A Haitian Diary

(Some random reflections from Ms. Christine Estes during her visit to The Saint Jean Baptiste de La Salle School in Cazeau [Port-au-Prince], Haiti)

What an incredible day! Day 1 of my visit to our school in Haiti. Met Richarde and Kiki who showed me their classrooms, witnessed a gathering of about 60 parents of 3-4 year olds who will soon begin at the school, then got to meet the most incredible group of sisters who run the health and nutrition center. In the middle of Haiti, how surprising and wonderful that they spoke Portuguese of all things!

I’ve been teaching in Lasallian schools since 1998 and I’ve always known that we are a global family. But what a remarkable and humbling experience it is to be here. What began in a corner of Reims, France stretches around the world, even here in Port-au-Prince.

On being in Haiti for 4 days—-
For as long as I’ve been aware of these things, I’ve always believed that all people deserve a share in the goodness of life and God’s creation. Growing up, it was never about just going to church. My models of faith extended themselves in service and in justice to those around them. All God’s children deserve to live in dignity, to be able to go to school, to have access to clean water, to be raised by families who care and can provide for them. If your faith does not speak to this, then I’m not interested in that kind of Christianity.

In Haiti, I saw a level of poverty and devastation I certainly knew about but had never really seen. To see, to experience is a whole other matter. And perhaps, I, we, grow only in direct measure to how much I, we, choose to see, to how close we are willing to get to human suffering. In the words of a man who had gotten really close, how proximate are we willing to get to the human face of injustice?

So many sights, sounds, smells—the roosters beginning the wake up calls, goats, chickens, and dogs just roaming, so many street vendors, the paintings for sale, the tap-tap (public bus bulging with bodies), crazy traffic chaos, monster size roaches (thank you Alan for killing the one in my shower), lice, plantains, make-shift soccer balls that are really just empty water bottles, mountains of garbage, nuns who are so mission-driven they risk everything to bring medical care to villages near and far.

The crazy thing though is that for all this devastation, I experienced a clarity and simplicity in Haiti that I haven’t felt in a while. The taste of Coca Cola from a glass bottle, sharing granola bars with Pilo on the steps of the Brothers’ residence, the look on Pilo’s face when he got his new shoes, the sound of families—the young and old really singing at mass on Sunday—music from their souls, the bongo drums. It might sound trite and sappy, but I felt closer to God these last four days in Haiti than I have in a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to return, to take a hot shower and sleep in a real bed and hug my loves. But I return energized in a belief that education changes lives, that we cannot act or help until we are first willing to see, that all human beings deserve a place at God’s table because the food is so good. Most of all, these days in Haiti have reminded me that we need one another. I am grateful that I work in a global community that discerns solutions to poverty. So grateful for that work.

I will bring these children to my own children and to my students because now they are in my heart.

Christine Estes–Director of Campus Ministry