Haiti Trip 2015

Strengthening the Twin Parish Bond

Five years ago, St. Cecelia parish in Algona began a twinning project with St. Jeanne de Chantal in Chantal, Haiti.  Six groups from the parish have traveled to Haiti since the program began.  Each year, the groups build a stronger bond between the two parishes and seek out ways to improve the living conditions for the people of Chantal.

The trip this past March was the third trip that included Bishop Garrigan High School students.  Seniors Taylor Illg and Kaitlyn Fogarty joined adult parishioners Sue Haas, Brent Larson, and Deacon Bill and Mavis Black on the ten day trip. 

While past trips have partnered with a medical mission group, the focus of this group was developing and deepening the twin parish relationship.  Fr. Gousse, the pastor of St. Jeanne, wanted the group to visit all of the mountain chapels that are associated with the main church in Chantal.  They were able to visit eight of the ten chapels.  Making the trip to an outlying chapel was often an arduous task.  “We would ride in the Range Rover over twisting and bumpy roads for two hours and then stop and walk the rest of the way,” said Deacon Bill. “Other times, we drove the whole way to a chapel, but we wished we would have stopped and walked the rest of the way.”  As they were walking on a trip to another chapel, they could hear drums and music.  As they came into the clearing, instead of the chapel that they were expecting, they came upon men working in the fields.  They were clearing and turning over acres of land by hand, using pick axes, while women provided music for them.  “It was an awesome sight to see acres upon acres that had been cleared using only simple tools and hard work.”

Several of the mountain chapels are in need of repairs, doors, or pews.  One chapel is in the process of being built, with little more than concrete footings.  The congregation gathers in a wooden frame that is covered with branches and leaves.  “I thought that I was prepared about what to expect in Haiti,” Sue Hass commented.  “Even so, it was hard to believe the level of poverty and that you never get to a place that isn’t impoverished.  It is always there.  If we could do something, even small things, to help each of the outlying chapels – the people would be so grateful.”

Fr. Gousse also places a high priority on the schools and is very proud of them.  There is a main school in Chantal and several smaller schools in the mountains.  “One of the mountain schools was like an empty barn, with the walls coming down,” said Kaitlyn.  Some of her favorite memories of Haiti are from the school classrooms.  “Though they have very little for themselves, the children would come up to you, a complete stranger, and give you a hug, and they all wanted to hold your hand.  Even though they have so little to live on, they are full of life.”

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the trip was the arrival of the chickens.  In December, St. Cecelia held a fundraising drive to purchase chickens for families of Chantal.  A donation of $10 represented one chicken.  Bishop Garrigan Schools and the faith formation classes at St. Cecelia joined in the effort.  The total raised was over $7,500, allowing for feed and coops to be purchased as well.  The materials for the coops arrived prior to the chickens, and several of the structures were built on site in Chantal and then transported to nearby homes.  Beneficiaries that lived farther away hauled the wood and other building materials to their homes, some of which were more than a two hour walk on foot.   Several days later, they returned to pick up their chickens.  Each beneficiary received three hens and one rooster.  Within six months, each beneficiary must give away three hens and one rooster to another family.  Fr. Gousse kept detailed records of the chicken as they were picked up and he planned to visit every beneficiary prior to Easter. 

This year’s group from St. Cecelia could see results of projects that were initiated by groups over the past five years.  The kitchen used to cook the school lunch now has a stove powered by propane, rather than a wood fire.  There is a new water cistern that holds 500 gallons.  Several repairs to school classrooms and the main church have been completed.  Meals packaged at the annual packaging day in Algona provided four months of lunch for school children.  The twin parish program helps the families of St. Jeanne with their religious, educational, medical and economic needs and helps them reach their own potential.  More importantly, it forms Christian bonds of love and support with the families of St. Cecelia.  “They are so thankful for everything they have, including us,” according to Kaitlyn.  “I saw Jesus in all of them.  Just like Him, they are kind-hearted and welcoming.  They are willing to love complete strangers and never complain even though their lives are far from easy.  We may give them a lot physically, but spiritually there is a lot that they teach us.”