In Haiti, children are lucky if they have the opportunity to eat a daily meal, the ability to read or write, or the luxury to wash with clean water. At the time of Christopher Columbus, Haiti was referred to as “The Pearl of the Caribbean Islands,” because it had vast natural resources. Haiti, located only 500 miles from the coast of Florida, is modernly referred to as “the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” and has an unemployment rate of over eighty-five percent.
Tonight I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Rodrique Mortel speak about his childhood experience living in Haiti, and his present lifestyle in the United States. Dr. Mortel grew up in a town called St. Mark, his mother could not read nor write, and his father was very ill throughout the majority of his life. The family was evicted from their home when he was only eleven-years-old, leaving them homeless and hungry. The only thing that Dr. Mortel had was education, in which he excelled greatly. Today, Dr. Mortel is both a deacon and OBGYN Penn State graduate. He referred back to his initial degree from a local college in Port Au Prince and said, “It was education alone that took me from where I was, to where I am now.”
As a child of Haiti, Dr. Mortel felt the need to give back to his country, and so he founded “The Martel Foundation.” The Mortel Foundation is a program in which the common goal is simply to provide a civilized lifestyle for people of all ages in Haiti. Dr. Mortel founded “The Good Samaritans School” in 2001 in St. Mark, the school’s mission is to educate and feed the poorest of the poor in the region. The children enrolled in the school are hand-picked at the age of five by Dr. Mortel and his colleagues; the school contains twelve classrooms and a large cafeteria space, and presently has 390 enrolled students. In addition to having these children attend school daily, their parents are also provided with classes to learn how to read and write, so that they too can become educated and further help their children succeed.
For me, the most horrifying fact that I heard was that one of every five Haitian children will die before the age of five due to disease and malnutrition, and of the survivors, only twenty percent attend school because many of them do not have shoes nor clothes to wear. One speaker described her personal experience in Haiti and said, “I wanted to give these children the world, because they expected nothing.” In the DVDs I observed this evening these children appeared to be filled with immense amounts of joy and laughter, and were proud that there are people out there who simply care enough to go to Haiti and see the poverty and sorrow present. Tonight I was horrified when I saw pictures of mothers frying clay with charcoal as means to feed their families, and pictures of eight by eight homes in which people are required to sleep in shifts because their houses are too overcrowded. The sights that many of the interviewed volunteers witnessed had such profound impacts on their lives that they claimed, “we gained more from our experiences in Haiti than we were able to give to its people.”
The vision of Dr. Mortel and The Good Samaritans School is simply to teach the citizens of tomorrow, because there is a responsibility owed to the future to make a change. The aim is that these children will take their educational experiences and share them with the rest of Haiti, one teacher said, “these kids will make a difference, they will change the country, I just know they will.” The school is the only one in Haiti with computer access, and it also requires teaching of the English language. The Good Samaritan School provides a solid base for the future responsible leaders of Haiti, and teaches these students values such as honesty, integrity and determination.
It is said that one simply can not walk away from what they have seen in Haiti without wanting to change it, or at least provide it with some help. The level of poverty in Haiti is different than that of the United States or anywhere else in the world, however, the people of Haiti are so incredibly rich in faith. These people are sometimes required to walk for over three hours just to observe a mass, and in most cases there is no Eucharist present, because in Haiti, there is only one priest for every 50,000 people. The Mortel Foundation has also developed a program called “The Baltimore-Haiti Project,” in which seventeen participating parishes in Baltimore are paired with parishes in Haiti. This “Parish Twinning Program” bands together Catholics in the United States with those of its sister parishes in Haiti. This bonding of people of a common faith is very similar to that of the Jesuit mission for justice.
“The church’s mission is the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation,” said Father Kolvenbach in the Conference on Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education. The Jesuit mission calls students to go beyond the universities’ walls of safety, and to reach out and share knowledge with others, especially those who are unfortunate. In the worlds of Dr. Mortel, “real success is marked by what we give in return for what we have been given,” this view of equal right to knowledge is very similar to that of the Jesuit’s. This shared mission was also prevalent in Tracy Kidder’s novel, Mountains Beyond Mountains, where the main character Dr. Paul Farmer’s goal was to further better the immense poverty in Haiti. Dr. Farmer devoted most of his life to helping the people of Haiti, and providing modern medical technologies to its society. His mission was to make a change and leave an impact on Haiti, he simply wanted to show it’s people that life has advances and that people can be saved.
Dr. Mortel’s advice to those who wish to get involved was simply to pray, share the message of Haiti, volunteer in a service program, or sponsor one of Haiti’s children. Haiti needs the brother ship of other stronger and wealthier nations, and I feel that there should be some sort of responsibility to the United States to get involved and help alleviate some of its suffering. Although we all can not commit to that of which Dr. Paul Farmer supplied to Haiti, we can contribute simply by applying the same mission that the Jesuits strive for. In doing so, we could therefore provide Haiti with the knowledge that we as Americans, take for granted every day.