Sunday, January 19, 2014

Puzzle by Shelby & Maria

Puzzle by Shelby and Maria

We started the day off with going to a water stop.  It is interesting how the simplicity of water can bring to life a city of people.  The minute the kids hear the honking of the water truck, they come running out of their homes with squeals of excitement.  The older kids line their water buckets up behind the hose, while the younger ones jump into your arms the second you get off truck, and may never leave your arms. Their Saturday morning excitement is a thing we take for granted.

After a tour of Grace Village we stopped at the mass grave site for the victims of the Haiti earthquake 4 years ago. Listening to Brunet’s stories about his experience that day shook us to the core. In 37 seconds the world changed for so many! We were blessed to be there with him and others who remember their loved ones lost that day.

Visiting some elders outside of Grace village was humbling. Marie at 104 years of age has more spunk than most 21 year olds. She told us in her energetic way that she had been praying for visitors because she was so hungry. We were an answer to her prayers today, but she was a blessing we will remember forever.

We finished off our week of serving by playing with the kids at Juno’s orphanage. The gifts we brought seemed very fitting to round out our week. Puzzles that the kids delighted in were just like all of us. We are all just pieces of a puzzle. Fitting together to create a bigger picture that all can enjoy.

Finally we got home and it was time to learn to salsa. Jean our teacher was patient and kind. We don’t seem to have the haitian rhythm  that he possessed. Barb had all the moves while the rest of us learned. After much persistence Jean finally taught us how to dip! We are no experts but like the puzzles we fit together well!


We began our morning with water delivery in Cite Soleil.   Because of the current unrest there, we were only able to deliver one truck of water, Sadly, that wasn’t enough for the long lines of people waiting with their buckets for water, but some days we have no choice.

From there, we headed up to Titanyen, Haiti, for a tour of Grace Village.  It was nice to show our first-time team members around the beautiful complex and especially the buildings that Reiser Relief has helped to fund.   We also stopped and visited some of the elderly people in the village and brought them food and juice.

Our third stop was at the mass graves where over 300,000 Haitians were buried after the 2010 earthquake.  I was tearing up behind my sunglasses listening to our Haitian guides share their personal stories about the earthquake with our group. 

Our final stop of the day was at Juno’s Orphanage.  What a delight that stop proved to be.  We played board games, made balloon animals and jewelry, jumped rope and did the limbo.  We also had brought puzzles in varying degrees of difficulty, and to my delight, our adult guides enjoyed putting the puzzles together as much as the kids did.  It appeared to be one of the first times they had worked on puzzles, and it was great fun to watch the intensity they put into completing the one they chose to tackle!  One child was sweeter than the next, but there was a small boy with big eyes there that melted my heart.  I never did learn his name, but after our two-hour visit, it was haunting to see his beautiful eyes watching me as we drove away.  How difficult must it be for these kids to have teams like ours come in to provide a couple hours of  “Christmas” for them and then drive away, many of us never to be seen again?  I’m just now starting to realize that dealing with orphan care is such so much more complicated than it initially appears.

Tomorrow will be our last full day in Haiti, and it will be our day of rest.  After attending morning Mass, we will be going to a beach—a new experience for me and for most of my team!  On our way back to the guesthouse, one of our team members asked how we all felt about our experiences now that our days of serving were complete.  I thought back over our fulfilling week and came to the conclusion that I would be just as content spending our last day serving the people of Haiti as I would be going to the beach.   

With each day we are here, I feel less intimidated by the things outside my normal comfort level and more “one” with the Haitians.  We all have the same dreams and we all strive to follow God’s word.  We all serve God here on earth, and we all hope to spend eternity in His presence.  We are in solidarity with one another.  So perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at what we did this week as serving, but rather, as working together with the Haitians to strive for the same goal.

“When we touch the sick and needy, we touch the suffering body of Christ.”
-Mother Teresa


Saturday, January 18, 2014


The happiness in Haiti is contagious.  Some of the moments these last days have absolutely filled me with joy.  But if Haiti were a problem-free country, we wouldn’t even be here (now that’s a sad thought in itself).  There is also plenty of sadness, and our Reiser Relief team witnessed some of it today. 

Our morning visit was to Carfour at a home for the sick and dying.   Although the women and young girls were happy to see us, there was a definite undertone of sadness during our visit wondering what the future was for each of these individuals.

Our afternoon visit was to General Hospital in Port au Prince.  I had never been there and didn’t know what to expect.  Far unlike any hospital I had ever seen in the States, it was rows of small buildings with long narrow rooms filled with cribs and beds for babies and children.  Patients must provide their own food and many of the other items that are routinely provided by the hospitals in the United States.   Small children are left to fend for themselves unless they are lucky enough to have family members to come visit them and care for their basic needs.  Some of the children at the hospital had been abandoned and left to lie unattended in cribs in the most pathetic conditions.  We brought diapers, blankets, formula, bottles and more to pass out to parents and patients.  Although some of the parents sat without moving next to their baby’s cribs silently watching us with sad eyes, there was a sense of desperation bordering on mob mentality from many of the other parents as they surrounded us begging for anything we had to offer.  I found it difficult to look into their eyes. 

I was struck by the completely vulnerable and desperate situations that so many of the Haitians live in.  In their normal everyday lives, they have to worry about whether they will have food for their families next meal, enough water to do their cooking and wash their clothes, charcoal for their cooking fires, a way to keep their tarp roofs from leaking when it rains, and if they will be able to afford to continue sending their children to school.   But beyond wondering how they will support their families on a daily basis, many of them won’t have the means to care for their sick or disabled children or even to raise them to adulthood.
As we were driving back to our guesthouse, I was pondering over the hopeless desperation I had seen in the eyes of many of the Haitians we visited, and I was struck by the huge burdens they are forced to live with day in and day out.   It would seem that being able to find joy and peace in their lives would be nearly impossible.
When we were nearly to our destination, a frail elderly man rode past our vehicle on an old bike wearing a black t-shirt.  Suddenly, the answer to my inner turmoil was right there in front of me.  On the back of his shirt it said,  “With God, all things are possible.” 

Thursday, January 16, 2014


It was only recently we at Reiser Relief discovered the same organization that runs Village of Jesus in Leogane, Haiti, the home for abandoned women that Father Reiser had an integral role in building, also has another abandoned women’s shelter in Port au Prince called Foyer Sacre-Coeur.

So today, armed with our directions from Sister Alta, we made our way to Foyer Sacre-Coeur.  Sister Alta heads both that home and Village of Jesus.  She is part of an order of nuns from Belgium that operates and cares for approximately 65 women housed between the two shelters.  Because Father Reiser was instrumental in completing their building project in Leoganne, the nuns gladly welcome us every time we visit simply because we are part of his organization.   We learned that most of the 25 women in the home we visited today have either been abandoned at the General Hospital in Haiti or been left on the streets to care for themselves because they have no family to look after them.  This wonderful group of nuns takes them in and provides them with meals, hygiene, medical attention and loving care for the rest of their lives and even gives each of them a dignified funeral and burial.  The love she and her staff have for these abandoned women and the passion they have for seeing to it that these ladies live out the remaining years of their life with respect was so evident during our visit.

The ladies greeted us with a song and then we had the privilege of washing their feet, rubbing lotion on them, polishing their fingernails and toenails, and bringing them peanut butter sandwiches and cookies for lunch.  After lunch, our interpreters once again treated us to music and song on the keyboard, and before we knew it, all the ladies were up dancing around the tables with us as their dance partners!  The tiny little lady I danced with was pathetically thin and frail, but her little feet never stopped moving.  At one point, I looked up, and Sister Alta was standing on the steps looking down at all of “her ladies” on the dance floor, and I cannot put into words the happiness I saw on her face.   My day was complete.  No, my trip was complete. 

What would our world do without the many Sister Altas that, without hesitation, dedicate their lives to providing cradle to grave care to individuals that would otherwise die forgotten and without dignity?  

God’s blessings to all these caregivers and to those they care for.

Dancing Ladies - by Marci Wills

What an amazing day.  It would be hard to top yesterday’s day at Reiser Heights, but we may have done it today.  Some of us started the day by going to Mass at the Missionaries of Charity.  Father’s sermon reminded us to keep a sacred place for our relationship with Jesus in our hearts.  Our work may be public, but he encouraged us to hold a special place for God in our hearts that is ours alone.  Good message for us today.  Our walk home was peaceful and eye-opening - seeing Haiti on foot is much different than in the Tap-tap.

After a interesting, bumpy, eye-opening drive (I think we were lost for a while, but who can tell on Haiti streets), we arrived at Foyer Sacre-Coeur.  We were welcomed in by Sr. Alta, and we walked into a small area filled with beautiful, character filled elderly women who ranged in age from 60 to 80+.  Upon arriving,  they stood and sang a song for us.  Priceless!

These little old ladies were breathtaking.  Dressed in their Sunday best, they sat patiently and waited for us to touch them - and for them to touch our hearts!  While we put lotion on their arms, hands, shoulders and legs, they put a mark on our hearts.  Wonderful, sweet women sharing wonderful, sweet moments with us.  We put polish on their nails, they enriched our lives.  We washed their feet, they smiled at us.  Although we couldn’t speak their language, we communicated in a more intimate way.  Emmanuel (one of our guides) played music as we fed the women peanut butter sandwiches and cookies.  One of the women, who we affectionately named “the Cookie Monster” hid several cookies under her leg.  They were so grateful, but it was us who received the blessing.

To finish off our time with the ladies, we all stood and sang together.  The women started dancing, and we joined in.  The joy on their faces was so beautiful.  You could just feel God’s presence and the love that was shared between us all.  My heart sang and danced as well as my feet!

Sr. Alta then took us on a tour of the facility.  Nine women slept on nine beds in the first room, and others in other rooms.  The kitchen was incredibly small, but it was filled with love.  The Sisters take wonderful care of the women - with compassion and dignity.  After showing us the Sister’s living quarters, Sr. Alta invited us to sit down and share some hot pastries and some other type of spicy food with mango juice.  We came to serve them, and they served us.

Leaving hugs and our hearts behind, we physically left the women, but will hold them in our memories and prayers for a lifetime.

Arriving “home”, we quickly changed into our active clothes to get ready for the neighborhood soccer game!  We rounded up a group of energetic neighborhood boys into the Tap-tap to bring them to a soccer field near the water stop for a game of soccer!  While Shelley, Maria and I tried valiantly to “play” with the skilled boys, it was Lizzy and Shelby who held their own on the field!  The boys were so happy to have a place to play, rather than the bumpy, rocky, uneven terrain of the streets at home.  We were so happy to watch their joy.  Playing on a hot, Hatian afternoon in the sun was very rewarding to all of us.

Today reminded me that God gives us enough - although there is not enough food, water and shelter, there is enough energy to dance and play, enough strength to carry on, enough arms to hug, enough love to share.  I hope that God gave you enough today.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A New Perspective on Reiser Heights (and Wookies) - by Eileen Bock

Day two of our mission, and a few of us on the team decided to mix things up a bit. Normally we all travel in the top-top (sort of a cross between a small bus and an open-air pick-up truck.)  Our team was spending the day at Reiser Heights school, which is over two hours away up in the mountains. A welder (Dominic) was coming to do work on the school building, so we also were bringing a generator (to power his welding equipment). The generator was loaded in the back of a separate pick-up truck, so Peggy and I rode in the cab of the truck, with our photographer Mike in the flatbed.

Along the way, our driver Maxim was an excellent tour guide (not to mention a great tutor of some not-always-proper-but-spoken-while-driving colloquialisms!). As we drove up the windy, twisty, ROCKY, bumpy, steep road, he commented on the points of interest, such as the various vegetation in the farms (cabbage, corn, onions, avocados, lettuce) and scenic spots, including Fort Jacques (built in the early 1800's), Lake Azuei (a huge freshwater late known for good fishing….FYI, Maxim loves to eat fish, but has never been fishing. I explained ice fishing to him, to his amazement), even a cemetery where people were preparing a new grave. 

Haiti is currently experiencing a gasoline shortage. Maxim said this is not common, but he wasn't sure why it's happening now. We needed gas for the welding generator, and stopped at four gas stations before finding one with gas. I will never again complain about the all-too-crazy gas station at the corner of Cleveland & Grand.

We reached Reiser Heights just as the kids were starting lunch. We brought along many boxes of food from "Feed My Starving Children", but today they were all eating bowls of red beans and rice. The son of the headmaster does the cooking in the kitchen. He also has a child with Down's Syndrome. After meeting with the special needs children at Gertrude's Orphanage yesterday, it warmed my heart to know Miniel (whom we met later in the afternoon) was being cared for and loved at home.

Our team passed out pencils and candy (yes!) to each of the students in all of the classrooms. All school children in Haiti wear uniforms, and at Reiser Heights pre-school students wear sunny yellow and bright green, and the elementary students wear bright green and soft green. As a former student of Fr. Reiser at Epiphany, I can only wonder if this color-scheme comes from him! (My fellow Epiphanites will concur!)

The real action started at the end of the school day. Our local Haitian team guides set up a keyboard outside and children gathered around. They first sang Fr. Reiser's favorite hymn "How Great Thou Art" in French, which gave us goosebumps to hear!  This was followed by other songs from the students, and then the team guides lead the students in fun, active songs. We realized kids attitudes universal, when we noticed the little kids were very involved while the older "cool kids" stood near the back and acted like they didn't want to participate. The day before (at Cite Soleil), we sang a song called "God is So Good", which has silly actions to go with each verse. We sang this song again today, and there is a line that I really thought said, "Do the Wookie", accompanied by waving arms in the air (do these kids know about Star Wars???). On the way home, I asked our guide Wilson (who turned 31 today!!) what we are actually singing. It turns out, the lyrics are actually something that translates to "Uncle Bookie", followed by a command to do something (kind of like the Hokey Pokey). So, no Wookie.

After the music, we spent time with the students playing and talking outside. At one point, I felt a small pinch on my arm. I turned to see a young boy running away. I smiled and said, "Bonjour!".  I nearly fainted when he ran back over and proclaimed, "I love you!" before running off again. I asked the girls to tell me his name, and I approached him to ask for a photo together. He was very embarrassed, but happy to take the photo. Many on our team spent the afternoon teaching the kids new games, while I talked with a group of girls so they could help me memorize what to bring them when I return. This took awhile, as they only speak Creole and French. The list includes baby-dolls, jump-ropes, school bags, earrings, soccer balls (for the boys), and sunglasses. (They also want telephones, but I drew the line at that request!).

We had the wonderful opportunity to walk around the town meeting families of some students, handing out some made-in-Minnesota dresses (for girls) and shorts (for boys). In case anyone wonders if these are needed:  After we gave one pair of shorts to the son of a man with 10 children, we noticed his young boy running home in glee holding his new shorts (while currently wearing nothing to cover his bum).

The ride home was a bit faster (as it was down-hill!), but we hit rush-hour traffic. It was fascinating to see the bustling city as we drove back to our guest house for the evening. The entire day gave us all a new perspective on Haiti, school, and life!

A musical connection

We arrived at Reiser Heights School late this morning to find hundreds of students at their desks in their respective classrooms, dressed in their clean uniforms, their lunch of rice and beans in bowls in front of them, shyly smiling at us as we brought them treats and new pencils.  In the preschool class, three of the tiny students had actually fallen asleep with their heads down on their little tables while waiting for our arrival!  After leaving each class, the students resumed their work as though we’d never been there. 

I couldn’t help but wonder what these kids thought of us—this group of Americans coming in several times a year, making improvements to their school, bringing them money, food, school supplies, shoes, and some fun treats, and then disappearing again for a few more months.

But when word got out that we’d once again brought a keyboard to the school and the teachers allowed all the students to gather outside the building, things changed!  Our concert started with a tear-jerking rendition of Father Reiser’s favorite song, “How Great Thou Art” and worked it’s way into many more wonderful songs about God’s love for us, the joy of worshipping God, and even purely playful music.  Our Haitian interpreters were singing and dancing with the kids, slowly everybody joined in, and the fun and joy on the school grounds was captivating.  This tiny little area on the side of the mountain seemed to be overflowing with goodness and happiness.   These kids that an hour before had been so shy and reserved were suddenly dancing, talking to us, holding our hands, sitting on our laps, and wanting to play games with us.  A connection had been made.

That’s what it’s all about in Haiti.  It’s not just doing things FOR the Haitians.  It’s connecting with them, building relationships, establishing trust, and growing together—them AND us.  And all it took today to accomplish that was music. 

How great Thou art.

Minnesota-donated sundresses were a big hit with some  of the children in the Reiser Heights area!