Priest takes a first-hand look at Haiti relief

By Karen Larsen

As a speaker for the ecumenical organization Food for the Poor, St. Joseph’s Pastor Father Gary Norman recently visited Haiti to learn about the work the group is doing there.

Norman said he was moved by the poverty and devastation he witnessed, as well as the gratitude and joy the people showed for simple assistance.

A year and a half after a major earthquake hit the capitol, Norman said survivors continue to subsist in tent cities, making use of tarps donated by aid agencies.

“Haiti had the worst economy in the western hemisphere before the earthquake. They’re coping. I can’t say they’re improving, but they’re coping,” Norman said.

Norman said that because of the severe poverty in the nation, the country is dependent on foreign assistance to help chip away at the needs.

While in Haiti, Norman witnessed a daily distribution of food that his organization makes to about 10,000 poor people in Port-au-Prince.

Each was given a bowl of rice with a little meat sauce over the top.

Though the meal seemed simple, the people sang while they waited for it, and were so appreciative upon receiving it.

Norman said that the preparation of the meals is a major production, using thirty 150 pound bags of rice per day, and huge cooking pots.

The touring group also saw other forms of assistance. In one project, Food for the Poor is providing solid cement block houses for tent dwellers in Cap-Hatien, a city on the north side of the island.

As well as clergymen, the tour group included a seven-year-old girl from Florida named Rachel Wheeler, accompanied by her mother, father and brother. One day, Wheeler attended a Food for the Poor meeting and became inspired to try to raise money for the people the organization helps.

She managed to raise a total of $170,000. This included funds raised through personal solicitations as well as a grant for $48,000. The money was used to build 25 homes in Cap-Haitien.

Wheeler joined the group so that she could take part in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new community, called “Rachel’s Village.”

Asked how the residents felt about their new homes, Norman said, “They’re amazed!”

Though simple, the homes are a great improvement from what the people had before.

They are strongly built, and include a toilet and shower, providing the conditions for basic hygiene, which are absent in the slums.

Norman also visited a fishing village to see boats that had been given to people so that they could make a living.

He visited a well-run school for poor children and a home for the mentally and physically challenged.

He saw that water filtration units placed by Food for the Poor in the slums were helping residents by providing safe drinking water.

Norman said that he came home from his five-day whirlwind trip overwhelmed by the needs he saw in the small country, but hopeful about the help that could be given to people, one family at a time.