By Tim Muth
Profiles of Three Communities and their VBS programs
Since we hold VBS programs in 3 separate communities, I’m asked a lot: “which is your favorite VBS program?” This is like asking me which is my favorite child. Each VBS program is different but special and enjoyable in its own way.
- Les Palmes: remote chapels, main school, field day
- Durissy: everyone is invited (3 to 20+ years old), chaos and fun
- Morne: schedule, organized, Fr. Petit is hands on, non-stop music, soccer, play time
What was I thinking? Two weeks in Haiti with 9 Young People
VBS Team 1 - Eddie Brace, Mary Ellen Sorenson, Michaela Aboutanous, Kyle Ruiz, Maya Aboutanous, Andrew Rocque Steven Bauschlicher, Tim Muth
On July 26th, I woke up in a cold sweat. Tomorrow, I was leaving for Haiti and I just realized I had agreed to take 7 teenagers and 1 young adult with me. This would turn out to be either the best or worst Haiti VBS ever. I would return either as an exhausted, frustrated old man or a refreshed, energized person.
Well, I have good news. The future of Holy Name of Jesus (HNJ) parish is very bright. We have an awesome group of young people. They are caring, compassionate, polite, hard-working, fun, and most of all wonderful Christian role models. I was proud to travel with them and be a part of this Haiti VBS experience.
An interesting fact is that all of these young people have strong ties to HNJ parish. They attended or have been involved with: HNJ school, Religious Education, Edge, LifeTeen, Vacation Bible School, or Melbourne Central Catholic high school.
In our newsletter you will read their stories and see their pictures. Maya, Andrew, Rachel, Kyle, Michelle, Eddie, Michaela, and Steven are special young people and we are fortunate they are members of HNJ parish. I would like to extend a special thanks to their parents, teachers, youth group leaders, and our priests for helping to form the right values in them.
Our young people left a long-lasting positive impact on the children they visited in Haiti. The children of Haiti created a special memory in the hearts of each of our young people. Both of them were touched by their experiences and they will remember it for their entire lives.
VBS Team 2 – Tim Muth, Leslie Curry, Rachael and Michelle Carroll
Haitian proverb: Sa je pa we’, ke’ pas tounen. “What the eye does not see, the heart does not feel.”
VBS Program at a Remote Chapel/School
I always enjoy visiting the remote chapels and schools. Both Les Palmes and Morne a Chandelle have remote chapels and schools. These are established when students have to walk more than 2-3 hours (one way) to an existing school and the new area is big enough to support a chapel and/or a school. To have a school, there must be at least 100 students and 6-7 teachers. In many cases the chapel and the school are housed in the same one room building.
This year, we held VBS programs at three remote chapels/schools: St. Michaels, St. Antoine, and St. Andre. In the case of St. Michaels and St. Andre, the HNJ team had to hike about 1.5 hours (one way) through the mountains to get to the school.
During this hike, we get to view the beautiful countryside and talk to the local people as they are working in the fields or relaxing in front of their houses. It allows the HNJ team to see how the local Haitian people live and play.
Volunteers Mary Ellen Sorensen and Eddie Brace reading to the children
By the time we arrive at the school, there are nearly 100 children, in uniforms, anxiously awaiting our arrival. As we climbed the same steep mountain trail to St. Andre, I could see about 25 children on the top of the trail. They were singing and getting very excited about our arrival. I was very tired but when I saw the children and heard them shouting encouraging words at us, I told myself to “finish strong”. I held my head high, put a smile on my face, and walked with renewed determination for the final 500 yards up the mountain. For the last 100 yards, the children came down the trail, held our hands and walked with us to the school. It felt like I was lifted up and carried by a group of small angels.
Children waiting for our arrival
The VBS program is a major community event. In addition to the 100+ children attending the VBS program, there are another 100 people standing at the back of the school, putting their heads through the windows, or just hanging around. They are other children (not attending our school), parents, older brothers & sisters, cooks, teachers, and older local men & women who want to join in the fun. Although we only carry enough crafts for the school children, everyone joins in the VBS songs and dances. Also, they love to watch the soccer matches and other outdoor games. If there is enough food and drinks (water or kool aid), Fr. Johnson makes sure that everyone receives something.
Visiting the remote chapels and schools make a lasting impression on both the local community and our HNJ volunteers. The local people get to meet the HNJ “blans” (white people) and they appreciate our efforts to provide a joyful day to the children. The HNJ team gets to observe “up close and personal” how the local people live and to demonstrate our caring and compassionate spirit.
It is truly a fun-filled and unforgettable day for everyone!
Oh yes, I almost forgot. The HNJ team is not too happy with their leader when they realize at the end of another long day they still have to walk 1.5 miles through the mountains to get back to Les Palmes.
Walking to and from the Soccer Field
Michaela and Maya Aboutanous, Andrew Rocque and Tim Muth walking with the children
We had a magical feeling as we walked to and from the soccer fields back to Les Palmes. Volunteer and first time traveler Michaela Aboutanous and I felt like the Pied Piper. We had 30-40 children walking with us. They held our hands, talked to us (I just smiled and nodded my head at lot -- I wish my Creole was better), pushed us up the mountain road if we started to slow down, and yelled to warn us to get to the side of the road because a motorcycle was coming. We would sing songs (Haitian and US), dance and laugh.
This is another one of the special and unexpected moments in Haiti. You will miss it if you decide to ride in a car or take an afternoon nap. It is a fairly easy 40 minute walk from the main church to the soccer field. Many times it is very hot and you are tired from the VBS or other outdoor activities. However, if you just allow yourself to “go Haitian” and just enjoy every minute of your trip you always receive a surprise.
Enjoying the children, dancing and singing
I know this sounds simplistic and not very exciting. However, many of my best Haitian experiences and fondest memories result from these simple moments. I just relax, go with the flow, and see what happens. This allowed me to see the kindness of the young boy who helped me get a rock out of my shoe or the young girl who pushed me to the side of the road to warn me to watch out for the motorcycle coming behind me. As we were singing and smiling as the children were doing funny dances, it reminded me that we are all God’s children. Sometimes the simple moments are the most profound and meaningful. Make sure you don’t miss them!
Progress is Measured in Small Steps
The most asked question I encounter is: “Is Haiti getting better?”. I never know how to answer it. Every time I visit Haiti, I see a few improvements but I also see many things that have got worse or remained the same. Here are a few improvements I noted from our current trip:
- St. Antoine – this is a very poor area which is a Les Palmes remote school. When we arrived I was shocked to see a new 6 classroom school building. It was not there when we visited 3 years ago. Fr. Johnson told me last year a French non-profit organization funded and built the school building.
- Durissy – a group of retired men from Wisconsin and Michigan have been traveling to Durissy for the past 3 years. They built an addition to the existing Durissy school. It includes: 3 classrooms, a Principal’s office, a library, and a computer room. The library and computer room will open in December 2015. Fr. Anis has asked us to help him acquire books and computers for these new educational facilities.
- Morne a Chandelle – in January 2015, Morne a Chandelle opened a new school. A Vatican representative helped to fund the school. Fr. Petit is an outstanding school administrator. He oversees all aspects of the school, frequently meets with the teachers to make sure they are meeting his high expectations, and talks to the students about the importance of their education. On the most recent Haitian government school exams, the Morne a Chandelle students had a 97% pass rate. This places it among the best schools in the country.
- Les Palmes – thanks to a generous HNJ donor, Fr. Johnson was able to hire a full-time nurse. This allows the Les Palmes clinic to operate 5 days a week and provide much needed medical services to the local community. During our recent visit, we saw a mother bring her baby to the clinic for her first check-up and shot.
My 3rd Trip to Haiti
By Kyle Ruiz
I went to Haiti this year with Holy Name’s Hearts Out to Haiti team. This is my third time in Haiti and second time going with this mission. I felt really privileged to work with this team and this mission trip was by far the best one I have ever been on. The priests were very hospitable and so were the children.
The best part of the trip was seeing how happy the children were to see us. And how they are probably happier than I am with fewer things. It made me realize a lot of the things I worry about right now do not really matter, and that I shouldn’t worry about issues that will take care of themselves. There are people in Haiti with very few things but they are happy because they have each other. I stood on the roof of one of the priests house for the view and I noticed that a kid that was around seven or eight years old was breaking up dirt to plant crops with a pickaxe. I think its funny because I hardly trust my two younger sisters with scissors. But seeing this made me really appreciate the lifestyle I live here in the United States.
Not only does it make me appreciate the life I live but it also motivates me to take the opportunities I have. These kids do not have the same opportunities as many people in the states do. It makes me sad when I hear about people throwing away their opportunities for no good reason when someone else could have used them to better his or her life.