On the way from the Port Au Prince airport to Matthew 25 guesthouse in January I saw a banner strung across a typically frenetic street. Asking the young Haitian translator sitting next to me what it said, he explained it read “Wash Hands,” and added, “We need a lot of that here.”
Haiti has almost 11 million people living in an area one-third the land mass of Iowa. Life expectancy there is 63.5 years and the median age is 23. Preventing disease is critical, and as simple an action as hand washing with soap is seen as the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent the spread of illness.
Four out of ten Haitians over 15 can’t read or write so the school’s contribution to literacy is matched by its critical impact on health and personal hygiene education. There’s a dramatic difference between the students who attend school and those who don’t, according recently graduated Dr. Amilien Desius who grew up in our sister parish Notre Dame de Lourdes in Belle Fontaine.
“I can tell you especially in Belle-Fontaine, there is a big difference between schooled children and the others. The ones who go to school, always wear clean clothes, and take a bath regularly. It is a responsibility of their parents.” In school he says, “the teachers have a special time in their classroom schedule to teach hygiene. They check kids’ nails, ears, teeth, socks. They explain to the kids to brush their teeth twice a day, in the morning and at night.”
Keeping clean and healthy there isn’t like turning on the faucet or the washer in Cedar Rapids. Really, not much is easy in Haiti, especially in terms of personal hygiene. In the mountains in Belle-Fontaine water only comes captured in cisterns in the rainy season or carried from the river, which also is the laundromat. The children’s uniforms are ironed with charcoal box irons.
There is a Haitian proverb, “Genyen tout yon sosyete ki pou change. – There is a whole society to be changed.”
We work along with our sister parish teachers, directors, parents and pastors to encourage and support the changes they want to see happen.
Renmen Bondye, Sèvi Lòt Moun, Fòm Disip
Love God, Serve Others, Form Disciples.