Communications Officer Sara Fajardo is in the Dominican Republic reporting on CRS programs and sharing her experiences with us. This is her report from Saturday, Feb. 21, delayed because she couldn’t get an Internet connection.
It cost me $25 to leave the Dominican Republic and $1 to enter Haiti.
Scenes of well built roads lined with homes and well stocked stores, were replaced with several city blocks worth of dusty unpaved ground and plywood kiosks. A welcoming committee of six, led by CRS Haiti project manager, Farid Moise, and our partner, Nidia, of the Saint John the Evangelist Sisters or “Juanistas,” as people lovingly call them, greeted us on the Dominican side of the border.
Sister Nidia has an easy familiarity, she doesn’t greet you, she takes you in. A simple smile and a warm clasp of her hand and you know you’ve met a friend. People are drawn to her. Locals give their babies variations of her name. Compassion and warmth live in every cheek caress she gives the children and each hug she wraps around their mothers.
It was mid-afternoon Caribbean hot when we met. Rosalba and I were sticky with a day’s worth of work, and an evening yet to go. Farid and Nidia whisked our bags from us as we took our first steps over the bridge into Ouianaminthe, Haiti. A white jeep emblazoned with the blue CRS logo waited on the other side. We hopped in and watched Haiti unfold from our passenger windows.
The sheer volume of people milling about the streets impressed Rosalba. Each turn produced new and overwhelming sights. Motorcycles whizzed by us carrying whole families, a woman in red sat beneath an enormous tree selling used clothing, brightly colored God-invoking phrases lined the sides of well-ornamented buses.
It amused me to see small reminders of home, within seconds of one another a boy and a man each walked by me with t-shirts that read, “Ormond Beach Elementary,” and “I heart Orlando Regional Medical Center,” both cities I covered in my last job as a Florida newspaper photographer.
Everywhere I looked someone wore a t-shirt completely disconnected from the Haitian reality, “I’m so Brave I Vacation in Detroit” and “Seattle Supersonics Fan.” Sister Nidia explained that there is a huge influx of used clothing into Haiti, which is why most people are decently dressed despite the poverty that plagues the country.
We drove down the recently paved main road. It was unveiled a month ago to joyous fanfare. New roads bring progress, a means with which to get goods to market. Farid told us it was once nearly impossible to get from Port-Au-Prince to Ouianaminthe. One leg of the road, which now only takes 40 minutes, used to take a stomach-lurching, back-twisting, head-lashing four hours. Road conditions in Haiti dictate economic growth. Increased traveling ease also means increased trade possibilities.
As we reached the heart of the city, we turned down a street with a brand new main square. A roof-topped gazebo opened up to tree-lined walkways and benches filled with Carnival-mask toting youngsters. In the days before Lent, Haitians celebrate by dusting their faces with sun-catching glitter and carrying ropes that they whip against the ground to produce firecracker-like sound effects. The Juanistas’ house and la Parroquia de la Ascención Catholic church look out on to the park. The 100-year old, two-foot thick walls of the yellow and sea foam blue structure greet hundreds of visitors each day.
The Juanistas open their doors to everyone. Children come each evening to study beneath one of the few communal light bulbs in the town. A one-bed infirmary is always available to those who fall sick in the community. A pharmacy stocked with inexpensive medicines as well as free CRS-purchased multi-vitamins for HIV/AIDS patients is open each day to those in need. Young women sew shirts on ornate black foot-pedal machines, and little girls crochet hats and potholders beneath shady awnings. CRS sponsors training for the women, many of whom have minimal schooling and spent their childhood selling goods in the streets.
Sister Nidia lovingly trains the women in a new trade and encourages them to form cooperatives and set up businesses so that, as Haiti paves more roads, they will have their own products to offer in the market.
– Sara Fajardo
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