Life and Hope Haiti

Update - February 15, 2010

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Every little bit helps: Residents' generosity in South Berwick, Eliot, Kittery truly changes lives in Haiti


Special to the Democrat

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Courtesy photo/Amy Miller The 130 living residents at the Asile de St. Vincent de Paul lived on the ground for days after the earthquake until tents were donated by the Rotary Club, some from Holland and some from Florida.

In 2007, while visiting Haiti, my family met a Haitian American woman who had started a school in the north. Lucia Anglade, a mother of five in Long Island, and her rural school has drawn me back to Haiti each year.

At the same time, students and adults in South Berwick, Eliot and Kittery, Maine, have become involved with the Eben Ezer School as well, sponsoring children and sending supplies. In July, I visited Asile de St. Vincent De Paul, which is run by Lucia's sister Claudette and serves Haiti's neediest. A few miles from the earthquake's epicenter, it was decimated Jan. 12. Our community in southern Maine has sent down thousands of dollars and thousands of pounds of
emergency supplies. Last week I returned with Lucia to Leogane.

You already know about the devastation, the death and the rubble. You know, too, how poor Haiti is, and was long before catastrophe made everyone pay attention.

No doubt you have read about the thousands of volunteers from every corner of the globe who have come to help pick up the pieces of this tiny Caribbean country that remains so proud of the slaves who fought fiercely to gain independence from the French in 1804.

So, on my return from Leogane, which is just west of the epicenter and probably the most devastated town in Haiti right now, I will tell you instead what use has come of your contributions — your Band-Aids and socks, your expired medications and tents, your slings and your cash.

After three days at the Asile de St. Vincent de Paul, a Mother Teresa-like compound, and two days working at the adjacent clinic, I can tell you a bit about what your generosity means to Haiti.

I can tell you that two of the locally made hats from Little Hat Co. of South Berwick now belong to 12-year-old Geraldna Raymond and her mother, Laurina Raymond, who moved from Port Au Prince to the Asile after Geraldna's father died, their house was destroyed and Geraldna's injured foot left her temporarily in a wheelchair.

They barely looked at me until I gave them the hats. Then each time I headed to the dining room, a tent donated last month by Le Café Crepe in New York, they greeted me with a wide grin and friendly eyes.

I can tell you that several of the quilts made by South Berwick women in an effort coordinated by Rachel at the Great Works School went to Willy, our 33-year-old translator who has been living with his three children in a tent made of sheets since his house — and 95 percent of the other houses in this seaside town — were destroyed, leaving streets lined with rubble and untold numbers of bodies still buried.

When I gave Willy a young-adult sci fi. book I spontaneously bought at the airport, he held it like a treasure. It became the second English book in Willy's collection, the first being a tattered hardcover copy of "How to Behave so Your Children Will Know How to Behave."

I can also tell you that the tent donated by Grace and Beth will house relief workers headed from Maine next week, and after that will become home to some of the 130 residents of the compound that Sister Claudette Charles built over 23 years and saw destroyed in a matter of seconds.

Some of these residents are now sleeping 10 to a tent, others are still outside, their caretakers performing the backbreaking work of tending to disabled people living on the floor. They are the lucky ones. Junie, who is 109, told me that she watched her friend walk into a building in front of her that collapsed seconds later, and that her friend was among the 11 who died.

I can pass on that the suitcases donated by Nicole in Eliot and the Full Circle thrift shop on Route 236, as well as the three emptied tent bags, are precious storage units now, sitting outside under tarps holding the antibiotics, gauze, wipes and pain meds so many of you took the time to gather.

And I can tell you that as Sister Claudette weeps more tears than she has wept since she began the Asile in a rundown neighborhood with nothing much there but shacks, as she looks each morning at the rubble that the Canadian military has spent three weeks trying to clear, she takes heart in your generosity — determined to rebuild with the dollars, the thousands of dollars, sent down from South Berwick, Kittery and Eliot, from people who wish they could make it all different.

And you should know that the hundreds of pennies, dimes and dollars given by nearly every school child in this area, raised in hat days and bake sales, at dodge ball and in penny drives, will help build a new cafeteria and dorms, a kitchen and staff housing, buildings all now completely useless.

And finally if you were to sit with Sister Claudette or any of the hundreds of other Haitians you hoped to give just a moment or day of relief, I can tell you that you would know just how very much your contribution has meant. Because of you, each of these people knows that someone far away has cared. During the years, certainly decades and perhaps centuries it will take Haiti to rebuild, they will know that they were not completely alone.

"Please, Amy," Sister Claudette told me. "Say thank you to the people of Maine for me. Please tell them I am grateful for all they are doing."

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Amy Miller courtesy photo Willy Charles, our 33-year-old translator, lives in this house of sheets with his three children. His cement block home was reduced to rubble, like 95 percent of the seaside town of Leogane.

Jeremy Lee courtesy photo The team I traveled with included Nikki, left. and Amanda Johner, a resident doctor and a nurse, sisters from Canada, as well as Lucia Anglade (red cap), the founder of Life and Hope Haiti. Sister Claudette, our host at the Asile De St. Vincent De Paul, treated us as treasured guest, even with the challenges she has been facing.

Courtesy photo/Jeremy Lee Amanda Johner, a resident doctor, and Nikki Johner, a registered nurse, background, are sisters who both came from Canada to work with Life and Hope Haiti at a clinic set up in Leogane at the site of a hospital that was ruined by the earthquake. I am helping in the background as a patient is seen.

Jeremy Lee courtesy photo Many of the babies came in not so much sick as dehydrated and hungry. This was one of the many babies I gave formula through a syringe. Although Haitian babies often come into clinics hungry, the earthquake has made access to food and clean water that much more scarce.

Jeremy Lee courtesy photo Geraldna Raymond, 12, and her mother, Laurina Vicolar Raymond, moved into the Asile de St. Vincent de Paul after their house was destroyed on Jan. 12 and Geraldna's father was killed. They are wearing hats made in South Berwick and donated by the Little Hat Co. of South Berwick.

Jeremy Lee courtesy photo Although I do not have medical training, I was able to help in the clinic run by a Canadian doctor and nurse, running for supplies, translating to Dominican doctors and counting out pills.

Amy Miller


Special thanks to Amy Miller and Foster’s Daily Democrat for sharing this story.