Sunday, February 20, 2011

TRAVELER'S LOG - Epiphanie & Holy Trinity

Epiphanie Episcopal Church, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The team had a great experience at Epiphanie Episcopal on Sunday morning during our last full day in Haiti. Due to our dependence on drivers and the unpredictable Haitian traffic (forcing us to muster our patience), we arrived about half way through the service. Despite our tardiness, we were able to enjoy everything, even though our understanding was limited. (The Creole CDs that some of us are using were helpful, but we’ve got a long way to go!)

They provided us with a Book of Common Prayer that paralleled the French with English that was extremely helpful. And a young woman in front of us was kind enough to us find the passages in the book and kept us on track during the service. (Merci, mademoiselle in the red & white skirt!)

Unfortunately, Fr. Sadoni did not deliver the sermon that day as it was an opportunity for one of the lay leaders to give the message. He was a very passionate speaker and the crowd at the church hung on his every word.

Epiphanie's sanctuary

Following the service, we looked around for the St. Vincent’s children. When we didn’t see them, we asked Fr. Sadoni about them and he shared that the kids worship at Holy Trinity, the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, where there is a mass specifically for children.

Four days earlier, we were able to visit Holy Trinity’s temporary school and see the remains of the cathedral. It is within walking distance of St. Vincent’s, so we took off on foot, led by John Robert, our English-speaking guide from St. Vincent’s.

What a spectacle we must have been, strolling through downtown Port-au-Prince like the rats following the Pied Piper of Hamelin! For many of us, it was our first time actually walking the streets among the chaos and busyness of the nation’s capital. It was very different from our normal vantage point as passengers of various vehicles. In some ways, it was terrifying due to the extensive media coverage of the riots and unrest from weeks prior, the footage still fresh in our minds. Yet, in the same breath, it was exhilarating to be a part of the pulse of the city, brushing shoulders with street vendors and buyers, stepping onto rubble-strewn walkways and over heaps of trash.

Holy Trinity Cathedral exterior prior to and post January 12, 2010
(photo credits: Poverty Initiative & Alec Bersch)

When we arrived at the Holy Trinity School, we came into the courtyard and looked around, amazed at the concrete jungle surrounding us. In the heart of the city, this same property had once housed an amazing cathedral, rich in history and well-known for it’s murals and cultural heritage, and a large school with enrollment of over 1,200 students. Now, it is a maze of small crowded classrooms on the ground level filled with teachers and administrators doing the best they can to educate the children with very minimal resources.

By the time we visited, little remained of the original structure. Thanks to the internet, we are able to catch a brief glimpse of the “before” and the “after” (prior to the clearing of the site.)

(photo credits: Episcopal Café & Smithsonian)

Most of the murals were completed in the 1950s and were painted by some of Haiti’s most renowned artists.
The mural pictured above depicts the baptism of Jesus’ baptism. After January 12, only portions of the mural remain. Great care has been taken to preserve the remaining murals as the rest of the building is demolished.

The Rev. Fernande Sanon Pierre Louis

As we walked the grounds, we were greeted warmly by The Rev. Fernande Sanon Pierre Louis, Haiti’s only female priest and the principal of Holy Trinity School. She was kind enough to give us a tour of the temporary facility during which she shared her account of the earthquake and following weeks.

She is an extremely passionate woman who cares deeply about the 1,000+ students still at Holy Trinity. Her animated account of the earthquake and aftermath was absolutely heartbreaking. How it must have hurt for her to recount her story to us, unannounced strangers who showed up one Wednesday afternoon. Rev. Louis teared up frequently during the story as did many of us. (Read her full account on the The Episcopal Diocese of Maine’s website.)

As Rev. Louis showed us around the campus, she shared her frustration about the state of the temporary school. While she is appreciative of the structures, the rebuilding of the school was done while she was recovering and without her input. The arrangement of the classrooms is not conducive to learning since classes are so close together with short walls causing the sound to bleed from room to room. (We can only imagine how loud it must be when school is in session with 1,000 students!)

Her deepest concern was how this would affect the children’s learning and performance that was a great success prior to the earthquake. She spoke with such pride about how Holy Trinity was able to add academic grade levels each school year before 2010. The children passed the national tests with flying colors and it is clearly her goal to return the level of learning to what it once was.

We share this passionate woman’s desire for children to have the best opportunities in life. We have no doubt that Rev. Louis will find a way to give those opportunities to each and every one of the students of Holy Trinity. Likewise, we will work together for the health and well-being of the children of St. Vincent’s.

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