Basher parish helps Haiti recover from devastating earthquake
by Jessica Langdon
BASEHOR — January 12 marked five years since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and Father Richard McDonald, pastor of Holy Angels Parish here, still can’t shake the images a fellow priest left with him.
His friend had been on a mission trip in Haiti that January.
“He had just had Mass with the archbishop of Port-au-Prince and literally was on the last plane out of Haiti when the earthquake hit,” said Father McDonald.
Yet even before he had any idea the 7.0-magnitude earthquake had struck — killing more than 200,000 people and devastating the already impoverished country — he was thinking, “How could it be any worse?”
Individuals and families in Haiti have long faced poverty unlike many can even imagine.
And in 2014, Father McDonald received some materials about a way to help strengthen children, families and communities in Haiti by helping to provide small but sturdy homes.
So throughout this past Advent and Christmas seasons, Holy Angels raised thousands of dollars to send to Cross Catholic Outreach, an organization designed to deliver “food, shelter and hope to the poorest of the poor,” and by helping build homes through a project called Project Espwa, which means “hope.”
Under the direction of a priest named Father Marc Boisvert, Project Espwa helps people in Haiti with everything from job skills training and prison ministry to food and housing, and it also funds an orphanage in southwestern Haiti.
The parish’s donations will help build homes, and families who will live in them must be invested in the process and help with the construction. The hope is to even reunite some of the children living at the orphanage with relatives who are living but currently unable to care for the children.
A way to help
Father McDonald’s parishioners realize the importance of reaching out to the poor, and he saw this as a great opportunity.
“Our parish is very good at doing that — intraparish, in the community at large, in every aspect,” he said. “And I thought, ‘What better way — in the world at large — than to choose the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and try to help them?’”
One of the parish’s own families — the Morailles — helped drive home the plight so many face in Haiti.
The family of six visited Haiti this past November — just in time to share their experiences with their church during Advent.
The Morailles were no strangers to Haiti; Jacques Moraille was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but spent many summers as a child visiting family in Haiti.
And his mother moved to Haiti after the earthquake.
But it was still a big decision for Jacques and his wife Sara to take their four children — ages 9, 6, 4 and not quite 2 — there to visit his family.
“You have 10 million people on half a small island,” said Sara. “If you can imagine 10 million people living with no official trash system… there is trash everywhere.”
It’s not rare to see pigs in search of food rifling through garbage-filled ravines — the very same ravines where people might bathe or wash their clothes.
“I just tried to paint a picture in people’s heads of what that looks like,” said Sara.
Haiti also doesn’t have major city water programs.
Even power isn’t all that reliable.
There, 80 percent of the people live off what equates in the United States to $2 or less per day.
‘Land of contrasts’
Yet Sara takes care not to leave people with only the impression of the country’s desperate poverty.
“Haiti is a very beautiful place,” she said. “It is a land of contrasts. You have this extreme poverty, yet there is a loveliness about [the country].”
In addition to the bright Caribbean colors and the mountains, Haiti is filled with people who are community-minded and affectionate.
“I think the Haitian people are remarkable for what they do with the little they have,” said Sara.
As a civil engineer, Jacques sees hope and potential for improvement alongside challenges and frustrations, because the resources that could make so many things possible aren’t there as they would be in the United States.
“Being able to turn on the water or flush a toilet or have a safe way to go to work so many times are taken for granted,” he said.
He always leaves Haiti wondering what can be done.
So he was excited about this opportunity to help through his parish.
A road trip — especially with four children in tow — comes with a lot of unknowns and challenges in Haiti, so the family didn’t visit the orphanage that was several hours from where they were staying.
But they did some research and support the mission that is helping to build up families and communities.
“It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop, and it counts for that particular family,” said Jacques.
Eager to help
Parishioners’ contributions started flowing as soon as they heard about the second collection in December and January.
“It was immediate,” said Father McDonald. “In that first weekend we . . . already had over $7,000.”
It costs $5,520 to turn a vulnerable shanty into a sturdy structure with concrete walls, so that first week alone raised more than enough to fund the construction of one house.
The parish by mid-January had raised more than enough for three homes.
This isn’t a matter of fixing Haiti and its problems, said Sara.
“We’re individuals trying to alleviate suffering,” she said. “We help the individuals out of love.”
Father McDonald views the collection to help families in Haiti as a wonderful way to honor the Holy Family.
There was no home for Jesus at his birth, and his family made an unwanted journey to Egypt, he said.
“What better way then to help those, especially in this situation, who lost their homes, who have their children in the orphanage and are not even able to live with their little children until they get a better home?” asked Father McDonald. “What better way than to give hope for Christmas?”
Want to help?
Read more about Father Boisvert’s efforts and the work being done in Haiti to improve conditions for children and families by visiting the website at: www.freethekids.org. Donations may be made through the website.