By Anne Marie Amacher
When Abby Peeters and Whitney Leming went to Haiti earlier this summer, they didn’t expect their experiences to teach them something about themselves. They went with the intent to help teach Haitians.
A friend of Abby’s family, the late Tim Kane, had produced a documentary on ServeHAITI, a non-profit, faith-based organization that works with the people of Grand Bois, Haiti, to achieve a better quality of life. Kane shared stories of his experience and encouraged Abby, an incoming freshman at the University of Iowa, to make a mission trip with ServeHAITI.
Whitney’s mother, Lynn Leming, a teacher at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport, had made a mission trip with ServeHAITI last year and shared with her daughter the challenges Haitians face.
So when Abby and Whitney, who will be a senior at Central High School in Davenport, were offered the opportunity to make a mission trip with ServeHAITI, they said yes. They joined Lynn and members of other parishes on the June 17-24 mission trip.
Lynn said she has seen much change since her visit last year, when she helped instruct teachers in Grand Bois. In Port-au-Prince, the capital, traffic was flowing, people were busy, businesses were open and less rubble was in the streets. But Haiti is not anywhere close to recovering from the devastating earthquake of January 2010. And cholera has taken lives and made many sick throughout the country, she said.
In Grand Bois, Lynn instructed teachers about different ways to balance curriculum and offered new teaching strategies. Whitney taught creative writing and Abby taught art.
“At first, I didn’t think it would be possible to teach without a translator,” Whitney said. But she learned how to connect with the Haitians through physical actions and watching the expressions on their faces. And by observing Abby, she learned she had to open herself up so that the teachers would open up.
Abby initially had been frustrated with the language barrier as well. “I couldn’t ask them if they understood what I was trying to tell them. But I learned you don’t need verbal communication. They were able to express themselves through art.”
The two young women didn’t realize until later that they, too, were learning a great deal. The Haitians “have nothing and we have everything. But I learned they are happy with what little they have,” Whitney said.
While in Haiti, Abby received a message that Tim Kane had died. Abby was in tears as was ServeHAITI volunteer Liz McDermott of LeClaire, who also was a friend of Kane’s. A Haitian youth, who had lost his father the previous year, gave comforting hugs to Abby and Liz.
“He took care of us and watched out for us,” Abby said. She felt that being in Haiti was a good place for her to learn about love and loss. “I feel we were there for a reason and purpose,” Abby said.
Lynn said this year’s mission trip gave her the opportunity to see what the teachers had learned. Her students at St. Paul the Apostle had made history timelines for the Haitian teachers. Along with the timelines, she brought maps and globes from a Davenport elementary school printed in English and Creole. She also brought charts, dice, books and other school items and showed the Haitian teachers how they could make use of these materials in their own classrooms.
“This year I spent more time having them show me what they learned,” Lynn said.
Lynn, Abby and Whitney each carried 100 pounds of supplies with them to Haiti and wore their clothing in layers so they could make room in their luggage for supplies for the Haitians.
Abby and Whitney have decided to return to Haiti next summer with ServeHAITI. The two have begun plans for fundraising to buy supplies for Haiti. “It shows that one can make a difference and you can find out more about yourself.”
Hills, Lone Tree, Nichols parishes donate to Haiti
Catholics at parishes in Lone Tree and Hills helped make 129 dresses and 107 pairs of boys’ shorts, most of which went to Haiti during a June 17-24 ServeHAITI mission trip that Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport attended. The remaining clothes will be transported to Haiti later this month.
About a dozen seamstresses from St. Joseph Parish in Hills and St. Mary Parish in Lone Tree made the dresses and shorts, said Lura Loan, a member of St. Mary’s. About five months ago, she saw a flyer advertising the opportunity to sew clothing for Haitians and solicited volunteers to help.
Donations of material “multiplied like the loaves and fishes,” Loan said. Volunteers also bought men’s shirts from Goodwill and sheets to transform into shorts and dresses.
Especially helpful were parishioners Marilyn Knebel, Kaye Evans, Judy Stebral and Lucille Duwa of St. Joseph’s, which has a sister parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, in Zorange, Haiti, Loan said.
St. Mary Parish in Nichols donated 300 rosaries to send to the Caribbean country. A neighbor of Loan donated school supplies; St. Joseph’s collected hygiene items, and parishioners in Hills, Lone Tree and Nichols donated 14 suitcases in which to transport the dresses and shorts, Stebral said.
Some girls who have received dresses wear them only on Sundays, Loan said. Children wear their “rags” on the several-mile walk to church, then change into their donated outfits before entering the building, she said.
Catholics could have bought children’s clothes from a thrift store to send to Haiti, but “they’re not homemade with love,” Loan said.
“It gave us a good feeling to be able to help. You set up your sewing machine and imagine the little girl who’ll be wearing the dress. You hope God blesses her with food, shelter and love.”