In January, 2010, a devastating earthquake in the Port-au-Prince area resulted in approximately 250,000 deaths and over 300,000 serious injuries. A tremendous strain was put upon St. Boniface Hospital, and IC Haiti was quick to offer emergency funding for the treatment of patients with spinal cord injuries. Later that year, board members became focused on the educational needs of young people in the Fond des Blancs area whose school buildings were either inadequate or destroyed by the earthquake. A commitment was made to build and maintain an elementary school for the rural community of Puit Chacha, three and a half miles south of Fond des Blancs. Fr. Paul Berube proposed naming the school for Fr. Marc Piche which the board approved at its November 2010 meeting. Fr. Marc died in December.
Construction of the Fr. Marc Piche Elementary School (K through 6) began in April 2011 and was completed that October with 200 students enrolled. Immaculate Conception Parish’s new pastor Fr. Timothy Harrison and a few members of the IC Haiti Board of Directors attended the dedication of the school.
Over the course of the next few months, the Board of Directors for IC Haiti will provide several historical and informational pieces about IC Haiti. Whether you have known about IC Haiti since its inception or have only recently become acquainted with it, we hope these pieces will help you to understand and be inspired by this ministry to our brothers and sisters in Haiti.
Let’s begin at the beginning: how did our Collaborative’s ministry to the people of Haiti come into being? Nancy Rose, current President of IC Haiti’s Board of Directors and a board member since its inception, says Fr. Paul Berube got the ball rolling with a sermon he gave back in 2008. He told parishioners about the extreme poverty and suffering he witnessed on a trip to Haiti where some mothers were feeding their children mud pies to keep their bellies full. He said it was unconscionable for a small country so close to us not to be receiving help from our rich nation. His passion was moving. So much so that when he introduced the concept of us as a parish forming our own group to help the people of Haiti, there was great interest.
Fr. Paul himself answered the question of how IC Haiti came into being when he wrote the following to fellow IC Haiti Board members in June of 2011:
“A Haitian bishop visited St. Anne parish in Salem every summer while I was growing up. He was bishop of Les Cayes (Haiti). Fond des Blancs is the most eastern town in that diocese.
“Les Cayes and its needs never dropped out of my mind. In 2002 Fr. Marc Piche was appointed pastor at IC Newburyport. A few months later as I was retiring, he invited me to live in Newburyport at the rectory. A short time later Fr. Dick Butler invited me to fulfill my dream of going to Haiti. We spent 5 days in Port-au-Prince and Fond des Blancs. The “immersion” experience – the complete poverty of the people and the efficiency of the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation – left me with a need to do something. When I returned, a brief but encouraging conversation with Fr. Marc was the beginning of IC Haiti. He gave his full support till the day he died in 2010.
“A number of parishioners responded to an invitation to participate in an informational meeting. The response was encouraging. It led to a more formal recognition of the group and eventual use of IC-Haiti as its name. … The IC-Haiti Board/Steering Committee established itself as a non-profit in 2008.” And so, IC Haiti was born.
An unprecedented, ongoing humanitarian crisis is taking place throughout Haiti. An unstable government and a lack of properly equipped security forces have allowed numerous gangs to take control of large portions of the country. The country’s supply chains for essential goods, such as food, water, fuel, and medicines have been cut off by gang take-overs and subsequent blockades of main ports and roads. Travel has been brought to a standstill; and the country has experienced widespread closures of banks, schools, and markets. Food insecurity is now a severe problem for over half the country’s populace.
The Fr. Marc Piche school’s administration in Puit Chacha cautiously evaluated the risk to students in our region and decided it was safe enough to open on October 11th. Although the school experienced reduced attendance on the first days by 40%, we are pleased the students are back in session and that we are able to provide them with our lunch program again despite inflationary food prices.
Virtual Update: Upholding Care Amid Countrywide Crisis Oct. 13, 2022: Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1i7SsUHtDcYou will find a very thorough description of what’s going on in the Southern peninsula of Haiti where the Fr. Marc Piche Elementary School and Saint Boniface Hospital are both located. Suggestions for ways to help are offered at the end of the webinar.
The Board of Directors for IC Haiti will consult with the leadership at Health Equity International to determine how best to use funding to address the current crisis. Health Equity International is the nonprofit organization that runs the Saint Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs and oversees our school in Puit Chacha. This nonprofit is IC Haiti’s “eyes and ears” on the ground in Haiti.
Conor Shapiro, CEO of Health Equity International, will speak briefly at the 9 AM Mass Sunday, November 13th about the humanitarian crisis in Haiti. Following the Mass in the Parish Center, he will offer a more in-depth analysis of the situation in Haiti, particularly as it is affecting the school community in Puit Chacha and the hospital in Fond-des-Blancs.
What can we do to help?
Become aware and knowledgeable about what’s going on in Haiti. (See #1 and #3 above.)
Include our brothers and sisters in Haiti in our daily prayers.
Advocate personally by informing/educating those we know.
Advocate nationally by contacting our US Representatives and Senators.
Advocate locally with “letters to the Editor” in our newspapers.
The Fr Marc Piché Immaculate Conception Parish School‘s operations have continued without interruptions despite the ongoing issues Haiti is facing. There has been some difficulty sourcing ingredients for the feeding program at times (fuel shortages, inflation, and roadblocks have all contributed), but students have continued to receive meals each day at school.
Construction will begin on the school kitchen following the Easter holiday.
11 teachers recently participated in a 3-day refresher training on lesson planning, focusing on methods for teaching math and French.
On August 14th, our friends in Haiti were forced to overcome yet another life challenge when a large earthquake occurred in the southern peninsula near Les Cayes. Different than the earthquake which struck Port-au-Prince in 2010, this time the major seismic event epicenter occurred only about 20 miles from our school in Puit Chacha. Fortunately, our school did not sustain any major damage, which can be attributed to the seismic building standards used during the construction in 2012. Although the earthquake greatly impacted many communities on the southern peninsula, our school was able to resume classes and continue with the important lunch program.
It appears that our catchment community, which includes Fond-des-Blancs, has been able to deal with the latest disruption to their “normal” life and continue on. From my perspective and what I witnessed first-hand during my trips to Haiti, the philosophy of most of the people is to address adversity, make adjustments, and carry-on with life while never losing hope that it will get better. I am pleased to report that our school community is resilient and moving forward with the 21-22 school year as planned. We are making some improvements to the building and kitchen area. More and more students are taking advantage of our secondary school scholarship program. If everything goes well, we will graduate our first Chacha student through the 13th grade of high school next year. It has been another challenging time for our friends in Haiti, but we should be inspired by their resilience and learn to always maintain hope regardless of the circumstances.
Despite the many obstacles to fundraising during the pandemic, the constant generosity of IC parishioners and other supporters has allowed IC Haiti to fund the entire 2021-22 school year budget. In addition, we are making a sizeable donation to St. Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs to help to defray the cost for the construction of new operating rooms there. For this, our Board of Directors is most grateful to all who have contributed financially and to all who have supported this ministry with prayer. May Our Lord continue to bless our commitment to our brothers and sisters in Haiti.
I see Haiti, I see hope.
Stuart Meurer, President of the IC Haiti Board of Directors
We have received word that our school community in Puit Chacha is safe and that the school itself remains structurally sound following the devastating earthquake on the southern peninsula of the island. However, several thousand people closer to the epicenter sadly lost their lives, and many more are suffering from serious bodily injuries. Homelessness and a lack of food supplies, clean water, and shelter continue to afflict hundreds of thousands.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley requested all parishes throughout the Archdiocese to take up a second collection this weekend to aid Catholic Relief Service’s response to the urgent needs of the Haitian people. IC Haiti fully supports this relief effort. We were also hoping to help Saint Boniface Hospital in Fond des Blancs as many earthquake victims have been transferred there for immediate medical attention. The hospital is setting up additional emergency operating rooms to deal with the constant flow of people needing surgery. Hospitals closer to the epicenter have either been badly damaged or are now inundated with patients. Less we forget, covid is still on the rise in Haiti.
St. Boniface Hospital is run by Health Equity International, our partner in Haiti. This is why we (IC Haiti) would like to help to defray the cost for the construction and equipping of the additional operating rooms. If you would like to help in this endeavor, please donate to IC Haiti any time after this weekend, designating your contribution specifically for this purpose or just indicate “OR construction” on your check. We thank you in advance for your generosity on behalf of the people of Haiti.
Thanks to all who contributed to the August second collection for IC Haiti. We received over $10,000 in the collection which will assure funding for the 2021-22 school year in Puit Chacha and continued dental care for the school community. Last year we spent $80,000 on the school budget which included a hot lunch program, $3,000 for the dental program, and $20,000 in emergency assistance to build an annex for coronavirus patients at the hospital in Fond des Blancs which serves the Puit Chacha community among others in the region. Thanks to a gift from one generous donor, we still have funds in reserve to expand the kitchen area in the school and to provide a much needed second well for the community.
Still the Haitian people continue to be hit with natural disasters while at the same time being forced to cope with the ongoing instability of their political, social, and economic institutions resulting from the recent assassination of their president and the prevalence of gang violence. We, the Board of Directors for IC Haiti, received an update this past weekend from representatives of Health Equity International which owns and operates the hospital in Fond des Blancs. The devastating 7.2 earthquake was centered just 20 miles away from the hospital and our school. Fortunately, the people at the hospital were not injured, and the hospital itself did not receive any major damage. It remains structurally sound despite the aftershocks. As of Monday, August 16th, we were still awaiting word on the school and the school community. We are ready and willing to respond to any emergency needs, but our remaining un-designated funds are not inexhaustible. The final collection this year for IC Haiti is not until December, so we may have to make a special appeal to the parish on behalf of the Puit Chacha community before then. In the meantime, we will continue to update you as we receive news on the situation.