This week, rather than report on a specific resolution, I would like to report on progress! Back in January, our Presiding Bishop had called for a special offering to assist in the rebuilding efforts of Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti. For those who are new to the blog, this cathedral suffered much damage from an earthquake that happened four years ago. The cathedral’s restoration is an icon of the vitality of the Haitian people and serves as a symbol of God’s work in their midst. But the Cathedral wasn’t the only property of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti to be damaged. St Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children was also destroyed.
St Vincent’s began its work in 1945 when a tiny, blind baby was found by Sister Joan Margaret, SSM, who brought him back to the convent for care. There were no facilities in Haiti for the care and schooling of disabled children at this time so many babies were simply abandoned and left to die. The rescue of this helpless little one prompted an effort to begin care for these children. Soon, a school began with its first classes held in the shade of a tree. From these humble beginnings, St Vincent’s began what now ministers to 450 children, 170 of whom are boarders. All of these children are handicapped in some way: blind, deaf, confined to a wheelchair or in need of crutches, yet all receive an education designed to prepare them for future success in their lives. Besides the school, St Vincent’s housed a health clinic and brace shop which designed and made braces to order for specific children’s needs.
The Episcopal News Service reported: “The school is a long-standing part of what Haiti’s Episcopal Bishop Duracin calls a ‘gospel of wholeness’ that the Episcopal Church of Haiti, known locally as L’Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti, has preached and practiced since its founding in 1861. It is a gospel, Duracin has said, which ‘can serve people in their body, their mind and their spirit.’”
While the earthquake claimed the lives of two staff members and eight children, most of the staff and children were able to flee to safety. In the years following the earthquake, the children moved from tent school building to a temporary home on the diocesan campus while rebuilding efforts begin. Both the health center and brace shop opened its doors again a few months after the earthquake. Now, the rebuilding effort has begun in earnest with a generous gift from a physician from New York.
On March 11, 2014, the Episcopal News Service shared the story of Mary White’s generous gift. At a gathering at the New York residence of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, White stated that she feels “quite confident that the Episcopal Church, arm in arm with the Haitian church, can rebuild Haiti in a way that will be supporting social, cultural, educational and medical efforts throughout the country; not just in Port-au-Prince, not just with St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children.”
Mary White told the story of her interest in the work in Haiti after a visit to the country almost 14 years ago when she was serving as a chair for her congregation’s mission project. Following the earthquake in 2010, White visited again to work at a field hospital near the border with the Dominican Republic. She was attracted to the rebuilding project at St Vincent’s because “the needs there are more in sync with who I am [than in other projects]. These are children, many of whom have been abandoned by their parents. I’m an adoptive mom; I’m a physician and it’s a place where a lot of medical care is given.”
White concluded her interview with these words: “I want to encourage people to change their thinking about Haiti; to feel confident about Haiti’s future. Buildings are being built to the highest standard of earthquake and hurricane-resistant architectural standards; it’s being done deliberately and carefully, and in many ways environmentally soundly and I hope that this gift will not just lead to other gifts big and small but to a greater sense of confidence in Haiti’s future. Everybody just thinks that Haiti is doomed and that it’s never going to climb out of its hole. I hope that this [donation] is one of those things that’s going to show that people have confidence in Haiti and its future … Haiti is not hopeless.”
Here’s the link to the Episcopal News Service article
A Link to St Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children
A brief video about St Vincent’s
I shared this story to show what our work can do when we reach out to minister to others with our time, talent and treasure. This is kingdom work and we can accomplish much as we work together. There are needs all around us. What can you do?
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council