Sept. 17, 2003
Providing Hope for the FUTURE
Faith and Growth
FOND DES BLANCS, Haiti
Canniff lays a set of blueprints on a table and tries to decipher the
Under the plan, an addition would increase the number of patient beds at St. Boniface Hospital from 20 to 35, and more housing would be built for visiting American volunteers.
Exactly when construction begins will depend on how soon the foundation can raise $500,000 to build it. And that’s only one of the questions, possibilities and dreams that will determine the future of the foundation and its efforts in Haiti.
It was 1983 when the Rev. Gerald Osterman went to Haiti with the first group of parishioners from St. Boniface Catholic Church in Quincy’s Germantown neighborhood. He’s been back many times to the rugged hill country in the Fond des Blancs region of southwest Haiti where the foundation does its work.
“It’s important,’’ he said of the next expansion. “Certainly, you could serve people with what’s there. It’s a question of serving them better. They have had situations through the years where they have been putting people into the operating room because they didn’t have any room for them.”
The foundation has grown and expanded its mission during its two decades by enlarging the hospital, launching programs to feed and shelter Fond des Blancs residents, and paying for education in an area where people cannot otherwise afford it.
Last year, the foundation raised more than $950,000 for the people of Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere.
What began as a local organization now draws volunteer workers from Florida, Illinois and Maine. In 20 years, 890 people have made the journey, including an entire medical team from a hospital in Florida.
“What I’m hoping by bringing so many people is that they will be touched and help other people somewhere else in the world, in their own country,” Canniff said.
The Rev. Osterman and Canniff each travel to Haiti four or more times a year, and have been doing it for 20 years. Both know they won’t be making that trip forever.
They speak confidently, however, about how the foundation and the help it provides will continue.
“We have been thinking about that,” said Canniff, who is 66 and the mother of 10 children. “Fortunately, I’m in good health, but at best I can do 10 more years.”
The Rev. Osterman is 61 and is assigned to a parish in Everett. He said there are young people on the foundation’s board of trustees and others who are volunteering to spend a year or longer in Fond des Blancs working with the foundation. These may be the people who will become the new leaders when the need arises, he said.
Until then, the Rev. Osterman and Canniff are constantly looking for new ways to help.
The Rev. Osterman, for example, is searching for a product, possibly gourmet coffee, that the people of Fond des Blancs can cultivate and export. He is looking for a venture capitalist willing to help get the project into the ground.
More immediately, the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation plans to launch a senior housing project in Fond des Blancs where three or four elders without family can live together. They would be enrolled in a nutrition program and nurses would make regular visits.
As for health care, the Rev. Osterman said he eventually expects the hospital to open satellite clinics in remote villages in Fond des Blancs so people don’t have to walk many miles to see a doctor, often carrying a sick young one or a failing elder.
Canniff insists she and the others who built the foundation have taken as much from Haiti as they have given. And the people of Fond des Blancs, she said, deserve credit for persevering, even smiling, through the hardships that surround them.
“We could not have done anything without the community support, and they cannot do it without us,” she said. “It is a mutual marriage.”
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at email@example.com
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