By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Doing mission work is not always an uplifting or wonderful experience, said Liz McDermott of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. Those on mission can experience hazards, culture shock and feeling out of place. Being a witness to the good and making a difference in people’s lives makes the experience worthwhile.
McDermott got involved in mission work after her brother in Atlanta, Georgia, asked her to go on a trip to Grand Bois, Haiti, as they needed a nurse. If she and another sister, also a nurse, could go, then he could go with them. “I said sure.”
At that time, McDermott said she wasn’t in the best place in her life. Her mom died in 1999, followed by the death of her mother-in-law. “I wasn’t very happy. But I learned to see this trip was a gift from God.”
In 2002 she made the first of what now totals about 25 trips to Haiti — some lasting two weeks and up to four weeks. Trips intensified after the 2010 earthquake.
Arriving in Port-au-Prince, she said the group she travels with as part of ServeHAITI spends the first night there because of difficult road conditions and lack of light for the five-hour drive to Grand Bois.
The early mission trips provided a makeshift medical clinic for Grand Bois’ people as health care was unavailable in the area. Over the years, the makeshift medical clinic led to construction of a permanent medical clinic that now employs around 50 Haitians.
Another mission project is water filtration systems. “We instruct the people how to use the system and to share with their neighbors,” McDermott said. Now the ServeHAITI group does specialty group support such as dentistry and ophthalmology.
ServeHAITI also has an economic committee which works to fund microloans to help residents start a business. ServeHAITI works with farmers to obtain farm tools to assist with crop production and the organization is getting Haitians tapped into solar energy.
Still another initiative is an education program in which U.S. educators teach Haitian teachers different techniques to use with their students. “We have stressed the importance of education,” McDermott said.
“We are in solidarity with (the Haitians) and show them they are not forgotten.” The group’s mission is to start and set up initiatives and train the Haitians to take over the initiatives.
The faith and resiliency of the Haitians amazes McDermott. “You look at their daily lives and see the constant battle. They understand what is important — family and faith —and not technology.”
The biggest challenges for Grand Bois and the country as a whole are political upheaval, natural disasters (earthquakes and hurricanes) and other obstacles, McDermott said.
But much good has occurred, including a big improvement in water quality. “They have much more access to clean water through well drilling and the water filtration systems. When you have better water, it helps overall health.”
In addition, the medical clinic operates year-round with regular and emergency hours. More residents get treatment earlier, before a condition gets serious.
McDermott returns year after year based on that earliest experience. “I went as a nurse and felt insecure. I saw thousands line up for help. I learned to love the people and have a desire to be with them. I have seen a community of hope. Our relationship has evolved and grown.”
She encourages people to step outside their comfort zone and take a chance to try mission work. It doesn’t have to be in Haiti or Africa. “Take the opportunity if you are offered it.”