An invitation to make a difference

Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish looking for partners on an outreach mission to deliver aid in Haiti

By Bill Brewer

Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish’s Haiti Outreach ministry is looking for a few good partners.

The parish’s Haiti ministry has been effective and growing to the point where it would like to partner with other parishes in the Diocese of Knoxville in ministering to people in the interior of Haiti who have very little and rely on Catholic outreach for health care and education.

When Sacred Heart first considered a Haiti outreach mission, a group of parishioners joined with a common goal: provide aid to a country in desperate need of help. When those parishioners arrived in Haiti in 1999 on their first mission trip, they didn’t realize the scope of desperation they were finding.

Their goal was to start an education program for children living in the area of Boucan-Carré, a town outside of the capital city of Portau-Prince that parishioners had identified as the area they wanted to assist.

Residents in the Bouly region of Haiti gather to be seen by doctors in the Bouly medical clinic.

But once they arrived in Port-au-Prince and realized there was no paved road between the capital and Boucan-Carré, they began to understand the depth of Haiti’s impoverished state.

In Boucan-Carré, thoughts of education and the possibility of building a school quickly turned to health care because the children’s health was so poor that it proved to be an impediment to schooling. Plans changed.

And in 2000, Sacred Heart’s second outreach trip to Haiti was a medical mission.

The goal of Sacred Heart’s Haiti Committee never wavered, and the mission trips didn’t stop. A partnership was developed with St. Michel Catholic Parish in Boucan-Carré.

Now, 19 years later, the Haiti Outreach ministry has proven quite successful, evidenced by schools and a clinic that have been built to serve the areas of Boucan-Carré and a village called Bouly.

And as the Haiti Outreach ministry has grown, so has its demands. Partnerships the ministry has developed over the last 19 years have been invaluable.

And now, the ministry is looking for additional partnerships.

Sacred Heart parishioner Billy Stair, who helps lead the Haiti Outreach ministry, explained that then-Sacred Heart Cathedral rector Father Al Humbrecht led the ministry’s formation. Monsignor Humbrecht is now pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Soddy-Daisy.

That first delegation, including current parishioners John Stone and John Capps, returned from Haiti with the realization that the second delegation would need to be made up of medical professionals. So Dr. Dean Mire led a medical mission trip.

“They determined it would need to be a sustained effort. It couldn’t be a one-and-done situation,” Mr. Stair said about the medical mission.

Medical personnel who are part of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Haiti Outreach mission care for an infant at a clinic in the remote area of Bouly. Without Sacred Heart’s medical mission, some Haiti residents may never receive health care.

That is when the first partnerships were formed. Sacred Heart joined with Partners in Health of Boston to develop and maintain a health clinic in Boucan-Carré. Mr. Stair said Sacred Heart raises about $36,000 annually to help operate the clinic, which is saving lives in rural Haiti.

Then in 2004, Sacred Heart Deacon Ben Johnston led efforts to partner with St. Anselm Parish in St. Louis to build a school. St. Anselm held a capital campaign and raised construction funds. Once the school opened in 2006 with 350 students, Sacred Heart took on the costs of maintaining the school, which now enrolls some 1,100 students.

Sacred Heart then formalized a partnership in 2002 with St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church in Tabb, Va., which contributes $56,000 a year to help fund the school.

It is those kinds of partnerships that make significant differences in the lives of Haitians and provide an excellent evangelization opportunity for the Catholic Church, according to Mr. Stair.

The need didn’t end with completion of the Boucan-Carré clinic or the St. Michel Parish school.

Mr. Stair accompanied Dr. Mire on a Haiti medical mission in 2008 to the remote village of Bouly outside of Boucan-Carré that lacked formal medical care. Bouly is only accessible by foot or donkey and is a six-hour trek.

When they first arrived, nearly 500 people were waiting to be seen by physicians.

“They were waiting in a church, and this church was open-air and filled with people who had been waiting hours. They had never had a physician in Bouly,” Mr. Stair said. “I was overcome by the desperation, and I have seen a lot of desperation in my travels. There had been a period of severe food shortage. The lack of food was immediately apparent.”

The Sacred Heart Haiti Outreach ministry continues working to sustain a small clinic in Bouly to treat Haitians in that part of the country. With the help of native volunteers, missionaries with Sacred Heart and its partners have constructed a small building to serve as a permanent, free-standing clinic.

“We have built a simple 10-meter-by-10-meter building with four rooms. We had a volunteer effort by surrounding villages, whose villagers carried rocks from a nearby river to build the clinic,” he said. “The Church does not finance any of this. This is completely a volunteer effort.”

He noted that through donations, Sacred Heart and its partners were able to hire 130 Haitians to carry 270 pieces of rebar six hours across the mountains from Port-au-Prince to Bouly for construction of the clinic, which is powered by a generator and is staffed by volunteers.

A new clinic in the remote village of Bouly was built by Sacred Heart Cathedral volunteers and residents of the Bouly area.

In addition to the clinics, Sacred Heart parishioners and partners have built and are helping maintain a second school – a high school – to serve the Haitian youth of the St. Michel Parish area.

“The social safety net in Haiti falls to the Church,” Mr. Stair said, pointing to the growing importance of the Haiti Outreach ministry.

He plans to return to Haiti in November as part of a small group to install solar panels on the Bouly clinic to improve its electrical efficiency. Another medical mission is scheduled for December.

He would like to see other parishes with an interest in a Haiti ministry partner with Sacred Heart to continue this vital outreach.

“We are victims of our success, and we need other partners. We are now financially stressed because of our commitments in Haiti,” Mr. Stair said, noting that Sacred Heart is comfortable continuing to lead administration of the outreach. “We are targeting parishes that aren’t yet involved in Haiti but would be interested. But we also are open to parishes that currently have a Haiti outreach ministry.”

Mr. Stair said anyone wanting to know more about Sacred Heart’s Haiti Outreach ministry can go to www.haitioutreachprogram.com.

He pointed out that because the ministry is all-volunteer and has no administrative costs, every dollar donated to the program goes to Haiti.

Sacred Heart’s main annual fundraisers for the ministry are a banquet and sponsorships. Sacred Heart parishioners donate about $200,000 a year for the Haiti ministry.

As the ministry moves forward, Mr. Stair said he hopes to see the communities helped by the schools and clinics and St. Michel Parish become more self-sustaining.

“I would like to see if we can develop some project that is a small economic engine in Boucan-Carré to generate income in that region,” he said.

But first, he’s hoping a parish or two will come forward and partner with Sacred Heart to make those projects a reality.

Haiti outreach partnerships are vital to the evangelization mission in Haiti, so much so that a national conference is held to promote the partnership network. The next national Haiti Twinning Conference will be held in Nashville Aug. 24-26.  Mr. Stair, who plans to attend, said the conference will be an excellent opportunity to learn new and better ways of partnering, or “twinning,” and reaching out to Haiti.

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