Sept. 18, 2003
Celebrating 20 years
andolph resident Susan Curtis was struggling to climb down a steep hill in Haiti’s rugged and mountainous back country earlier this year when a local woman took her hand and led her to safe ground.
The Haitian woman was barefoot.
“These people have so much less than we do,” Curtis said. “These people are so humble and have so much dignity, even though they may not have had a meal that day.”
Curtis and her husband, Jim, were among 330 people who crowded into a Marriott hotel ballroom in Newton last night to celebrate the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation’s 20th anniversary. The South Shore organization provides medical care and humanitarian aid to a rural region in southern Haiti called Fond des Blancs and takes people like Curtis to Haiti to learn about life in a country where the daily struggle to survive goes unnoticed by most of the world.
In the years since a small group of parishioners from St. Boniface Catholic Church in Quincy’s Germantown neighborhood first traveled to Haiti in 1983, the foundation has built a 20-bed hospital, two chapels, a school and houses for some of Fond des Blancs’ neediest residents. It has fed starving children, given families goats and other livestock and helped provide work in a region where jobs are the exception, not the norm.
A video montage commemorating the foundation’s two decades of work was shown on a large screen. But if members of the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation wanted evidence of how the organization has grown, they needed only to look at the sea of faces filling the room.
Like Curtis, many of the attendees shared stories about how their lives were touched and changed by the people of Haiti.
Others who have never made the trip said they learned about Haiti’s plight through the St. Boniface foundation and donated money so people 1,600 miles away could hope for a better tomorrow.
“It’s important that people have come to Haiti and they’ve been changed in a very deep way and they look at life differently,” said Nannette Canniff, who runs the foundation out of her Randolph home and who has traveled to Haiti dozens of times over 20 years.
“That’s a very important thing for me. It’s important for Americans to experience.”
People from the South Shore, North Shore, and elsewhere in Massachusetts paid $100 each to attend last night’s event. Others drove from Maine, and a handful flew in from far-flung locations. A Haitian doctor who once worked at St. Boniface Hospital and a Haitian priest who was pastor of the Fond des Blancs parish for several years also attended.
“The people of Fond des Blancs are very poor,” the Rev. Jean Herve Francois said. “St. Boniface is helping to better the condition of life. They’re helping in health, education.”
The St. Boniface foundation took advantage of last night’s event to kick off a campaign to raise $3 million that would be spent to expand the hospital, enlarge the staff, open satellite clinics and establish an endowment so the organization can ensure that its work continues.
The foundation raised about $950,000 last year.
Hingham resident Jeffrey Lynch reminded attendees that short dollars mean big change in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A surgery costs $100. Two hundred elders are fed for a total of $500 a month, and 200 ampules of novocaine used by the local dentist can be purchased for $250.
“St. Boniface is Haiti’s version of Mass. General, Tufts Dental, and Mass. Eye and Ear, and we do it for less money,” Lynch said.
For people like Quincy resident Judy Macauley, helping the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation grow is a priority. She visited Haiti with the organization in 1985 and 1986 and has felt connected to the Haitian people ever since.
“I remember how spiritual the people were and how little they had and how far they traveled to get to Mass,” she said. “It was so moving.”
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at email@example.com
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