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Haiti Update

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I just wanted to give a brief update on Haiti and the earthquake. Obviously the human toll is still being calculated and it is a disaster of biblical proportions. Although aid is streaming into the country, officials are still finding it difficult to get it to those who need it most. Last night we heard that amputations were being done with the only anesthetic being Motrin.

For our Parish, there has been some good news in all this. The school that we built is still standing although there are some cracks in the walls. The convent house that is home to the nuns who run the school is also still standing although it experienced some damage. The wall that we were building to secure the convent so that it can be used for farming received lots of damage. All of the nuns that run the school are o.k. We don't have much word on the children that attended the school. School was not in session when the earthquake hit so the nuns have had a hard time finding who's safe and who isn't. Finally an orphanage that we have a strong relationship with (here's a link describing the time I played soccer with some of the orphans) is ok and sustained no damage.

There has been some personal heartbreak too. Another school located in Leogane that our Parish had sponsored through financial support collapsed killing 150 students and the 4 nuns that ran it. The mission house where we stayed collapsed injuring some residents (but no deaths). Most of the people we had relationships with in Haiti have suffered greatly and most have lost many family members. There are also a couple of Americans in Haiti that we have not heard from.

With Haiti starting to slide off the front pages, it's easy to forget about their plight. Funds are still needed and remember to only give to organizations that have relationships in Haiti. The American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are considered two of the best.


Haiti Earthquake

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The news out of Haiti is both devastating and heartbreaking. It was only 50 weeks ago that I left Haiti after spending 8 days on a mission trip. The mission house in Petionville that I stayed in when we were in the City has been completely destroyed (the picture above is pretty close to where we stayed). As has the neighborhood around it. The hospitals where we cared for people with aids and the orphanages are severely damaged too. It is unbelievable that a place that I was at less than a year ago has now been reduced to rubble.

We still haven't heard about the school that our Parish built in Leogane. Leogane is about 15 miles west of Port-Au-Prince but is on a coastal flat land. Some reports are that Leogane didn't suffer as much damage, other reports is that it did. The fact is that the human toll in Port-Au-Prince is so severe, some of the outer areas are probably not even being addressed by the international community. Couple that with the fact that diesel fuel for the electric generators is probably running out means that communication with the outside world is near impossible.

Haiti has no means to help itself. It has no infrastructure. It has no equipment. It has no stores of supplies to pass out to the population plus no means to distribute it if it did. This will take a massive humanitarian effort by the entire international community. Apparently right now money is the most important commodity with contributions to the Red Cross probably the safest and most effective route. The organization that our Parish established to build the school in Leogane is also taking contributions and you can help at the link here. Rest assured that 100 percent of those funds collected will go to the people of Haiti.

My Haitian Soccer Team

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One day when I was in Haiti we visited this place that served kids who were either “infected or impacted by AIDS.� Essentially these kids were orphaned because their parents had died of AIDS or they were HIV-infected themselves and their families couldn’t take care of them.

They actually had pretty nice digs as they were housed in a former compound of dictator Duvalier and when we got there they were about to have recess. An impromptu soccer game broke out and I along with another person in my group joined in. Although we added marginally to the quality of play, and in fact one extra person on each team made it harder to play in the small courtyard, they were happy to have us and included us in the game.

The amazing thing was that there were a couple of times when the game was halted for some other event or presentation and when the game started up, the kids insisted that we join in again. Now believe me they could have easily started up again without us and we would have been happy and completely understood that this was their game and that we were interlopers. But they didn’t. They insisted we join them and wouldn’t start up until we got back onto the courtyard pitch.

Thinking back on that day it really hit me that although we were in Haiti to support these kids, in fact they were supporting us. Their lives are vastly different than ours -- practically different universes from my kids where their biggest concern is that I won’t allow them to access the internet from their cell phones. But their woes didn’t matter, all that mattered is that they were playing soccer and that they had a couple of other guys who wanted to play.

Faces of Haiti

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You always see the pictures of desolation in Haiti, I thought I'd share with you some pictures of the people of Haiti (click on a picture to enlarge)

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Haiti Trip

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So it's hard to describe in a blog post about my trip to Haiti. We've all seen the news shows or National Geographic specials on 3rd world countries with broken down houses and people living on scraps but its another to see it with your eyes. And without going on for paragraphs or writing a travelogue, I will try to describe some thoughts and would be willing to answer questions in the comments.

Part of our efforts in Haiti is to support that our church built about 5 years ago. One thing I can say is that the school is beautiful and the kids are getting a good education (and a meal too!) Compared to most of the construction in Haiti, the school is a shining beacon and something the people who run it and our Parish should be quite proud of.

Also the kids of Haiti are wonderful. We visited kids at our school, sick kids, orphaned kids, and others working on a farm. They were so fun and smiling, and so happy to see us. Playing and interacting with the children of Haiti was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. We went down to support them and instead they ended up supporting us. Also, if you see me sometime let me show you my new " go go flash" greeting, it's pretty cool.

Of course the poverty is just overwhelming in the City with people living in quite squalid conditions. Garbage is everywhere, the roads are rutted with pot holes, and traffic is crazy. Food and sanitation is barely adequate. Electrity is intermittent (in fact we went without electricity in Leogoane). Goats and Chickens, pigs, and cows roam the streets and public transportation.

Overall it was a great trip and I would encourage everone to make a similar trip to help the people of Haiti and to bring into perspective how most of the world actually lives. We truly are blessed living where we do.

Again, if you have questions, I'll answer them in the comments.

Also I am having problems posting photos. Check back to see if I figure out the problem as I will try to post more.

Haiti Mission Trip

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As I mentioned a few months back, in a few days I will be going to Haiti on a Mission Trip (January 19-26). Our church sponsors a school in the small town of Leogane and we send 7-9 Missionaries every year to bring school supplies, clothing, and over-the-counter medicine to the children and their families. In addition we will be visiting an orphanage, hospitals, and hospices. The orphanage, hospital, and hospice rarely get any visitors beyond a nurse and much of what we will be doing there will just be interacting with the sick or dying -- typically people who just doesn’t get a whole lot of human contact, in essence they’ve been abandoned.

Part of why we go is to learn about the country and bring back to our comfortable homes the story of Haiti’s plight. With that in mind, here are some basic facts about Haiti:

-- 75 to 80 percent of the country’s 8.5 million population live on less than $2.00 a day
-- Half the population has no access to safe drinking water
-- Life expectancy is 49-51 years.
-- 23 percent of children suffer from malnutrition
-- 10 percent of the population has electricity
-- 97 percent of the country’s forests have been cut down.

Our efforts in Haiti are funded through my church: Annunciation Catholic Church, a non-profit that was established through this effort, Mission Haiti, Inc, and through our own private expenses. If you want to support our mission, check out the Mission Haiti web site or contact me personally.

If you want find out more about Haiti, the show 60 Minutes just this past week had a segment. You can view that here. Also check out the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, and the chapter on Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the book Collapse.

Obviously I won’t be blogging in Haiti but intend to have a few posts and pictures about my trip when I return. Just think, we’ll then have a new President and hopefully a few more degrees on the thermometer. (btw, this (Thursday) morning it is nearly 110 degrees difference in temps between Minneapolis and Port-Au-Prince!!!)

Mission Trip to Haiti

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An important but misunderstood tenet of Catholicism is the concept of social justice. In fact many Catholics (and non-Catholics) do not adequately understand that the social teaching of the Church is an essential part of Catholic faith. Dignity of the Human Person, Peace and Disarmament, Sustainability, and Economic Justice are all major themes of the Church’s Social Justice teachings. (If you are interested in learning more about these teachings, click here).

I think all Catholics should at some point be a missionary in order to fulfill their Christian obligation of social justice. Now this doesn’t mean one has sell all their worldly possessions and move to a Abbey in Peru. Volunteering at Feed My Starving Children or Bridging can also be considered “mission work.� Me, I am taking a middle route, serving as a missionary for a week this upcoming January in Haiti.

My local parish church has been active in Haiti for many years and we sponsor a school in Leogane. For a few years now parishioners have been going to Haiti to help out at the school, tend to the sick at a local convent, and assist the poor in mountainous villages. Surely Haiti needs it. By far the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, Haiti has been wracked by deforestation (for more on the environmental degradation of Haiti check out Jared Diamond’s book Collapse), Aids, political instability, and extreme poverty. Couple that with recent riots over lack of food and being pummeled by three hurricanes in the course of a month, Haiti is a country in dire need of economic assistance, technical expertise and spiritual support.

Members of our Church have established a non-profit organization called Mission Haiti that sponsors mission trips like the one I am going on and to educate Americans about Haiti’s plight. The trip in January will have about 8 to 10 missionaries. Some of them have been to Haiti many times, some (like me) will be going for the first time. Our mission work will last 8 days and a number of folks are staying for a second week. Besides assisting at the school and tending to the sick, we will be bringing as many school supplies, clothing, and medicine our luggage can carry.

Unfortunately sending Missionaries to Haiti is not cheap and the Mission Haiti organization and the individual missionaries must raise the money themselves to pay for this important work. This is where you can help. Check out the Mission Haiti website and feel free to contribute something to their effort. If you would like to help sponsor my individual mission expenses (around $2,000) leave a comment or send me an e-mail privately (freealonzo@comcast.net) and I will contact you on how we can make that happen.

Over the course of the next few months I plan to do a couple of posts about Haiti and the situation in that country. Don’t worry, this blog won’t become a Jerry Lewis telethon or anything of that sort, but maybe a monthly respite from the usual ravings that populate this site.

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