Reconnecting with Roots: Country, Relatives, and Friends

On June 1-3, 2012 I attended the faith filled solidarity conference “Haiti: One Table, Many Partners” in Washington DC organized by USCCB and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
Haiti’s Episcopal Conference asked the US church to continue the missionary work which will help in the new evangelization and have a hand in changing the structure of poverty prevailing in the country. This is one of the factors that motivated me to go back to Haiti.  The last time I was in the country was in summer of 1995.  I decided to join the educators of Brooklyn and Queens” H.E.L.P. (Haitian Educators League for Progress), in their trip that summer — August 28, 2012. The last time I was in the country was in summer of 1995.

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I wanted to meet family before the program started so left NY on Wednesday the 8th.  I stayed a few days with my sister, Sandra, in Fermath.  She and her children took a field trip with me to Sault D’eau on Saturday.

Sunday 12 the group came together in Port-au-Prince, had a great lunch at a member’s relative’s house, then we travelled to Miragoane the same day arriving late evening in the house in Payan where we stayed until Thursday the 16th.  Every day we traveled back and forth from Payan to Fonds des Nègres where  HELP provided training at the EFACAP facility to about 150 teachers.  On Wednesday, we went to Petit-Goave where we attended church, had dinner, some when to a night event and spent a night. On the 16th to 18th, we spent time in Camp Perin at the Recul. We visited the town of Port Salut where we had lunch in a hotel owned by a retired teacher from Brooklyn. That same day we traveled to Anse-a-Veau and spent a night there at the Rectory.  CORA members and town personalities came to meet with us.  On Sunday we met with Bishop Dumas and a few priests.  We made it to Port-au-Prince on the 19th and did training for teachers at the College Paul Robert at 147 Avenue Christophe then we moved to another school at the corner of Rue Capois for the following two days.  On the 23rd we travelled to Thomazeau and did training again for about 100 teachers.  I also had a chance to reconnect with some childhood friends.  HELP members and supporters had a celebratory get-together on Thursday the 24th at a member’s residence.  I visited the Daughters of Charity with Sr. Dease, OSF and Mike Anderson on Friday the 25th.
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I was to travel back to New York on Saturday, the 26 but Hurricane Isaac had begun on Friday night and planes were cancelled.  Fortunately I was with my step-mother in Pacot for those last few days.

I finally was able to catch a flight on Monday evening after a horrendous day waiting for planes since 8 am.  American Airlines did not provided additional planes for the backlogged flights.  I spent the whole day at the airport in Port-au-Prince until 8 pm.  Then the plane landed in Miami although I had paid for a direct flight for the 26th.  I spend the night on the floor at the airport.  It was a real chaos in Florida airport.  No clear directives.  I could not believe I was in the US a supposedly well organized and efficient airport.  We stood in lines the night for three hours (until 2 am) to get a confirmation and again in the morning (at 4 am) to get the bags checked.  All flights regardless of time of departure were on the same lines to be checked in.  The passengers had to call out loud to get additional agents –almost creating a riot– to have the airline managers address this state of overwhelming disorganization.  I finally arrived in NY Tuesday evening very exhausted and quite angry with the airline’s handling of the situation for the amount of money requested for the tickets and the apparent inefficiency and lack of sensitivity training of their personnel.
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Sabine Albert. August 2012 wrote the following after the trip for CORA’s benefit in order to plan their anticipated development program.
A summation and my observations during HELP’s visit to Anse à Veaux
Upon entering the town, it was apparent that this is a quaint and picturesque part of Haiti.  The town is small and easily navigable.  One does not need transportation to go around town.  There are street lights within Anse- à-Veaux which are smartly powered by solar panels.  The town council appears to be very enthusiastic about the upcoming tri-centennial.  They are very proud and ready to have an influx of visitors to their hometown.
Accessing the town was quite a challenge.  We had to cross two rivers, but I believe that this issue would soon be resolved since the government was in the process of constructing a large enough road and a bridge over one of the primary rivers in the area.  The lack of roads makes it difficult for trade to occur in the area.  This part of Haiti is very fertile but production is not encouraged since many do not have the capacity to get their goods to the major markets of Port-au-Prince or Miragoâne.  Fruits and vegetables are left to rot and this abundance that is self produced and naturally generated goes to waste.  Breadfruit, papaya, avocados, and many other items are plentiful that would be quite profitable to the local economy if transportation was not an issue.  Even if there were no specific or direct road to Anse-à-Veaux, it is important that all major towns be connected by navigable auto-routes.
We attempted to identify areas that would be appealing to tourism.  It appears that a series of activities would have to take place in order to raise the appeal of the town.  We questioned whether the town infrastructure would be sufficient to receive a large influx of visitors.  A beach is of utmost importance when thinking of a Caribbean town.  The beach that is frequently used by the locals is mainly an area used by young folks.  It is a brisk walk from town, a couple of miles in my estimate.  Once one reaches the beach, there is a steep climb to actually reach the beach itself.  We drove to the closest access point possible and a few members of the team walked down to the beach front.  This is an area where some minor accommodations would have to be made to make it attractive to both the local and international tourist industry.
It was recommended that the schools involve the local youth in identifying the historical sites and have them participate in restoration activities.  Structures that were deemed unsound should be cordoned off to preserve whatever remains.  Signs should be made to identify these structures with the help of local artist to minimize cost and give a sense of ownership to town residents.  Improvements around town should keep the rustic appeal while incorporating some modern elements.
The council discussed the fact that when it rains, a major section of the town, including valuable farmland was flooded by the river.  They have suggested for years that an embankment be built to deviate the river water directly to the ocean and bypassing homes and farms.  They would also like to see a port build to access the town by sea.  Many recalled (whether from eyewitness accounts or from having been told from elders) that a port did exist at one point and this was a major factor in making Anse à Veaux a successful and thriving city in the past.  L’Ile de la Gonâve is clearly visible from the coastline.  This island has become a tourist destination and has two all-inclusive resorts. This is a partial list of sites that might be of interest to a visitor:
Fort Jean Jacques Akao ;  Sauld du Baril ;  Fort des Bois/Barreau;  Fort Nativité;
Fort St. Anne ;  2 caves of Moncour/Monrecour and the house of President Sudre Dartiguenave.
There is a university that was scheduled to open its doors this September of 2012.  The “Ecole EPSA” is a polytechnic school.  Instructors would like to prepare their students to the level of a Bachelors of Arts.  They currently are building a computer and language lab and would like to have a Cyber-center for the students and broader community.  The instructors expressed the need to train thinkers and future leaders, people who will create jobs with the skills that they have learned, not necessarily those who will work for others in a nation where the unemployment rate is alarmingly high.

 

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