By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — Following the devastating 2010 hurricane that struck Haiti, St. John Vianney Parish responded financially to help people in that country. Father Robert McAleer, pastor at the time, saw his parishioners express more than a financial interest so he gathered a group to see what else the parish could do.
After the initial meeting, Ann Wester read a parish bulletin announcement about Haiti. She contacted a former co-worker, Andrea Coleman, who served on the committee. “Why don’t you come and see what it’s about,” Coleman suggested.
Wester has chaired the parish’s Haiti committee since that time. She has been on nine mission trips with the parish, seven of them during annual medical missions in January or February. The first mission trip in September 2010 assessed the needs of the Jean-Denis area.
Seeing the extreme poverty in person was much different from TV news reports, she said. Haitians lived in huts with no bathrooms, running water or kitchens. The huts were for sleeping in, nothing more. The people and animals were malnourished. “We didn’t even see many animals the first time,” she noted.
Despite the conditions, the people are “so good and loving. They see nothing but hope and have a strong belief in God. You learn about your own faith when you see people who have nothing, but have so much hope.”
On that first trip, the five mission members attended Haitian Mass. “They were so excited we were there with them. At the sign of peace, I swear all the people came and gave us a hug. I cried. It was very moving.”
The people of Jean-Denis, the area St. John Vianney serves, tolerate pain well. The medical mission groups provided much needed medical care. Doctors and clinics are not otherwise available. “We see some severe infections that could have been prevented if they had access to health care.”
On the economic side, the community gets its income primarily from rice farming. “That is their staple.” A group has worked with farmers to help them in those efforts.
Between 2010 and 2019, Wester has seen some improvement. The people and animals look healthier, and malnutrition has lessened. One thing that has helped the people of Jean-Denis is having meals served to students at school. St. John Vianney provides funds for a meal of red beans and rice and for additional protein.
Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, “has so much potential, but they keep getting knocked down,” Wester said. Violence in the country has risen to new heights, resulting in cancellation of the parish’s January 2020 mission trip. Violence also cancelled a trip in 2016.
Father Jean Solomon of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Haiti and his bishop advised Wester this month to cancel the trip because of safety concerns. Violence has spread beyond the larger cities and into the rural areas, she said.
Wester plans to look through items earmarked for the January mission trip to determine whether to donate some of the medications locally because of expiration dates occurring before the next planned trip in January 2021. The parish plans to send $5,000 to Father Solomon for humanitarian aid.
For most of this academic year, violence has prevented the children from attending the school St. John Vianney funds. Children also miss a meal they would receive if school were in session.
Wester said people in Haiti told her that poverty has gotten worse, nearing the level of post-hurricane 2010. As the violence in Haiti continues, she asks that the people of the diocese pray for the people of Haiti. “We need to pray for them.”