A paradise… if not for chronic earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, cholera and starvation… Haiti is beloved by its people, who withstand the worst and somehow remain eternally hopeful.
With civil unrest coming to a head, Haiti faces its darkest hours. Escalating gang violence, rampant kidnappings and gang rapes threaten the lives of Haitians — especially women and children — every day. Violent demonstrations reached Jacmel last fall. While the sisters were determined to stay, the U.S. Embassy urged them to leave the country for the safety of the people at the mission, who would likely be targeted if the sisters remained. Sisters Mary Inga Borko, Marilyn Marie Minter, Mary Izajasza Rojek and Mary Julitta Kurek continue to pray and stay in touch with the mission staff on the ground, who risk their own safety to keep the mission running. “It is the most difficult time for them,” says Sr. Inga. They share their stories below.
On the Frontline
Many young doctors leave Haiti due to lack of opportunity. With only 25 physicians per 100,000 Haitians, the health care workforce in Haiti cannot meet the needs of the people. Needless sickness and death occur.Felician Mission: Haiti sponsors Tchery Louis, supporting him through medical school.
I am Tchery Louis, a 6th-year medical student in Haiti. I am writing with great sadness and frustration to share my experience and the health situations of hospitals where I have had the chance to do my internships for the last several months. Recently, I worked at L’Hôpital Sainte-Thérèse de Hinche. It was a very good experience in my career as a medical student, but also very difficult because of the social, economic, and political situation in my country. Recurring insecurity and instability in Haiti, as well as the blocking by criminal gangs of the country’s main oil terminal in the capital, Port-au-Prince, mean that the fuel needed to supply hospitals is not delivered, which repeatedly causes the hospital to stop functioning. Additionally, many healthcare workers cannot get to work and provide patient care. The current situation is also having a negative impact on the replenishment of medicines and medical supplies. Lives are being lost in Haiti because hospitals do not have access to fuel or the necessary equipment for people suffering from trauma or life-threatening infections. It is sometimes difficult for us to admit new patients. It is increasingly difficult to ensure sterile conditions for medical procedures, including cesarean sections and others that require surgery.
I see patients dying because they don’t have money to buy medications that we prescribe. First aid materials are not always available and often patients cannot buy them in pharmacies, saying, “Doctor, I don’t have money to buy them.” Often I use what I have for my own needs or ask other students to contribute with me to help people find medicine and food. Our health system is currently going through a difficult period. My fellow students and I know there is great need for our services. The current health situation in Haiti is a big challenge for patients and for doctors. Please, keep us in your prayers.
Keeper of the Keys
Each morning, Annette Beneche stands inside the gates of Felician Mission: Haiti and sorts through the stories of the people who have come there seeking help. This task had belonged to the sisters, but they have entrusted Annette with the keys. “People are so hungry they are desperate,” Sr. Inga says. “Annette must be extra cautious.”
Some people at the gate are visibly starving — asking for rice and oil. Mothers need formula or clothing for their infants. Some are injured or ill. Beneche triages each person individually and responds compassionately and methodically. She does what she can — what the Felician Sisters taught and empowered her to do. Mixing infant formula from scratch or giving money for a ride to the hospital for injuries beyond the capabilities of the clinic staff. With the heavy keys Beneche carries for the mission, she also carries the weight of responsibility for these human stories of poverty, injury or deprivation. In a time when many American missions in Haiti have been attacked and looted, Beneche has been entrusted with keeping the Felician mission running.
Beyond her accountability, Beneche also has a deep love for Blessed Mary Angela, whose story she read in her native Creole, and whose life she wants to imitate. Like Blessed Mary Angela, Beneche takes care of many children. Before the violence escalated, her primary responsibility was overseeing the nearly 100 children enrolled in more than 20 different schools. She monitored report cards, progress, tuition and all extra needs, including measuring and ordering uniforms and school supplies.
Like Blessed Angela, Annette is not deterred by the ongoing violence and condition of her country. She takes it day by day — moving forward and making a difference in the lives of the children and families she serves.
Thanks to Felician Mission: Haiti, Peterson completed his secondary education, and he has worked in the mission ever since. At 22, he dreams of becoming a computer engineer, but for now — given the instability in Haiti — he has the important responsibility of keeping the mission’s computer lab running.
My Name Is Peterson Momplaisir. My family lives outside the city. My father is a farmer. My mother helps him. It is a good family, with love and dignity. But economic conditions did not allow us even the most basic things, such as food, clothing, electricity, or school. In the areas outside of cities, there are no good quality schools. My family sent me to Jacmel to live with my aunt. I met the Felician Sisters and they helped us, especially in economic and spiritual realms. Thanks to their help, I finished my education. My high school was one of the best in Jacmel. I was one of the best students. The sisters supported me. For me, that time was like fresh water in a time of heat. After I finished high school, the sisters allowed me to continue to work in their mission and gave me responsibility for their computer lab. Here, I help students to learn Microsoft Word so they can do their homework. I assist those who come to learn English online, teaching them how to use Zoom and sometimes translating for them in the beginning. I started a computer course for beginners. I dreamed of becoming a computer engineer or physician. Unfortunately, there are too many political instabilities, economic crises, and insecurities in my country. Although it has become difficult for me to achieve these goals, I still hope to become a more useful person in society.
Feet and Hands of Christ
Once a truck driver, then a chauffeur in the Diocese of Jacmel, Fritz has great experience navigating roads in Haiti. He has faithfully served Felician Mission: Haiti for 11 years — driving, delivering and providing security to the sisters and mobile clinic staff. In what was once a relatively safe position, Fritz now puts his life on the line every day helping to keep the mission running. He always needs to be aware of road conditions like flooding, roadblocks, protests and gang violence — using channels and contacts to get up-to-date conditions to get the Mother Angela Mobile Clinic where it needs to go. It is Fritz who decides if the clinic can go out or not.
5 a.m. Fritz wakes up to the neighbors’ roosters crowing. He has spaghetti for breakfast, along with hot chocolate and a piece of bread. (Every three months, he travels to the Dominican Republic border to pick up medicine for the mobile clinic. Leaving at 3:30 a.m. to begin the treacherous journey, he returns at 10:30 p.m.).
7 a.m. Fritz cleans and maintains the 10-year-old Toyota mobile clinic — caked with mud and dust from driving unpaved roads. He listens to the radio to get the latest updates about demonstrations or weather that could lead to blocked roads. A downpour could make dirt roads impassable. He has connections in every place the clinic travels. Fritz seems to have the uncanny ability to know when it will be safe to go, and which roads are okay to travel.
7:30 a.m. Fritz loads medical supplies onto the top of the mobile clinic. Multiple heavy boxes include glass bottles of liquid medicine, medical supplies, iPads, used for medical record-keeping and the clinic “furniture,” consisting of five folding tables.
8 a.m. The mobile clinic staff: two doctors, a nurse, and a pharmacist, depart. With gasoline shortages, the clinic must stay closer to Jacmel.
9 a.m. Arriving in the village, Fritz sets up the clinic. He provides a security presence and when things get busy, he follows instructions to fill bottles with medication.
2 p.m. After a full day of clinic, Fritz loads up the mobile clinic to return to the mission.
3 p.m. Back at the mission, Fritz unloads the vehicle. On Fridays, he washes and inspects the vehicle and equipment, including the horn — a crucial component on narrow, mountainous roads. The tropical climate and rough roads mean the vehicle needs new tires annually and to be serviced every few months.
3:30 p.m. Dinner! The mission provides a hot meal of rice and beans, boiled plantain or spaghetti with fish each day.
4 p.m. Fritz helps to do the “big shopping” at the mission, buying 20-lb bags of rice, five-gallon water jugs and cylinders of propane gas.
7 p.m. Fritz has an evening meal, often consisting of soup and bread with peanut butter or eggs if they are available. After showering, he checks the internet for the latest news and checks in with his family via WhatsApp.
9 p.m. Without electricity, bedtime comes early. Fritz has a home in Jacmel, but during the week he stays at the mission to help protect it.
In a nation where fewer than a fifth of children complete secondary school, Edwina demonstrates the power of education. One of the first students in Felician Mission: Haiti’s Pay It Forward program, Edwina continued all the way to the Haitian Education Leadership Program at Madonna University. Her story illustrates the transformative possibilities of the Felician Sisters’ ongoing work in Haiti.
My name is Edwina Dieudonné. I am the youngest of five. I live in Jacmel, Haiti with my mother. My father left us when I was 2 years old. My mother doesn’t have a job. There are many things I like to do, to see, and to experience. I like to read. I like to dream. I like to smell the wind coming from the ocean. I like good books and romantic movies. I like the land and nature. I like people. I am a person who is positive about every aspect of life. I always wanted to go to university in the U.S.A. and become a successful businesswoman, but I never found the opportunity. However, a meeting with the Felician Sisters changed my life. It all started after the earthquake in 2010. There were two Felician Sisters: Sr. Marilyn and Sr. Inga. Children in the area always went to their house to ask them for food. One day, I decided to ask them to help me, too. I was in primary school. Since then, I have been working with the sisters. They have helped me with my studies, learning English and using the internet. I always talk about my dreams with the sisters. They encourage me to pray and always keep hope. I was studying management science at UNDH (Université Notre Dame d’Haiti) when the sisters gave me an opportunity. The sisters told me about an online degree program in the U.S.A. They also gave me an experienced English teacher to help me pass the admission test. It wasn’t easy, but I wanted to achieve my dream, so I worked hard. Now I am studying business administration at Madonna University. Thank you to the Felician Sisters. I will work even harder because this is the beginning. I still have a lot of things to do. I believe in God and in myself. My parents believe in me, and the sisters do, too. I must not disappoint them. Believe in God, believe in your skills, and never give up on your dreams.