“…Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
By Father Frank Rouleau, Chaplain and Twinning Director, Outreach to Haiti
With the arrival of hurricane season, I was reminded of October four years ago when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti. When it made landfall in Haiti on the evening of October 4th, it was a Category 4, one of the most destructive storms of recent years. Most of the damage incurred was done to people living in the rural mountainous areas of Haiti.
But it also affected the village of Saintard, Arcahaie, which is in the West Department of Haiti. It is about 24 miles northwest of the capitol, Port au Prince, located on the shoreline of the Gulf of La Gonâve. The main employment opportunities there are fishing and raising plantains and bananas. The fruit harvesting season is nine months of the year, while fishing is a daily activity. On October 4th, the fishermen went about their normal day, fishing in the bay. They received no warning that a hurricane was about to strike. At the end of the day, the fishermen pulled their boats onto the shoreline as they normally did. That night the hurricane struck with a 20-foot tidal surge, which destroyed their fishing boats and all their equipment. They lost not only their boats, but also their means of buying food and other goods for their families, and for paying tuition for their children to attend school. The village also lost a major source of food.
For one year, without the boats, the men were unable to fish. Life was extremely difficult for them and their families. The parish in that village, Saint Anne, is twinned with St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. This American parish helps with support for the parochial school, which this year has 533 students.
Donors to the Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti contributed funds to aid the people of Haiti after the hurricane. Tin roofs were replaced on many homes in the mountain parishes with these funds. We also, with the help of St Josephine Bakhita Parish, were able to provide some funds for the construction of 16 fishing boats.
The pastor of Saint Anne parish, Father Johnson, met with the two associations of fishermen to plan how best to use the funds from Outreach to Haiti. The boats were built locally, which provided work for area carpenters. Almost three years ago the fishermen were able to return to the sea and provide for their families and send their children to the Saint Anne School. With the assistance of Outreach donors and St. Josephine Bakhita Parish, 16 sailboats were built and equipped for fishing. The fishermen’s associations agreed to continue to pool their resources to replace all the boats. Two additional boats have been built to date. They have plans to continue adding boats to the fleet as economic conditions permit.
Fr. Johnson writes, “When the fishermen return with the fish, they sell them, and the merchants benefit by this also as they can sell the fish to people to eat. Fishing is an activity where many people participate and benefit. I say a great thank you to Outreach to Haiti for this great gift, which allows the fishermen to live, and hope to get more boats also.”
Much has been accomplished in the four decades of our diocesan ministry’s involvement in Haiti. From the first project, bringing running water to the people of the neighborhood of Delmas 60, to the present, we continue to live out the Gospel, helping those who have no means to pay us back.
As the Lord has told us, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40). The Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti Ministry is there in Haiti representing you, the people of our diocese, who are so generous in supporting our work there, helping our brothers and sisters who are among the poorest of the poor.
Fr. Vil Johnson, Pastor of Saint Anne parish, Saintard, Haiti, Fr. Frank Rouleau, Chaplain and Director of Parish Twinning for the Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti, and a local priest participated in the Blessing of the Fishing Boats before they were put in service.