I opened the Sunday paper this morning to be faced with a front page article about Minnesota priests hiring personal attorneys to help protect their parishes from potential liability in clergy abuse lawsuits. This is in sharp contrast to last Sunday, when I spent 2 days with the most humble, generous Haitian man I have come to know. He also happens to be a priest.
Last week, my husband and I were in Haiti on our yearly medical mission trip. We have established a microfinance/microloan program in 2 different rural areas of the country and try to visit with some of the loan recipients each time we travel. As mentioned in one of my previous posts, The last taboo – Menstruation, we are attempting to introduce reusable menstrual pads as a product that the microfinance women can sew and market. In order to increase awareness, we planned on distributing 40 menstrual hygiene kits to school girls in the rural village of Ranquitte to get feedback on the product. The microloan program here is administered by the local priest, Father Charles, who distributes the money to the women, while also teaching them how the money is to be repaid each month.
Father Charles acted as our chauffeur on the 2 hour drive into the mountains, thru 2 rivers and over very rutted roads. He tolerated our incessant questions and answered as best he could with the language barrier. We discussed the ongoing progress of many of his projects – 4 new schools and 3 churches, a partially built hospital, solar panels on the roof of the rectory, a water filtration system for the church. At the end of the Sunday mass (2 hours in Creole!), he had a special message. It seems that one of his projects was not as popular as the others had been. He had taken the time to construct 2 latrines next to the church and they were going mostly unused. Parishioners were instead using the grassy area behind the church to urinate. To the delight of the congregation, he explained the health benefits of a contained waste system and pantomimed how to use the latrines. I would have loved to stay for today’s service to notice if there was a difference in their behavior.
Monday morning thirty 12-year-old girls and their teacher showed up promptly at 8 am. Nervous laughter overtook them as they filed in and took their seats. Over the next half hour Father Charles calmly interpreted my instructions on the use of the pads for their menses, the health and environmental benefits over disposable pads and how to properly clean and store the menstrual kits. Never once did I see him hesitate or at a loss for words. The girls were much to embarrassed to ask questions, but they did discuss between themselves as I passed around pads for demonstration. As they were getting ready to leave, he informed them that this was a possible business opportunity and a way that they could contribute to their family’s income by sewing and marketing the pads to their friends and relatives.
In one of our many discussions that day, Father Charles emphasized that one of the many benefits of the microfinance program is that it allows children to stay and work in Haiti, rather than traveling to nearby countries to work, where they are often treated inhumanely and are far away from family. Father Charles sets a good example of this principle as he is free to live and study in the US, but he chooses the harder path to stay in Haiti and help his people. His is no ivory tower or pedestal – he works among the rural villagers and tries to bring the advantages of the larger world to their doorstep. American priests, and Americans in general, can take a lesson from this humble man. I am fortunate to have the privilege to work with him.