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Sept. 16, 2003

A daily struggle to SURVIVE

Wilda Descolline holds her 13-month-old nephew, Dolph, in close comfort. Dolph, who suffers from severe malnutrition, is being raised by his aunt after losing his mother. After a one-week stay at St. Boniface Hospital, he went from 4.2 to 5.2 kilos. about 9 pounds to about 11 pounds.

South Shore volunteers help bring food, water
to poor region of Haiti where many fight starvation


ernise Denorvil rose in the dark and rustled her 14-month-old son from his dreams.
It was 2:30 in the morning. The moon and stars offered the only traces of light as Denorvil started walking, her son cradled in her arms.

She walked for six hours.

At the end of her journey, she knew food would be waiting.

“It’s here I always come,” Denorvil said in Creole as she sat on a folding chair in a large room adjacent to St. Boniface Hospital, her son, Dekay Jr. Jaque, propped up in her lap.

It is Tuesday morning, and Denorvil is among some 35 parents who have traveled for hours so their sons and daughters can be at a children’s nutrition clinic run by the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, a South Shore group that provides medical care and humanitarian aid to a rural region in southwest Haiti.

Each child is weighed, and the child’s blood pressure and temperature are recorded. Then the men, women and children are fed a hot meal before being sent on their way with heavy bags filled with enough rice, beans, cooking oil and other food to feed an entire family for two weeks.

In Fond des Blancs, hunger is a constant companion. Many people eke out a living as farmers; when there is no rain, there is no food.

Parents with as many as 10 children are often able to scrape together only one meal a day. Even then, it may be just a small helping of rice and beans. Water comes from wells as far as two miles away, carried in five-gallon buckets that women balance on their heads or in jugs dragged by small children.

The St. Boniface Haiti Foundation cannot feed all 45,000 people who live in the Fond des Blancs region. But the organization and its volunteers are trying to help the most vulnerable.

In a typical week, 65 families are fed through the children’s nutrition clinic. In addition, food is delivered once a month to 200 senior citizens who cannot make the long trek to the hospital and who are unable to provide for themselves.

Residents with tuberculosis are also helped.

“It’s incomprehensible to simply have nothing, and that is not an uncommon experience,” said the Rev. Gerald Osterman, who began traveling to Haiti 20 years ago when he was assigned to St. Boniface Catholic Church in Quincy’s Germantown neighborhood and who has returned dozens of times since.

As an 8-year-old SUV maneuvers a dirt road, Father Jerry, as he’s called, points to a well off to the side. A group of children push a heavy metal lever up and down, pumping water from the ground.

When he first came to Fond des Blancs, there were only three wells. People would walk an entire day just to retrieve a bucket of water. Others drank from nearby rivers that double as bath tubs and laundromats and are breeding grounds for diseases, such as typhoid fever.

Through the years, the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation helped recruit international relief organizations to dig new wells. Today, there are about 40. When pumps break, the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation pays to fix them.

Nannette Canniff, 66, is a Randolph resident who runs the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation and spends weeks at a time in Fond des Blancs.

On this day, she stands in the hospital and watches as a nurse puts a baby in a sling and hangs him from a scale, almost as if weighing fruit in a supermarket. The boy waves his arms and legs wildly, reaches for his mother and yelps in fear.

The nutrition clinic is not just about feeding these children, Canniff said. It is also about teaching their parents.

“Some of the new mothers have not had any education and their mothers did not have any education,” Canniff said. “In some cases, it’s so bad that if a mother died or can’t breast feed, they’ll feed a baby coffee or tea, not knowing it’s not good.”

One person at a time, the foundation is making a difference.

Denorvil, the woman who walked six hours to get to the clinic, said her son weighed less than 7 pounds when he was 5 months old. Nine months later, he weighs nearly 17 pounds.

Dressed in denim shorts and a rainbow-colored hat, he hardly looks like a boy who was starving just a few months before. He slaps his hand against his mouth, making funny noises as his mother talks.

Across the room, Gerda Denous holds her 3-year-old son, Getride. Denous walks 90 minutes from her house to the nutrition clinic every other week.

The reason is simple: “All the food they give is good food and the kids can eat it,” she said in Creole.

“Without this food, I don’t know if I would find it. You need money to buy it and I don’t have money.”

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at

Stories by
Karen Eschbacher
Photos by
Gary Higgins

The Patriot Ledger

A Daily Struggle to Survive: Volunteers help fight starvation in Haiti:

Haitian Burn Victim gets Aid - and a New Family

Faces of Haiti: The LaFontaine family

Links to the South Shore of Massachusetts: Milton dentist gives Haitians the simple gift of a smile

Haiti's History: Political instability chases away hopes of achieving better life

Personal Journal

Numbers That Count: Food & Nutrition

Small map of Haiti (90KB)

Large map of Haiti (100KB)

Photos from Haiti (462KB)

View printed pages from the series


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