Balan, April 24, 2022
Being in Haiti still seems to me an adventure, but it is also true that every day I learn something new, an experience of God in that wherever I listen and look, I find His face, His suffering presence, brimming with life.
I have been in this country for a little more than a month, I arrived on March 13 though it seems to me that it has been longer than that. I had a nice welcome from my sisters and I feel at home. The children, the teachers and the people of this town have made me feel at home and warmly welcomed me.
The village where we are, called Balan, is west of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. It is a small, rural village, very poor and close to the border with the Dominican Republic.
Most of the people are evangelicals, there are very few Catholics! With them, we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays, which is done in Creole, we take communion in it. It is a very rich and profound experience; those who come participate actively in the whole celebration, and the presence of God is experienced very vividly.
The community has not been present in this town for very long, we have been here for just under five years. Before the sisters arrived, there was another congregation of sisters from "Santa Ana"; they suffered an attack here and had to leave.
There are four of us in the community: Josefa (Puerto Rico), who provides support in the health center; Martha (Chile), the director of the school; Maria del Valle (Spain), the director of the health center, and me, Rosa, who provides support in the preschool. There is also Pablo, who is a Chilean Jesuit brother. He is a doctor who is sharing his life and mission with us for a year, and he will stay until August. Matilde (Spain) is currently in Spain and from there she supports the project of the network of the Fe Alegria schools, together with the Jesuits.
In spite of the precarious conditions in this place, I feel that it is a blessed town, because in the midst of this desolation there is a school, a health center and a university (Free Methodist) a few meters from where we live and some students of this university do internships or provide services, both in the school and in the health center. Our relationship with them is good.
As for the situation of the country, it is a country that has been battered in every aspect; poverty, the political situation and security are ongoing problems. But in this difficult context we are here working together, giving what we have at hand to continue generating life and hope. It gives me so much joy to hear from the people of this town that the sisters are "a model" for them, and they take care of us, a kind gesture that makes us feel protected.
In this town and in the surrounding ones, there are no basic services; they do not have electricity, the water they get is thanks to a project of the "Fe Alegria" school, and they have the bare minimum; they also have to buy it. Thanks to God, we have electric lighting from solar panels and water is collected from the rain in reservoirs, so we take care of everything and here "everything works". The internet is very, very bad, we are lucky when we get a connection to send a message. This is one of the disadvantages of living like this, where technological and virtual communication is a constraint for us, but it is not a condition that limits our mission.
The mission we have here is in the field of education and health. The little school, which belongs to "Fe Alegria", is private and has been operating for 15 years. It has two levels: preschool and elementary school, with an average of 200 children attending the school. There is a lot of work to be done in the training of teachers and children; the difficulty of teaching and the violent environment of the children is something that really affects me. Most of the teachers who teach have only completed basic studies. Two or three of them have pedagogical training. Martha does everything possible to improve the level of education, but there is a lot of resistance from the teachers, so it is difficult to achieve. However, one thing we have achieved is that our children receive lunch; for many of them it is their only meal of the day.
The health center is a blessing and a lot of effort and work has been put into it. It is a center that now has four doctors: two Haitians, along with Maria del Valle RSCJ and Pablo SJ. The center is very well implemented and the care and services provided are well organized. It includes specialties: general medicine, pediatrics, physical rehabilitation programs, and care for pregnant women and babies. It also has a laboratory, pharmacy and everything to support healthcare. This center is the first project built by the RSCJ in this place. It is a recent project, created four years ago, and has been very successful, many people come here.
I am currently supporting the preschool, as much as I can. At the moment I am dedicated to implementing and enabling a classroom where the children can interact and link their learning with instructional materials. The language is a challenge for me right now, but the language of the heart is very important; my poor English is very useful to me because it is the way I communicate with the level coordinator. I am slowly learning Creole, and I am practicing what I am learning in my classes with the children and teachers, and the children are my best teachers.
The work is intense, each day is unique here. The planning is done day by day; it is an opportunity to embrace the adventure of life from other points of view.
In terms of everything I am living and experiencing, there are things that I would like to add to the dream of the sisters, particularly in the field of education, to ensure that the teaching of the early years is done in Creole, and also to help program and design some teaching strategies for the children with the teachers.
Living in a secluded place helps one to learn from everything; each sister contributes her talents to the mission and it is a joy to help each other.
I feel blessed to be experiencing life in this place, in this mission; just being here is another frontier, not only because I am in a country that is not my own, but because I am living in another culture, with a different language. Haiti is a suffering, impoverished, violent country; I am convinced that God gives life with a mother's heart and continues to give life to lift it up. Hope motivates me to collaborate in this mission.
Thanks to the province of the Antilles for welcoming me and to my province of Peru for allowing me to contribute to this beautiful mission.
Rosa Vasquez RSCJ