COVID-19 impacts St Joseph Haiti Outreach – again

By Tim Lilley

The Message editor

As I was preparing this article, Chad Martin, his family and some other members of the St. Joseph Parish (Vanderburgh County) Haiti Outreach Ministry were planning to visit St. Jacques Parish in Plaine de Nord, Haiti, for the first time since COVID-19 unleashed its dreadful ways on the world. But, as have been so many other things planned amidst the pandemic, their trip had to be canceled at the last minute due to COVID-19 issues.

These local residents proudly hold up some of the fish now being raised at the fish farm to feed schools students and their families in Plaines de Nord and nearby towns. Photo courtesy of the St, Joseph Parish Haiti Outreach Ministry

Regular readers of The Message know that multiple parishes across our 12 counties are twinned with Haitian parishes. Catholics from Southwestern Indiana have made numerous trips to the Caribbean-island country, which is southeast of Cuba and bordered on the east by the Dominican Republic. Haiti is commonly known as the poorest country in the western hemisphere when you speak of financial poverty, but they are some of the richest when it comes to their faith in Christ and their resiliency.

They have assisted with necessary repairs due to earthquakes and flash flooding. They have helped their Haitian brothers and sisters obtain fresh water, educate their children, provide solar energy, grow their own food and create job enterprises to help the local economy. Their work has been impacted and travel restricted to protect both the travelers and to contain the spread of the virus in the vulnerable population without access to healthcare.

St. Joseph Haiti Outreach has had to cancel trips that were scheduled to visit St. Jacques in March 2020 and again later last year. COVID-19 shut them down. The story of the virus’ impact across Haiti is fascinating.

“From what we’ve been told, COVID-19 has not hit the country like we expected,” Martin said. “The border with the Dominican Republic remains closed, and air travel into Haiti has been shut down. Haitians have been doing the same kinds of things we are here – wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and so on. I believe that the lack of travelers from outside the country has been helpful in minimizing the spread.”

Located near the northern coast in the Archdiocese of Cap-Haitien, Plaine de Nord is remote. “It’s only about 15 miles from Cap-Haitien, but the trip often takes 45 minutes or longer. The way of life there is far different,” Martin said. Schools closed last spring because of COVID-19; and given the lack of infrastructure, virtual learning was not an option. Martin said schools reopened and finished the 2019-2020 school year last fall, and began the current school year in November.

The need for isolation shut down airlines and disrupted food distribution across the entire country. But on the other hand, their living conditions are such that there are not a lot of confined indoor spaces that have amplified the spread of COVID in other parts of the world. Martin said that their pastor has told them that only by the grace of God have they been spared of the horrible loss of life that many in the medical community thought would develop after the virus made it to the island last spring The isolation and disruptions of commerce have had a more significant impact on the people causing food shortages and hunger than has the virus.

The six members of the Outreach Ministry Team on this trip had quite a “to do” list for their journey. They are taking supplies, of course. But they also will have a chance to meet St. Jacques’ new pastor for the first time. Dozens of priests were reassigned across the archdiocese late last year, and St. Jacques “traded” pastors with a parish in Cap-Haitien. They had planned to resupply their “New Hope” sewing school and coordinate the next school year with the local teachers and coordinator.

The travelers also had planned to catch up with as many sponsored students as possible for interviews that will provide information for their U.S. sponsors who are supporting them with tuition for elementary and secondary schools, and colleges. Martin said approximately 200 students are being sponsored for elementary and secondary education expenses, and more than 40 others are receiving help with college expenses and we are always looking for more sponsors or people who just want to get involved with the outreach program.

Martin and his 10-year-old son C.J. also planned to visit “Dr. Leo” at another school in Plaine de Nord. The Martins, with C.J. spearheading the effort, raised more than $25,000 since the end of May 2020 to assist this Christian missionary in his work to repair a fish farm that had been severely damaged by a 2010 earthquake. Martin said, “The farm is running again. Through Dr. Leo’s efforts, the people in the area – including those we are helping directly – are receiving protein in their diets from the fish grown there thanks to all the prayers and donations from many.”

They are trying to reschedule their trip at the earliest opportunity. Martin said, “God leads us to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Haiti and we will persevere in sharing our faith and love with them the best we can despite the Covid-19 impacts we face.”