The Pine Cone's sixth story of the week

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From C.V. to Haiti, parishoners send money, food and love

By CHRIS COUNTS

Published: October 15, 2010

IN A country ravaged by an earthquake and the Western Hemisphere’s worst poverty, nearly 1,000 youngsters find themselves more dependent than ever on the generosity of a small group of Monterey Peninsula churchgoers.

The Rev. Rob Fisher, the new rector and senior pastor at St. Dunstan’s Church in Carmel Valley, traveled to Haiti this week to visit St. Andre’s School. Located in Hinche, a city of about 50,000 people, the school is funded in large part by donations from St. Dunstan’s parishioners.

Fisher was scheduled to arrive in Haiti Thursday, Oct. 14, and he’ll spend the next week assessing St. Andre’s many challenges, not the least of which is simply providing students with one hot meal per day.

“We try to serve the children one meal a day, but it’s not something we’re always able to accomplish,” Fisher conceded.

While the school typically serves about 800 students, that number has grown to about 950 since the earthquake. According to Fisher, the new students are essentially homeless.

“A lot of people have fled to places in the country [like Hinche] that were less affected by the earthquake,” he said.

The refugee crisis only compounds the challenges the people in Haiti face.

“One out of three children in Haiti doesn’t live to the age of 5,” explained Fisher, who is making his first trip to the country. “And only one in 10,000 people has access to a doctor.”

Given such horrific conditions, most aid groups focus simply on the short-term needs of its population. But Fisher said charities also need to develop long-term plans that encourages Haitians to be self-sufficient.

“We feel that the best way to help people is not to give them a handout, but to empower them to solve some of their own problems,” he said.

Thankfully, St. Andre’s has a dedicated support group based in Carmel Valley that is committed to helping the school on a long-term basis.

“As a newcomer, I’m astounded by how inspired [our congregation] is,” Fisher added. “I’m really proud of our parishioners.”

Like a number of other members of the church, George Lockwood of Carmel Valley has donated his time, energy and money to help St. Andre’s meet its many challenges.

“Back in the early 1970s, our role in Haiti was rather nominal,” Lockwood explained. “In those days, if there was any money left over at the end of the year, we would send it down there. But in 1992, we began to take seriously the plight of Haitians.”

To put a face on the challenges faced by the school, St. Dunstan’s brought a priest, Leonel Charles, from St. Andre’s to Carmel Valley. At the time, the school served about 35 students.

“He just won over everybody’s heart,” Lockwood recalled. “We asked him what he most wanted to take home, and he said $20,000 so they could build a concrete-reinforced building with six classrooms.”

With funding provided by St. Dunstan’s parishioners, the school later added a second floor with six classrooms, a separate building with four classrooms and the school’s first indoor flush toilets. A neighboring property was purchased, and a building on it was converted into a nursery school. And a well was drilled, providing the school — and, at times, the surrounding community — with fresh drinking water.

At the school, youngsters takes classes in English, French, math, science, physics and history. While the school has no physical education program, it does offer a popular music program.

“We have a very large band that plays woodwinds, horns, drums and other instruments we have provided,” Lockwood said. “At the start of every school day, the band plays Haiti’s national anthem.”

The school also provides extensive computer classes and a computer lab.

“We teach the children Word, Excel and how to surf the Internet,” Lockwood observed. “In the evening, the adults come in and use the computer lab.”

The Carmel Valley congregation has also supplied the school with microscopes, maps, calculators, games, tape recorders and even light bulbs.

Despite the successes, St. Andre’s still faces an uphill battle in its effort to educate and feed its students.

“To say Haiti is impoverished is an understatement,” Lockwood said. “It’s impossible to have democracy if the electorate doesn’t read or write. We’re trying to bring some hope to a few kids.”

St. Dunstan’s is also struggling to raise enough money to pay for its mission in Haiti.

“We’re offering 1,000 meals a day,” Lockwood explained. “Before the earthquake, the meals would cost about 25 cents to feed a child. Now they cost 35 to 40 cents each. After the earthquake, food prices went up 50 percent.”

Providing daily meals costs St. Dunstan’s about $5,000 a month. According to Lockwood, the Carmel Valley church has only raised enough money to pay for meals through Dec. 1. “We’re really scrambling,” he added.

If you are interested in making a donation, you call (831) 624-6646 or send a check to St. Dunstan’s at P.O. Box 101, Carmel Valley, CA 93924. If you are sending a check, be sure to write “Food for Haiti” on it.