February 2-4, 2015 VFHI Conference

Sunday, January 25th at the installation of new members, officers, and renewal of membership of the Ladies of Charity at St. Johns University along with the junior ladies of St. John’s Prep, MaryAnn Dantuono, LOC National President, asked if I would be interested to represent the AIC in the Vincentian Family Haitian Initiative (VFHI) www.vfhi.org. It was an honor to be asked but I needed to know more information about responsibilities for this role. On Monday, I was given some information and by Wednesday, I was planning to catch a plane on Monday, February 2, to Haiti with the condition that I had to be back in NY on the 6th for a talk to the Haitian Society of St. John’s at their earthquake remembrance dinner.
With a snow storm during the week of January 28th and more snow predicted for the week-end of February 1st, I anticipated the possible cancellation of the trip. In addition to the weather in the US, news from Haiti was not encouraging with an ongoing strike and street demonstrations. When Monday came the plane to Port-au-Prince was the first one leaving out of JFK. Then I realized that the Lord wanted me to be part of this experience as I had not sought in any way this 4 day venture. In addition, I was able to bring a suitcase with much needed items for the Salesians Sisters and a check for the Daughters of Charity.
I met one of the commission members on the flight to Haiti. The shuttle of Servotel picked us up and within 5 minutes we were at the hotel. I was really impressed by the modern style structure (nicked-name the container hotel) and the standards of the premises and personnel. I met more members of the Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative (VFHI). Kathleen Felix was with them and I was glad to speak with her for a few minutes. I still need to discuss with her an aspect of the Renesansavo project. Inside the hotel grounds we were not affected by any of the protests, but we were unable to travel as planned. Because some members still had not joined us, the agenda had to be revised. The new members were introduced and the attendees were briefed on the expected outcome of this meeting.
DSCN3499    Tuesday we spent the day discussing, evaluating the VFHI activities with the full committee and the two staff coordinators of both the educational component, Yasmine Cajuste, and the national economic/community development, Regine Theodat.
Wednesday we had the planned excursion to the “Department du Centre, Arrondissement de Hince, Commune de Thomonde, 4e Section La Hoye, habitation Savane Perdue”. It was really exciting. It was my first trip since 1992 going that far north. We travelled through the airport, Tabarre, Croix des Bouquet, Beudet, Mòn Kabrit, Terre Rouge, to Mirebalais. There we visited Ecole Notre Dame du Perpetuel Secours with a population of 200 students directed by the sisters of Mission of the Immaculate Heart, the principal is Sr. Mona Henri. The sisters are pulling out of the area because there were multiple break-ins in their house and they felt unsafe. This is not the only convent being attacked. In one other novitiate the women were violated as well. This news saddened me as these nuns only want to educate the children in the poorest areas. We also visited a second school run by a Baptist church which also receives the Mary’s Meals feeding program as well as educational expertise and resources from VFHI. This school looks overcrowded in about 5 poorly lit rooms. However, the children seemed content.
Then we visited the Centre de Formation Fritz Lafontant (CFFL) in Corporant. I was amazed not only at the building, the instructors, and the students but by the whole concept of the school. The center  provides vocational education in agriculture, carpentry and construction. This high tech school has state of the arts computers, mediathèque, and science labs. Besides the academic subjects, values and ethics classes, community development, leadership and entrepreneurial skills, hands on practice is provided within the compound in construction and wood work. There is land in the vicinity where they plant with the collaboration of Partners in Agriculture (Parnè Agrikòl). What I admire most in their education system is the emphasis on making the students agents of change and “learning by experience”. The facility was paid for by Abbot Labs and built by a Dominican Company. The current enrollment of 72 students include a few women. The criteria for admission, participants must have completed High School and pass the school’s tests. All students must pay the $2,500 fee annually for the 2 to 3 year study. Arrangements are made for half or full sponsorship but the money will be collected from work study or when they start to work. All uniforms, hard hats, and needed equipment are covered by the tuition. We met some staff members responsible for the school like Gillaine Warne, Abraham Cerventes, and Reginald Cean. They showed us furniture built by the students. We also stopped by the peanut factory next to the school. We met Charmille, Nancy, Foreste Sonnes, Stenio Louis Jeunes, agronomist and quality control manager for Production Agricole. I was really fascinated by the professionalism of the staff and the standard maintained on the campus. The school run on about $500,000 a year budget. If they accomplish all they describe they do plus the maintenance of the promises seem worth this investment.
DSCN3534     DSCN3589     DSCN3576     DSCN3585
We continued on our way to Savanne Perdue after lunch at Partners in Health facility in Cange. We passed by Peligre dam. It reminded me of some stories Marcel Thebaud, an engineer who participated in this work, shared with us at the family dinner table. When we left Cas we started the 5 miles bumpy road to our destination where the VFHI has the developing Tilapia farm project. We visited the house where the resident agronomist Yamileh Jean Pierre resides and the basins prepared for the fish to be raised and the adjoining land to be cultivated. The villagers and some members of Chimen Lavi Miyò (CLM) where present. On our way to the location we noticed three schools and a market place. The farm’s remote area is part of the Sustainable Model Village concept for human development and social business component where resources are concentrated for greater impact. In late evening, before returning to the Hotel we stopped to sample the kreyòl food at Myabèl Cocktail Bar Restaurant in Croix-des-Bouquet.
DSCN3611     DSCN3609     DSCN3629     DSCN3639
Early Thursday we visited two schools where the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Inc. sponsors some students. I was glad that Jean Paul II was one of the school we visited, it gave me the opportunity to say hello to the daughters who always welcome me when I travel to Haiti. I wanted to make sure they had received the donation sent by the junior ladies of St. John’s Prep to help with the literacy program of Rosalie Rendue School. I had a chance to have a quick chat with a member of the AIC Haiti, Jacqueline Caseus. When we got back to the hotel at 9 am, we continued with the 3-year strategic plan. I had to leave the hotel at 12:30 to catch the afternoon flight back home.
I am trying to digest all that I have experienced and learned so far during this short trip. I know in my heart that the Lord wants to expand my way of seeing and thinking as well as the formation of new relationships. Praise and glory be to God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s