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Dr. Ahr: Reflections on Our Visit to Haiti

Published Monday, April 30, 2012 9:00 am


April 30, 2012

by Dr. Paul R. Ahr, President & CEO, Camillus House



On April 15–17, Fred Mims, Pat Forde, Jude Monde and I followed up on an invitation from Brother Luc Joliecoeur, BGS to visit the Brothers' ministries in Haiti. Brother Luc is a frequent and special guest of the Camillus organization, having been assigned to Camillus House many years ago by the Brothers of the Good Shepherd.

As a first-time visitor to Haiti, I was, perhaps understandably, startled by the destruction and desolation displayed there. But having had the opportunity to work alongside several Camillus staff of Haitian origin or ancestry, such as Jude Monde herself, Yves Gabriel and Clifford Petit-Homme, I was ready to find men and women who are hard at work building and rebuilding their families, job opportunities, traditional ways of life and spiritual connectedness. Above all else, we were blessed by Brother Luc a most graceful, delightful and pleasant guide, one whose surname, which translates as “cheerful heart” from French, surely characterizes his sense of hospitality.


Jude Monde gets her first glimpse in more than three decades at the land of her parents.

On reflection, this was a journey marked by connectedness, coincidence and children. I had long ago heard of the Haiti orphanage from our late beloved Board Member Roger Soman, Sr., who made it a habit to spend his birthdays there until his last year or so. I knew also of the remarkable and unshakeable (even by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake) connection between the Anthony R. Abraham family and the orphanage at 48 Delmas and the farm at Leogane, two of the Brothers' three main sites that we visited with Brother Luc. The third was their facility at 75 Delmas, where we observed the ministry's school for 70 students. Here Brother Luc sought Pat Forde's consultation on establishing a vocational training program in clothing manufacturing for the youth at that school and the orphanage. We are currently working out a plan to secure donated sewing machines and other equipment to outfit this program.


Since 2008, the Brother's connection with the Sheepfold of the Good Shepherd ministry in Port-au-Prince and Leogane has intimately involved the Camillus family in relief efforts for the staff and students of these programs. In 2008, Camillus House was recognized by then-City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones for our “demonstrated commitment and humanitarian involvement in support of Operation: Hope for Haiti.”

In 2010, we were once again recognized for our assistance to the people of Haiti, this time by current City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff for our:

...timely goodwill in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Haiti during the Earthquake Recovery efforts. We appreciate the provision of assistance to the City of Miami through the collection and distribution of contributions toward the relief effort and applaud the ongoing assistance to hundreds of homeless children who are cared for in the Sheepfold of the Good Shepherd, an orphanage established in Haiti nearly 19 years ago.

But perhaps the coincidences are more telling of the meaning of our journey. For example, just two weeks before, Camillus House honored Gepsie M. Metellus, the Cofounder and Executive Director of Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center. Another coincidence especially stands out. On the Saturday before we left, I received a phone call from my brother, Philip, who lives in Philadelphia. It turns out that my nephews went to high school at St. Joseph's Prep there with a young man named Martin Connor.

Here is where the coincidence becomes a connection, taken from the Duke University Events Calendar of April 24, 2012:

Martin Connor… a Music major at Duke University in Durham, NC, has composed for his Senior Thesis, a piece entitled "Haitian Requiem" in memory of the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti… Martin hopes his work will refocus attention on the plight of the people of Haiti, especially the children, many of whom were orphaned by the tragedy. Donations will be taken to benefit an orphanage in Haiti, the Good Shepherd School and Orphanage of Port-au-Prince, run by the Brothers of the Good Shepherd. The web address for donations is camillus.org/haitianrequiem. "Haitian Requiem" is a 10 movement musical composition for carillon, percussion, brass quintet and choir that combines the Latin text of the Christian burial mass with 15 authentic Vodunist songs from Haiti's indigenous religion. The two texts work in dialogue to ask for the repose of the souls of the victims who passed away in the earthquake, and to exhort those who remain behind to rebuild their lives with a message of hope, solace and strength.

In a casual conversation among parents, Martin's mother mentioned the upcoming debut of his work, set for April 19th, and learned that our group from Camillus would be travelling to Haiti in the intervening days. Mrs. Connor offered to direct all donations generated by the concert to be sent to the Brothers' ministry in Haiti. I invite you to listen to Martin's Haitian Requiem, Op.1 : in memory of victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

I was thinking of young Martin Connor when I was in the company of the seminarians who pursue their studies in the morning and teach at the Brothers' schools in the afternoon. They also reside at the 75 Delmas day school site, the location of the proposed clothing manufacturing training, where all the students, from the seminarians to the wee-ones, are smartly outfitted in their freshly laundered school outfits, a trademark of the Haitian school system. At both the day school and the orphanage school, all of the students were polite and respectful: making way for the adults; standing when adults entered the room; and responding cheerfully to a Bonjou! or Bonswa! when one was offered.


Above, Brother Luc and the schoolchildren pose at the 75 Delmas site. Below, the introduction of brightly colored soccer balls, a present from Camillus House's Marti Yeager, inflated by Fred Mims, made smiling faces gleam, and two bags of lollipops did not go far when handed out by Pat Forde.



Brother Luc and Dr. Ahr reflect on the generosity of Anthony R. Abraham and his family.

The school here serves 540 boys and girls a day. The Brothers' orphanage houses 85 boys and the girls reside at a nearby facility operated by local Sisters of Theresa of Liseaux. Seriously damaged by the 2010 earthquake, the orphanage and school at 48 Delmas is rebuilding.

Also seriously affected by the earthquake was the Brothers' farm in Leogane, where construction of a new agricultural school and chicken coop are under way, and literally under a grove of producing mango trees. Brother Luc's commitment to providing employable work skills to their students. The bakery at 48 Delmas is another beneficial training opportunity.

The primary intent of our visit was to identify for Brother Luc furniture, furnishings and supplies that will become surplus once we vacate our downtown shelter buildings: beds, mattresses, chairs, desks, kitchen equipment, plumbing supplies, office supplies; et.al. Our tally was bittersweet: on the sad side there are many things that Brother Luc needs; on the happy side, there are many things — onetime gifts of the Miami community — we can now share with him and his staff and students. And I am certain that each will be as truly appreciated as was the lollipop given with a cheerful heart to this grateful young girl.


Pat Forde huddles with the children at 48 Delmas.

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Serving the South Florida community since 1960, Camillus House is a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian services to men, women and children who are poor and homeless.