.”

But what struck McDermott was the people’s response. “You’ll hear this singing: ‘Thank God for saving us, thank you for delivering us.’ It’s just so beautiful. They’re teaching us how to respond,” McDermott said.

Some 60 miles away, Frank Dohmen, another parishioner of Our Lady of the River, was trouble-shooting an electrical problem at the health clinic in Grand Bois, which is part of ServeHAITI’s mission. He had traveled to the Dominican Republic with McDermott and the others. But then they separated to serve Haiti where they were needed.

Dohmen had asked for two donkeys to help transport supplies from the border of the Dominican Republic to the health clinic in Grand Bois. But Doctor Leopold Florent, who heads the clinic, was able to provide one donkey for the roughly seven-mile journey.

So, Dohmen, Dr. Florent, two other Haitians and the donkey made the journey to the clinic with four bags and one box of items — tools, medical supplies, some clothes and baby formula.

The electrical engineer felt compelled to travel to Haiti after receiving an e-mail that the electric pump powering the health clinic’s well had stopped working.

“It just bothered him that the well wasn’t working,” said Dohmen’s wife, Joni Sue, who supported his decision even though it left her at home juggling work and the schedules of their five children.

“I didn’t want them to have to close the clinic due to lack of water,” said Dohmen, whose boss at LyondellBasell Co., Clinton, allowed him to take vacation to trouble-shoot the situation. This is the dry season; last year the clinic shut down for a month due to lack of water.

Dohmen observed some cracks inside the church that serves St. Pierre Parish in Grand Bois, but no walls had fallen. He saw a few cracks in the parish rectory, but just one small crack in a wall of the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center, which ServeHAITI built.

The Haitians thought the earthquake, however, had caused the health clinic’s well to stop working. But Dohmen discovered it was an electrical problem. “It was a 20-minute fix; I was relieved that at least we could get it working.”

While in Grand Bois, he experienced his first aftershock. “It was a small one; everything starts moving on you a little bit,” he said.

Before the earthquake, Dohmen had been planning to go to Haiti in March to help install a 100-foot tower, wind generator and radio station at the clinic.

The clinic derives its electricity from solar power during the day, but at night, sometimes relies on a diesel generator when the batteries go dead. But diesel is very expensive. The wind generator would alleviate or eliminate the need for the diesel generator. There is no other electricity within a 15-mile radius of the area, Dohmen said. 

The radio would provide the people of Grand Bois — population about 65,000 — with news about politics, the weather and medical issues, he added.

But the equipment to provide all of that is sitting on a boat, which hasn’t been able to make it into the crippled harbor at Port-au-Prince.

Another group of ServeHAITI volunteers — including McDermott and Dave Schumacher of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt — are heading to Grand Bois Feb. 9, Schumacher said.

“I’m going to be doing maintenance on the systems and inspecting the church and rectory,” said Schumacher, a contractor. “We’ve also adopted a high school down there. I want to make sure it’s functional.”

He said he’s looking forward to the week-long mission. “They need help, and I just want to get down there and help them.”

But his work isn’t nearly as important as the prayers and financial support coming from his DeWitt parish and others, Schumacher said. “Prayers are essential.”

For more information about ServeHAITI, visit wwwservehaiti.org.

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on