Sept. 15, 2003
Small comforts in
South Shore group's
FOND DES BLANCS, Haiti
nside the small, concrete house, magazine clippings that hang from the wall double as decorations, and a floral tablecloth adds a burst of color to a drab room.
A dusty kerosene lamp that provides a flicker of light once the sun disappears sits on a table. Here, as in nearly all houses in rural Haiti, there is no electricity.
To most Americans, such living conditions are unimaginable. To Celaine Ennaude and her family, they are far better than anything that could have been expected.
Ennaude, who has 10 children and has buried two husbands, used to live in a mud hut that tilted to one side after years of abuse from rain and wind. A thatch roof provided so little protection during storms that she and her children would sleep underneath beds, rather than on them, trying to keep dry.
The charity of a South Shore organization helped pull Ennaude from that poverty. Two years ago, the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation paid to build the three-room house where she now lives.
“It’s a new life for us,” Ennaude said in Creole as she stood on the small front porch of the house late last month. She was surrounded by a gaggle of children, and a proud, subtle smile washes over a face etched with creases.
“Before, we were kind of miserable and now we have a good life,” she said.
The St. Boniface Haiti Foundation has relied on the support of families from the South Shore and beyond for 20 years to bring humanitarian aid to Fond des Blancs, a rural region in southwestern Haiti.
The organization, begun by parishioners of a Quincy church and now operating from the Randolph home of one of its founders, initially focused on medical care.
But as volunteers spent more and more time in Fond des Blancs, they were introduced to families living in crumbling huts that provided no protection against rain, heat and animals that wander the rough terrain. The organization found itself branching out and trying to meet another basic need: shelter.
Since June 2001, when the Ennaude family’s home was finished, the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation has built 13 other houses for Fond des Blancs residents. More are in the planning stages.
A cinder-block house with two or three rooms, a concrete floor, a corrugated metal roof and a porch costs between $3,500 and $4,000. Local residents are hired as construction workers, so the organization provides shelter for one family and offers work in a region where 85 percent of the people are jobless.
“I don’t think the goal is to make Haiti or Haitians like First World people,” said the Rev. Gerald Osterman, who was pastor of St. Boniface Church in Quincy’s Germantown neighborhood when parishioners first visited Haiti in 1983 and has been coming back regularly for the past two decades.
Father Jerry, as he is called, grew up in Hingham. His father, John Osterman, was superintendent of schools in Hull.
The Rev. Osterman, who is 61 and has a mop of white hair, is now pastor of an Everett parish and lives part-time in Hull.
He says God has helped him and other St. Boniface volunteers help Haiti.
“In this small area, we have been able to alleviate some suffering, but the bigger thing is it’s a model for what any group in the United States could do if people put their minds to it and were sensitive to the problems,” he said.
“You don’t have to wait for the government to solve it, because they won’t. Like anything that’s people-to-people, it grows.”
And it provides hope where none existed before.
Ymmaculeé Jacques lives with six of her children, her sick mother and a niece in a mud house smaller than most American bedrooms. Three rickety beds are crammed so close together in one room that visitors have to squeeze to pass through. Some of the children sleep on straw mats on the floor.
The roof is made of thatch. It rained the day before, and one mattress is still damp.
“I need a house. You see that,” said Jacques’ 16-year-old son, Yves Florant, who learned English at the local Catholic school built by the St. Boniface Foundation. “I don’t have money.”
Jacques does what she can to provide for her family.
During a typical week, she might make 50 Haitian dollars selling rice or some other product at market. That translates into just a little more than $6 in U.S. currency. She uses it all to buy food. There is nothing left over for a new house.
But her family will get one, thanks to the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation. Construction should start in the next few months.
Jacques’ simple smile is evidence of her appreciation, but just in case, she utters these words in Creole: “Happy, very happy.”
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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