IN THIS ISSUE
Haiti: Sharing Our Faith
Once an island so beautiful it was called the “Pearl of the Antilles,” Haiti is now the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. After countless years of erosion and deforestation, most of the land is no longer suitable for cultivation. Today, over 80% of Haiti’s estimated eight million people live below the poverty line. Many live on less than $1 a day, and this incredible poverty is particularly devastating to the elderly.
Life expectancy in Haiti is only around 50 years of age. Yet, those who live beyond this expectancy have little to live for. The vast majority of the elderly poor have no savings, no healthcare, and no means of living. Adult children cannot provide for their parents because they cannot support themselves. Still, as nearly 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic, these impoverished seniors have faith that God has a plan for them.
Since 1942, the Oblates have been reaching out to countless Haitians, including the elderly. In 1980, as part of a community outreach program headed by Fr. Francis Mitchell,O.M.I., the Oblates transformed an old slaughter house in Les Cayes into a home for the elderly. Since it opened its doors on the feast of St. Stephen, it was named St. Stephen’s Home for the Elderly Poor.
Today, St. Stephen’s is home to almost 40 elderly men and women, as well as many of the Oblates who originally founded the home. “Many are blind and disabled, and our staff is limited, so we all help each other. Those with sight and who are stronger help the blind and the weaker in their time of need,” explains Fr. Fred Charpentier,O.M.I., the home’s current director.
Thanks to generous donations, the Oblates provide food, clothing, and medicine to residents. The residents also have three prayer times a day, and many people from the community come by to visit and pitch in when they can. There is also a mobile health clinic that comes by once a year and Fr. Fred reports that most of the seniors are in very good health.
The Oblates are eager to report on the continuing development of St. Stephen’s. “Much has been accomplished this past year,” explains Fr. Fred. “Our well is now operable and wheelchairs have been donated.”
Still, more improvements are necessary. As Fr. Fred continues, “We want to build a wall in the back of the property, because with just a fence thieves can still come in.” He also states that they are in need of a night nurse since currently there is no one tending the residents in the evening hours. New sanitation facilities are also needed to replace an outhouse like system which is both inadequate and unsanitary.
Most importantly, the Oblates truly hope to reach out to more seniors by renovating an old building on the property to house an additional 25 seniors, a project that would cost less than $10,000 US. Still, this is a daunting task for men who cannot expect aid from the country in which they minister.
Fr. Fred explains, “We just don’t currently have the resources for such a project. We do what we can with what we have and we are fortunate, but there are so many more we could help. Thousands of elderly people in Haiti have nowhere to live and nothing to eat. Many say they have nothing to live for. That is not true — they have faith. So each day we pray. We pray that God will help us find a way to provide.”