September 26, 2007
Tonight I went to a talk by Dr. Rod Martel about the culture and poverty that is going on right now in Haiti. This talk had a lot to do with the common text book "Mountains Beyond Mountains" as well as with the Jesuit idea of how we should give of ourselves to others. Going to this talk showed me how lucky I am to have everything that I have and how much more I should give to others who have less.
Dr. Martel grew up in Haiti. He lived a very tough life. His mother passed away when she was 36, and his dad had a hard time raising the rest of the family. Dr. Martel was evicted from his house when he was eleven because they did not have enough money to pay the rent. He went to the elementary schools in Haiti, and went to college in Port a Prince. He then went on to work at Penn State University, holding a very high position. Dr. Martel's goal in life was to be able to build his mother a house, and he was very successful in doing so.
Dr. Martel spoke of how poor Haiti is, and even showed a few videos about the same topic. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and it is only 500 miles away from Florida, and United States is the richest country in the world. The roads are all dirt roads, and they are in terrible condition. They are not paved at all, and cars will go on any side of the street to get to where they are trying to go. Everyone lives in small huts, sometimes only eight feet by eight feet. Some family members take turns sleeping because there is not enough room for everyone to lay down, so they sleep in shifts. Sometimes when there is no food to eat Haitians will cook little pieces of clay and put seasoning on it, just so that they have something in their stomachs. No matter how much poverty there is in Haiti the people are still very joyful. They are extremely happy when they see volunteers who come from different places have come to help them. Many people every summer go to volunteer their time in Haiti. Some people go to help teach carpentry, while others just go to spend time with the children in their summer camps.
After being in the United States for a while, Dr. Martel decided it was time to give back. He created a school, The Good Samaritan school. This school serves the most socially and economically deprived children from the poorest parts of Haiti. The children who attend this school are handpicked. Every child who attends the school says that their favorite part is that they are fed. The parents agreed, because that is one less child that they have to worry about. The school provides two square meals a day and books to all of the students at no cost. Dr. Martel stressed how important it is to educate the children of Haiti. He believes that having a good education is one of the things that can help the country the most, because once the children grow up they will be able to help the poverty that is going on. The school also has very dedicated teachers. Some of the teachers have a long walk up a mountain to get to school, so long of a walk that some of them sleep in the school building until Friday when they go home for the weekend. They have also started a literacy school for the adults of the children in Dr. Martel's school. This is so the parents will be able to help their children with their schoolwork. Dr. Martel is also opening a trade school, so people will learn skills necessary to help them live, such as carpentry, and plumbing. There is no plumbing system at all in Haiti. The sewage runs through the streets, and children will sometimes run right into the raw sewage like it was nothing, just to get a soccer ball.
Dr. Martel's life is very similar to the life of Dr. Paul Farmer from "Mountains Beyond Mountains." Dr. Farmer was a man who went to Harvard and then traveled to Haiti to try and help cure as many people as he could. He brought as many tools with him from Boston as he could to help cure those who need it most. Although Dr. Farmer was not able to make a difference in the overall situation in Haiti, he was able to make a difference in a lot of individual lives. This is similar to what Dr. Martel has done. Building The Good Samaritan school he has provided an education for those who need it most. Although his efforts do not make a huge difference in all of Haiti, he has made a difference in the lives of very many individuals.
Dr. Martel has many similarities with Dr. Paul Farmer from Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains." His life also follows one of the most important Jesuit ideals of giving back to others. Everyone can learn a lesson from Dr. Martel, and that is that even though it is never possible to make a change throughout an entire culture, it is possible and worth the effort to do it for the individuals who you will help.