Connecticut Church’s Trip to Haiti Reveals Optimism and Joy Amid Persistent Poverty

Libby Heller doesn’t speak Creole, but she had no trouble communicating with a young Haitian girl on the other side of a soccer field.

Heller was one of a group of 18 parishioners from St. George Roman Catholic Church who traveled to Port-au-Prince in mid-January to learn about the country and to meet the college student the parish is supporting through its outreach ministry.

The first morning they were there, Heller saw the girl, 3 or 4 years old, whose family lives on a rooftop across the field, and started playing Simon Says with her. “Every morning, it was like 6:30 and she would always be awake,” Heller said. One would make a move; the other would copy it. One would dance; so would the other.

At one point, the girl ran into her house and came out with a backpack. Heller went and got hers. “She thought it would be so cool that I had a backpack and so did she,” Heller said. “In her mind’s eye, it was like, ‘I have the pleasure of going to school.’”

Claire Nicholls, St. George’s director of youth ministry, has been bringing the parish’s teenagers to Haiti every summer but three since 2003. (Since the cholera epidemic following a devastating 2010 earthquake, they’ve alternated with trips to Italy, but there will be two trips with juniors and seniors this year.)

Nicholls “instantly became passionate about the cause” of Haiti after hearing a speaker in 2000, she said. “Three years ago, we decided that we should get the adults of the parish involved,” she said. “It’s life-changing.”

This year’s group landed in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11, the same day President Donald Trump made his scatological comment about Haiti and other poor countries. “We had children in an orphanage ask if we liked Trump,” said Eileen Jenetopulos. They asked Erin Nicholls, Claire’s daughter, who speaks Creole, to “come up with a word for ‘embarrassing,’” Jenetopulos said.

The Rev. Stephen Sledesky, pastor of St. George, said, “The people realize that as Americans we’re not all like what they see in the news. They see Americans coming down to Haiti and they see the compassion that we bring.”

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SOURCE: New Haven Register – Ed Stannard