A Reflection on Volunteering in Haiti
As I prepared to wash the feet of Haitian women suffering lymphatic filariasis, I prayed that I would be worthy; that I would not appear, or be, a curious interloper staring at the ravages inflicted on them by disease. Unable to speak their language, I prayed that God would help me and my fellow companions find a way to convey the respect and compassion we felt for each of them. I prayed to be able to provide the women with some temporary physical relief, and, selfishly, even if only for a few minutes, bond with them in the oppressive heat. Only God and the Haitian women whose feet we washed that day will know if my prayers were answered, but I will always fervently hope they were.
Notre Dame Haiti Program Volunteer
God is No Stranger…We Are Notre Dame
It happens often…I am at the YMCA, or in line at the grocery store, or shopping at the mall, and I come upon someone wearing a Notre Dame (ND) tee-shirt and I feel a spark. In some unique way this person is not a stranger… I have an immediate connection, a sense of community and family, and a desire to ask them who they are. My husband Bill is notorious for striking up a conversation to find out if they graduated from ND or have a family member studying there.
As the years go by since my graduation in 1985, I have come to recognize that there is something very powerful about the bond we feel for each other within the Notre Dame family. It speaks to the love and values we share, long after graduation. We are Notre Dame and this clear identity leads us to live out the values that were planted by the Holy Cross community, our professors, the people we met, and the friends we made.
My proudest moment as an ND grad occurred just last month as I entered the main gates at the Residence Filariose (RF) in Leogane, Haiti. After traveling 90 minutes to go 18 miles through the earthquake torn streets of Port au Prince in a dusty pick-up truck,I saw the gate open and the Haitian flag hanging right next to the Notre Dame flag. My eyes started to fill with tears and I thought, “this is where ND needs to be.” When I was welcomed by Wesley at the door and asked to sign the guest book, I was overwhelmed to read the hundreds of Notre Dame graduates who have visited since the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. I felt this deep sense of gratitude, this profound sense of connectedness, and this overwhelming sense of legacy…
We are ND is something we hear at football games and various sports events and although it often sounded cliché before, these words touched my heart and spoke to me from a very different place that Tuesday morning.
We are ND…and we are here amidst the rubble, the tents, the hungry children, the hopeful faces, and the broken medical system.
We are ND…and we strive to hear the cry of the poor right here in Leogane and walk with them to rebuild their community.
We are ND...and we are here to stay; not just be visitors who come, witness the poverty, and go home unchanged. We are changed forever.
We are Notre Dame and God is no stranger.
After visiting Haiti, one is left with so many unanswered questions. Why did a country so poor before have to experience such a devastating earthquake? Where does one begin to rebuild? Why has the generous international aid been held up in ports subject to bribes and left in containers? How do these people survive day in and day out living in the tents? How do these women arrive at church at 6 a.m. well-dressed, their children neatly groomed, and sing songs of praise and hope?
My first visit was short but I was so moved by the resiliency of the Haitian people. A friend who is an SMA priest working in Tanzania once said, “If there was food in Africa, no one would go hungry. The people’s capacity to share is abundant.”
I believe that same statement rings true for Haiti at this time…if the resources would arrive and there was a strategic plan, the Haitian people could effectively rebuild. Their spirit of solidarity is strong and their resiliency is certain. Resources are desperately absent now. There is limited food, water, housing, education, and health care. It is hard to take it all in when one is visiting for a short time.
And yet, we all long to hope, to begin somewhere, and to have faith that somehow the good will of the people will be given renewed life. We pray that their struggle will have meaning, their cries will be heard, and their hopes and dreams will become a reality.
The Let’s Share the Sun Foundation is delighted to partner with the Notre Dame Haiti Program. I believe the great strength of partnering with the Notre Dame Haiti Program is that Notre Dame was there long before the earthquake. ND’s presence began in 1993 and they have been committed to eradicating the awful disease of lymphatic filariasis, better known as elephantiasis, for over 17 years. The CSC have been there for many, many more. Notre Dame has fabulous people on the ground under the leadership of Jean Marc Brissau and Wesly Pierre. The Haitian community working with the ND program provides the local wisdom to identify the needs, discern what is realistic, and be able to implement an effective strategic plan within a small community of 180,000 people.
When I asked both Jean Marc and Wesly, Where should Let's Share the Sun help place the first solar installation in Leogane, they both agreed that the first site should be the RF and the second site the salt factory. Both installations would serve as sustainable models for the rebuild. Both sites have present security systems to assure the panels would not be stolen and have the infrastructure to be maintained. When I saw the 24 car batteries attached to a generator and heard the fading sound when everything shut off within my mosquito tent at the RF, I understood this is where we should begin. The sun is abundant in Leogane, the local community desperately needs electricity, and solar energy is sustainable.
Bill and I both graduated from ND in 1985 and we long to give back. We are ND is something that moves our hearts to be generous for “it is in giving that we receive.”
We are ND and God is no stranger.
Nancy Brennan-Jordan ’85
Co-founder of the Let’s Share the Sun Foundation