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God moves in mysterious ways…
After we return to Jacmel Airport for our onward journey to Les Cayes, we encounter a group of nuns from the famous Missionaries of Charity, founded by the legendary Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa died in 1997 but the Roman Catholic group has stayed true to her remarkable mission to help “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”
What began as a small community in Calcutta (still the headquarters), is today a worldwide grouping of 4,500 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, and charity centres worldwide.
Missionaries of Charity has long been active in Haiti, where it ran – until 12 January, 2010 – three centres. Now, tragically, there are just two. One of the women in the group turns out to be none other than Sister Mary Prema (pictured centre below), who was elected as the Superior General in March 2009 – the role held by Mother Teresa until her death in 1997.
Another, Sister Paësie, explains to us that the helicopter from the Dominican Republic that they had been expecting to take them to Les Cayes has not turned up due to the windy conditions. Could they grab a ride with us instead?
I remember my own mother (RIP) warning me never to pick up hitchhikers, but surely she would agree to an exception on this occasion.
“Sure, climb onboard,” says Ed Brennan, the Chairman of DFS (and of Hand in Hand for Haiti), who kindly takes care of their flight costs on our privately hired flight.
As we’re about to board our 16-seater plane, Ed looks at me “Now we should be safe,” he whispers with a smile.
On the short flight to Les Cayes I sit next to Sister Marthe, a kind, chatty Frenchwoman who has worked in Haiti for 22 years. She recounts some harrowing anecdotes about the earthquake, including how the Centre’s home for 200 orphans and handicapped children in Port-au-Prince collapsed with terrible loss of life.
“We were pulling young bodies out,” she says. The sisters were forced to open a temporary operating room, even performing amputations, such were the injuries and the lack of alternative medical options.
“The way the Lord works,” Sister Marthe tells me more hopefully, “maybe this will help the country up.” A new Haiti borne out of disaster – it’s a recurrent and hopeful theme we will hear echoed time and again during our stay. Let’s hope it comes true. For sure Hand in Hand for Haiti will play its part.
While I’m chatting away to Sister Marthe, I reach into my backpack looking for my Lonely Planet Guide. Inadvertently I expose a bottle of The Balvenie 12 year old single malt whisky, which I have brought for one of our party, Michel Apollon, a local businessman who has done much to make this trip happen. Despite the claims of the Scottish, holy water it is not.
Quickly I hide the bottle before Sister Marthe spots it. But with the Holy Spirit and the great Scottish spirit onboard, there’s surely no chance of this plane crashing.
Our journey takes us on a breathtaking coastal journey. Below us are pristine, unoccupied white sandy beaches that would be packed with resorts anywhere else in the world.
But if the beaches are unoccupied, the hills show all too well the impact of mankind. Haiti has long been a desperately poor country, leading to the practice of felling trees to make charcoal for cooking. With little replanting over many decades, the effect has been to denude the landscape of much of the country – a sharp contrast to the lushness of neighbouring Dominican Republic.
As we touch down at the quaint airport of Les Cayes, we have our pictures taken with the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity. Could we possibly give them another lift later in the day to Port-au-Prince? Sure, we say. After all, it’s not every day that you fly with such quality life insurance.
[Note: All costs of the fact-finding mission in Haiti are being met by the Steering Committee members, not from donations].