St. Joseph Church mission trips to our sister parish of St. James, Plaine du Nord, Haiti, are generally offered twice per year – spring and fall. If you would like to be a part of one of these mission trips, contact Fr. Gene Schroeder at the Parish Office (812-963-3273) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most trips are seven or eight days. We travel as a group from Evansville to Ft. Lauderdale to Cap-Haitian, Haiti by plane, then by ground transportation to Plaine du Nord (40 minutes). We are met at the airport by the parish priest who escorts us to our destination. We stay with him at the rectory within the church compound. All meals are served to us in the rectory dining room and provide an array of tasty native dishes, with an occasional hamburger. Bottled water is provided to fill our small bottles, along with juices, coffee, Coke products and beer with meals. Although tap water in most of Haiti is unsafe for drinking, the water at the rectory is healthy because of the new Water Purifying System that has recently been installed. Sleeping arrangements are usually dormitory style, but depend on the configuration of the group. The rectory provides the luxury of flush toilettes and showers. The climate is very hot with an occasional shower. The rainy season brings steadier downpours, but usually not in the spring or the fall. Loose, lightweight clothing is a must.
Our mission is to address the needs of the people, so we plan projects for each trip, in addition to manning the medical clinic for the week. There is a job to do for every person in our group no matter what their skills. Church services are offered most mornings and on Sunday. The average total trip cost per person is $1300.00. This includes airfare, hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, food, lodging, international travel insurance and Haiti entrance tax. A passport is requirred to enter and to leave Haiti. Immunizations needed are hepatitis A and B, tetanus and prophylactic Malaria medicine.
HAITI PACKING LIST
CLOTHES (Men: pants, shorts. Women: skirts/capris/dresses. Shirts, Socks, Underwear, Sleepwear, Hat, Comfortable Shoes, Rain poncho or umbrella), TOILETTRIES, WATER BOTTLE, BACKPACK or FANNYPACK (not necessary, but helpful), FLASHLIGHT (extra batteries), WATCH, KLEENEX, MEDICATIONS, SUNSCREEN, INSECT REPELLANT, CITRONELLA CANDLES/MATCHES, CAMERA, LIQUID HAND SANITIZER, EARPLUGS, BATH TOWEL/WASHCLOTH, NOTEPAD & PENS OR PENCIL, SNACKS
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO GO TO HAITI? Here are some reflections from people who have been on a mission trip.
My name is Michelle Schmitt and I was among the group that went on the last trip down to Haiti in April. I was fortunate to be on a trip with Dr. Elliott, since I plan to pursue the field of Nursing. I knew it would be a memorable and humbling experience, and it certainly was! Dr. Elliott had me doing things I never dreamed I would get to do at this age. For example, I gave a shot to a patient, I pulled two teeth, I wrote prescriptions, and even sutured after a surgery was performed. I also cleaned and prepped all of the instruments used. Of course the group that went down did other tasks such as interviewing the students and working on the water project. Some other highlights of the trip were getting to meet all of the children, riding in a tap-tap (which is a mode of transportation), teaching doctor Elliott how to French braid hair, back massages by Kami and Dr. Elliott every night, Wilma and I having the party room at the hotel (yet being the first ones to fall asleep), the breath-taking Mass on Sunday, the wild rides in the bed of Father’s truck, the Cap-haitian band that came to play for us, and getting to visit the beach. Almost every day after our work was completed, we got to go on little adventures to places that Father wanted us to visit. It was on these trips when I saw all of the people in the streets that made me start thinking.
At the beginning of the week, I texted my mother these exact words: “Mom, it’s very sad here.” But then as the week progressed, I began to realize that it was me being sad for their situation. What I was doing was compareing everything we had to what little they had. Then, when I took a step back, it hit me that they are genuinely happy people. The most powerful thing I experienced was the Mass on Sunday. It was absolutely packed; and even though I didn’t know anyone there, I felt an immense connection with everyone. Feeling everyone’s passion and hearing the all-male choir brought me to tears. Even though they have so little, they make it work. This is why I have begun to simplify my life. I only buy things I need not want. Then, my saved money can go towards causes other than myself. One of the things I really began to notice when I returned home was how much people complain about how awful their lives are. It really makes me think twice about what I’m about to say when I feel like complaining.
I won’t be able to return to Haiti until after I graduate from college, but I do plan on returning because I feel that there is still so much work to be done, and I want to be a part of it
Ever since I can remember I have wanted to travel abroad. Not abroad to Canada or vacation in Mexico, but to a place much different then my home. After graduating a semester early from Purdue University with some time before I began my graduate work in Social Work at IUPUI, I decided it was time for me to get my experience I always wanted. With the occurrence of the earthquake in Haiti this January, and the closeness to home (Ferdinand, IN) of St. Joe’s and their mission work in Plaine du Nord, I had found my experience. I truly felt it was the right time for me in all aspects of where I am in my life to partake in the mission trip this April. I didn’t know anyone else on the trip and was very nervous of the unknown. After a brief meeting 2 days before departure, the ambiance and charitable spirit of the group was catching and reassuring that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
Though it is extremely difficult to share what I experienced on the trip, I can say it was life changing for me. After passing out vitamins to malnourished kids, taking inventory of the medical clinic that housed mouthwash, eye drops, and over the counter cold medicine in the pharmacy, I realized how severely different and poverty stricken this country really was. The opportunities and access to healthcare, education, and food were close to nothing. There was not a CVS, McDonalds, or grocery store to stop at for items we deem as necessary. Since returning, I have begun to notice just how accessible things are and that there unnecessarily is either a McDonalds and CVS every mile. When we took a trip to town to get things we needed like food or fuel, we had a 45 minute drive. This however was short compared to the people who had to walk or drive motorcycle to Cap Haitian each day. Since moving to Indianapolis, the reality of just how spoiled we really are is overwhelming. I live within 10 minutes of pretty much any type of food or store you could imagine.
Living in the rectory for our trip was interesting. With the bugs, lizards, frogs in the shower, strange noises, cold trickling water showers, and humid bedrooms, being comfortable was difficult. After realizing our conditions were considered the cream of the crop, I quickly became thankful we even had a roof and a mattress.
One of my favorite things about the trip was being able to learn about the people of Haiti. Getting to know our interpreters, some of the kids, my families sponsor child, and some of the people involved in the church provided an up close insight into their lives and lifestyles. One thing that really struck me about the children of Haiti was the lack of sports equipment. I began to think of the big P.E. closet in my grade school filled with balls of all kinds and an endless amount of games we had access to and took for granted. I also began to realize how much food I buy and waste each day. With the food and water I waste in a day, I could possibly feed a few kids and have since payed more attention to the things I buy.
I was also honored to speak on behalf of our visiting group at Sunday morning mass. With some help from father, I was able to learn a couple Creole phrases like “good morning brothers and sisters” and “thank you all very much” and incorporated them into my speech thanking father and the people of Plaine du Nord for their graciousness, hospitality, and close up look at the true Haitian spirit despite all obstacles they face each day. Though we had only 9 days in Haiti to help the people, I found they helped me more. I feel truly blessed to have been able to be a part of their lives as well as learn so much about my own. I have since returned home with a new appreciation for everything and everyone in my life. This reality check has helped me grow up and will surely help me in my career working with those less fortunate and unprivileged in my social work education and career. Now, almost two months later, this experience seems unreal. It is difficult to think our somewhat uncomfortable at times living conditions were high-end compared to many overcrowded homes the people live in even after we leave and resume our lives in the states. As a current student ready to embark on three years of graduate school, I have learned just how lucky I am to have an education and a chance, even hope, of having a career and a long future filled with my own car, home, and endless amount of food. I especially have learned to appreciate my family and all their sacrifices for me to have these opportunities. I can truly say Haiti opened my eyes and heart.
Hope this provides some insight!
When the opportunity presented itself to travel with friends on a mission trip to Haiti, George and I felt led to go. We had previously been to the Philippines and I thought I would be prepared for what I would see and experience. I wasn’t.
From the moment of our arrival, I felt like I was in a land that time had forgotten and the rest of the world had turned from, so as not to see. In Cap Haitien, the second largest city, the streets were teeming with people in constant motion in every direction, but all with the same purpose…survival. Human ox-carts, pedestrians, motor bikes and vehicles all tried to maneuver on gutted roads where dust and diesel fumes coated everything.
The infectious smile and laughter of our host, Fr. Alain, as we traveled to the simple rural community of Plaine du Nord, seemed almost out of place with so much misery surrounding us. But as the week progressed, I was reminded again of how my homeland has surrounded itself with physical comforts and “our rights”… instead of working on relationships. The joy-filled hospitality from a people who have little to share, spoke volumes to me about the concept of stewardship. It reminded me of the scripture story of the poor widow who only had a few coins to share, while the rich put in large sums. Jesus quickly pointed out which contribution was the better…”for the wealthy contribute from their surplus of wealth, while the widow, in her poverty, contributed all that she had.”
When our week was over and we were traveling home, George reminded me of how we had been to Haiti 20 years earlier while on a cruise. The cruise company rented a portion of the beach, as one of their ports-of-call. I recall this area being fenced off from the rest of Haiti, and while I was enjoying exotic drinks and relaxing to island music, there was another world on the other side of that fence that was struggling just to live. I am grateful to God and the people of Haiti for sharing their lives with me, and I do not want to be ignorant of “that other side of the fence” again.
What an incredible experience! Like those who’ve made the trip before, I’m challenged to communicate what I experienced in Haiti. I will share just a few thoughts.My first impressions of the country related to the living conditions in Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, where Fr. Claret picked us up at the airport. There was such congestion of people and vehicles on the roads as we passed through this city. People lined the roads, carrying things on their heads, on scooters, trucks, carts, and donkeys. Large numbers of people seemed to occupy every moving vehicle. There were billows of dust and smoke in the air, from the unpaved roads and burning trash piles. The people were generally very lean and appeared very busy going about their activities. Some animals, such as goats and dogs, were eating refuse from piles of debris. There were open trenches that moved sewage through the city directly to the sea. I was having trouble taking it all in. I was tearful, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.
About an hour from Cap Haitien, we arrived at our sister parish, St. James, in the village of Plaine du Nord. While the conditions are oppressive in this community, the intensity of the poverty was not as apparent as it had been in Cap Haitien. It was in Plaine du Nord that I was able to get past my initial awe of this place. It was in Plaine du Nord that I became acquainted with the people.
During our few days in our sister parish, we became close friends with several folks. Fr. Claret, like Fr. Gene, was trying his best to shepherd his flock with all the energy and resources he could bring to bear on the needs of his people. Some of us worked with nurse Ketley, who Dr. Steve is mentoring to address the medical needs of those who rely on the parish clinic for relief from their pain and suffering. Fr. Claret’s protégé, Eric, tried to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Nana, Fr. Claret’s cook, worked very hard in her primitive kitchen to prepare meals for the parish guests. Mathurin, our driver, navigated his truck with lightning reflexes through the pitted roadways, narrowly missing animals, pedestrians, and other vehicles. Eliot and Jimmy, whose construction knowledge and patience with us made our painting project so much more productive, taught us many things. We came to know and love these people, and the many others who helped make our stay a memorable one. We received gifts of warmth, friendship, hospitality, and love. The Haitian people shared their joy and spirituality with us. The gifts we received were much greater than any material gifts we may have shared with our brothers and sisters in Haiti. How blessed we were to have been their guests.
During my visit in Haiti, I began to appreciate some of the statistics I I had heard . . . that 20% of Haitian babies die before their first birthday . . . that average life expectancy is about 46 years . . . over 75% of the people are unemployed. These numbers are no longer abstract to me. I now understand that these numbers refer to real people . . . people who I’ve met and are my friends. These folks, like us, are trying with all the gifts they have to provide as good a life as they can for themselves and those they love.
I have often wondered why God has seen fit to so abundantly bless some folks while appearing to neglect others. If everyone were equally blessed, would we have reason to share? Has God distributed blessings in such a way that people need to rely on one another? Does that sharing draw us together? My Haiti trip may have answered some of these types of questions for me. As a person, I was blessed by this trip. I’m glad I went. I hope to return.
I can describe the trip as rewarding and filled with special memories. We flew into Port au Prince on the morning of April 13 and then over the mountain in to Cap Haitian on board a single engine 12 passenger plane. This is where we met Father Claret and got our first view of Haitian conditions. Our trip through Cap Haitian to Plaine du Nord, the rural town where St James is located, was quite eye opening with decrepit roads full of trucks, carts, animals, bicycles, people and lined with masses of people walking and vendors selling their wares side by side for at least a mile. This road went through all kinds of neighborhoods, past the dumps (places in the city where debris collected and pigs and goats lived), the muddy market area, a few schools and some small shops. Most homes were concrete block, most had tin roofs although some had flat concrete roofs and they almost all seemed unfinished.
We arrived in Plaine du Nord and checked into our home away from home, the old convent left by the Canadian nuns who used to provide teachers and nurses for the school and clinic. We each had a bed, cot, or mattress to sleep on, two baths with running water (most of the time), with showers (a pipe with a valve). We had a refrigerator that was on when the power was on and a nice porch to sit on in the evenings to share our day with our colleagues and drink a coke or beer (the only other liquid besides the bottled water.)
Life in Haiti is nothing like the lives we have here in the USA.. They don’t have any good infrastructure and that goes for roads, power, water, phone, etc.. We had electricity about 30% of the time. Roads are more potholes than paved. Even though they had some special wells and some running water in spots, all our drinking water came from bottled water sources. I don’t think they have any kind of phone system, although we did see a few cell phones. I would say most people lived in a house with concrete floors although many had only dirt floors.
I was amazed at how most of the people seemed to wear clean cloths despite the conditions with all the mud and dirt everywhere. All the kids came to school in neat uniforms. There were no commercial sectors in Plain du Nord although there was a restaurant and a bar, but most of the rest of the commerce was street vendors selling food, clothes, charcoal, supplies, water, etc.. The streets (mostly dirt) are busy with pickup trucks hauling people (usually 20+) as transportation, along with some buses, larger trucks, mopeds and lot of people walking (ladies with large packages on their heads), cows and donkeys, etc..
We ate at the pastors house with food cooked by the parish cooks. We had lots of beans and rice, GOAT, fish, chicken (killed, plucked, and cooked on site) and usually had bananas and some egg dish in the am. I enjoyed most of the food, with the exception of the goat. We were well cared for by Father Claret and the people in the parish.
I think we were successful in the medical portion of our trip by the services that Dr. Steve and Ed provided along with the support of our two nurses Cecilia and Lea and Joe our ‘acting’ nurse. We had patients of all ages, offered free medical exams to the school children, treated all kinds of medical ailments, provided some minor surgeries, and replenished the stock of medical supplies in the clinic. The clinic is managed by a nurse and an administrator when we are not there. We had moderate success with our painting project. We were able to paint about 40% of the school (light blue upper with dark blue bottom and beige shutters and doors) between the rain showers. Getting our paint was an experience as well, as it’s not like you can just drive across town to the nearest Lowe’s or Home Depot.
We were able to attend weekday mass three mornings joined by a group of parish women. Sunday mass was especially beautiful and spiritual with the enthusiastic singing and music by the girls’ choir and the band. Mass lasted two hours as they sing all the responses, but it was great. We got to witness the installation of the new tin roof on the church, a project funded by St. Joe parish. We were treated to classroom visits in the elementary school where we were greeted by the children with enthusiasm and special singing. Each class room had a simple black board, benches or desks for the kids, lots of repetitive vocal recitations (like the old days), and a bunch of beautiful kids eager to learn.
Even though our group stuck out like a sore thumb, being the only caucasians in town, we were generally welcomed on the street, got positive responses to our “bonjour’s” (good morning) and “bonjwa’s” (good evening) and felt comfortable among the Haitian people of Plain du Nord . The language was a barrier, but we managed to generally communicate with a few words of English or with the translation help of Dick Wildeman.
I have lots of great memories! Standing among the smiling school children, the girls’ choir and Sunday mass, a new church roof, homemade scaffolding, great fellowship with our group, NaNa the cook, “Electricity” – Ronlen, our helper, and many others, Father Claret’s Spirit and hospitality, etc.. You come back with mixed feelings, as there are many needs and you can do so little in a short time. We learned that the school children no longer get lunch as their food program was cut off and the parish cannot afford to feed them lunch, much work is needed on the secondary school, Father Claret needs a vehicle, the church is in need of more pews, and much more. This experience makes you think about your priorities and what are needs vs. wants. I would like to make another trip someday and hope to be able to stay involved in trying to find ways to provide support to St. James parish. I would also encourage you to consider making a trip and/or find a way to financially support the needs of our sisters and brothers in Haiti. Give me a call if you want to learn more.