St. Peter's Blog 'First Day Impressions' from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – North Wales, PA's Blog

First Day Impressions

Image Tuesday, Feb 24, 2015
Author: Pastor Andreas Wagner

Pastor's first day in Haiti... check it out!  

I am traveling this week in Haiti with Food for the Poor. Food for the Poor is the biggest relief organization  in the Caribbean and Central America. I am part of a group of about ten pastors from various churches and areas (of the US) participating in a tour of their ministries in this country, which is considered the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

My travels on Monday to South Florida were majorly delayed and changed. The flight from Philly to Fort Lauderdale was cancelled. I took a later flight to Miami (also delayed) and made my way up to Fort Lauderdale in a Super Shuttle. I missed the afternoon orientation at Food for the Poor headquarters in Coconut Creek, but met my travel companions at the hotel.

This morning, Tuesday, we got up at 3:15 a.m. to catch the early flight to the island, a two hour trip. I was seated next to two Haitians. The man next to me was totally wired; Francois now lives in South Carolina and was going back to his country of origin for a month. Francois, however, didn't stop talking  or moving around with wild gestures (thank God Jet Blue's seats are pretty roomy!). He was even rude to the flight attendant. "When are you stopping this non-sense?" he snapped when she handed out the custom papers. A few minutes later he asked me whether I could do the papers for him and I realized that he was illiterate. I did his papers, we had a nice talk on the ride and even the flight attendant picked up on his sense of humor.  I told her not give him any more sugar...

After making it through the airport and getting on our little tour van, our first stop was a school; however it was not the school we were supposed to visit in the middle of Cite Soleil, a slum area in Port au Prince; apparently they had security issues. We went to Marie Clarac School. Our driver Daniel maneuvered the vehicle masterfully through crowded streets and tight corners littered with rubble, colorful nevertheless, especially the little buses called "tap taps" that we passed. They were painted in all the colors that you can imagine.

We received a rousing reception at the school. The teachers had lined up all the girls, beautifully dressed in their school uniforms and white bows, and they greeted us in the courtyard with songs, with a great big girl's choir. The scene felt a bit unreal. You feel almost embarrassed for getting so much attention - for what? For traveling the country and handing out candy? But if you don't think about it too much (as we tend to do), you simply enjoy the company of children who are eager to enjoy a change of school routine. I even tried jumping their rope once - and failed miserably. You also wonder about taking pictures, hate being a voyeur. (Again, we probably think too much...) I ended up taking a few and sharing them here.  It was really a happy experience. I spoke briefly with the nun who runs the place and she had so much hope for expanding the school, and it seemed like a very well run place. Hey, the handwriting of the youngest class was pretty impressive!

The next two stops reminded us of the levels of poverty that exist in this country, the chronic ills of Haiti. We went to the Food for the Poor headquarters and  participated in the daily food distribution. Their daily clientele of hungry folks wait in long lines as early as nine o'clock in the morning. The kitchen must have about  30 or 40 stoves running all the time, preparing rice and beans and vegetable a vegetable soup with meat in it in huge pots. They keep distributing food in plastic containers from morning till afternoon, and it is very clear that there are many families here who rely on this act of charity. Leann and Kevin are our tour guides from the Miami staff. They showed us the huge food warehouse with tons and tons of rice and corn meal and other staples piled up on shelves that get distributed to various parts of the country, including hospitals and schools. It's a major operation and they empty out a lot of container cargo here.

The most sobering experience came at our stop at Bernard Mev's Hospital, the biggest medical clinic in the country, the only place for trauma treatment, etc. It really wouldn't meet standards anywhere in the US. It would be frightening to get seriously ill in Haiti. Food for the Poor is helping them to make progress with new facilities. In fact there was probably as much construction going on as medical treatment when we were there. We met a nice guy from Erie, PA who has been there three years. His expertise is physical therapy. The hospital has indigenous staff but also welcomes a steady flow of foreign medical experts whose main joy is to train Haitians. Asked about their greatest need, Scott, the nice, 20something kid from Erie responded immediately: "Supplies!" I find it curious that a country that is so close to some of the wealthiest areas of the world has trouble getting medical supplies for its sad premier hospital in the capital city. How can that be? Especially after the earthquake disaster from five years ago that drew attention to Haiti?

We are now in a nicer area of this part of Haiti, in a "real" hotel with a bit of tourist flair. I heard that Bill Clinton was in town today to open a new Marriott in Haiti. No doubt these higher end businesses are as important for Haiti and its struggling economy as relief efforts. I am very glad I went on this trip. More about it tomorrow. May God bless Haiti!

Pastor Andreas Wagner    

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