It takes about seven hours to fly from the Tri-Cities Airport to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but in truth, the two places may as well be a world apart.
The 1-2 punch of a major earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 devastated the island nation. The earthquake alone killed somewhere between 220,000 to 300,000 people, injured another 300,000 and left 1.5 million Haitians homeless. Malnutrition and a lack of educational opportunities are just two obstacles facing the people of Haiti.
Last November, six volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Johnson City headed to Haiti in order to connect with and offer comfort to the students, teachers and the Episcopal priest at St. Innocent’s School, which the church helps to support. First Presbyterian sponsors St. Innocent’s – an Episcopal pre-school and grade school – through a partnership with the Haitian Education Foundation, which operates 40 schools in southeastern Haiti in partnership with the Episcopal Church of Haiti.
From Port-au-Prince, the team from Johnson City embarked on a 78-mile journey over mountains that wouldn’t look out of place in Northeast Tennessee. Their destination was the coastal town of Bainet, two miles down the mountain from Bellevue, where St. Innocent’s is located. While the mountains looked familiar, the air was hot and humid. What’s more, winding dirt roads with bad ruts stretched the 78-mile trip into a four-hour journey.
When the group from Johnson City arrived at the school, they witnessed a well-coordinated effort that was bearing much fruit. In addition to First Presbyterian and HEF, Trinity Hope out of Nashville provides highly nutritious lunches to the 11,000 students at the 118 schools throughout Haiti five days a week at the cost of 25 cents per meal. Seeing as children in the Bellevue area average only two meals per week, the lunches the students get at school are likely the only food they eat all day, and the food allows them to concentrate on their school lessons as well as their daily devotionals.
Living Waters of the Word out of Spring Hill, Tennessee, recently installed a clean water system in Bainet, which creates clean drinking water that is brought up the mountain to the school each day thanks to a motorcycle purchased by the members of First Presbyterian. The water purification plant is powered by Solar Under the Sun, a group based in Texas.
The St. Innocent’s school consists of three buildings. First Presbyterian recently provided the funding to replace the leaky building that housed the grade school with a cinderblock structure built to stand up against severe weather. Each student at the school received a backpack from First Presbyterian filled with school supplies, toiletries and toys.
While in Haiti, the team from Johnson City inspected the new building and assessed any new needs at the school. Team members also provided popcorn and Kool-Aid, which turned out to be a big hit with the kids at a showing of the Jesus film.
The Johnson City contingent was pleasantly surprised by a lively dedication ceremony for the new building that brought out the entire community. The First Presbyterian team spent its final day in Haiti taking part in a Haitian Episcopal worship service before returning home.