St. Michael–St. Peter volunteers faithfully aid people in need

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

When Kate McMahon talks about “a different way of life,” she means mountains, mud, hunger, and stream water for bathing and drinking.

Her team of donors, medical professionals, and other volunteers seeks to offset some of that harshness; she chairs the Haiti Committee for St. Michael–St. Peter Church on Onondaga Hill in Syracuse.

For 19 years now, the committee has supported its twin parish, the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Chauffard, Haiti, about 30 miles southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The Haiti Committee welcomes new members and donations at any time; a fundraiser is set for Feb. 2.

“Our projects greatly impact the quality of life of the people of our twin parish,” Kate said. “We pay teacher salaries, purchase student uniforms, buy ingredients for school lunches, and pay cooks to make the school lunch. We are funding repairs to area buildings that were destroyed or damaged in the 2010 earthquake and have seen the medical clinic, rectory building/church offices, and two schools rebuilt.”

Sea-container shipment

She continued: “Each April we collect school supplies, toiletries, and basic medical supplies for a sea-container shipment, which is very welcome because there are no shops in the area. We have funded the building of 20 small family homes since the hurricane of 2016. We have funded two all-wheel-drive Toyota Land Cruisers over the years to allow the priest to better serve his people. There is no public transportation to this community, so this vehicle has served as an ambulance, delivery truck, and bus.”

The St. Michael–St. Peter group sends Chauffard $5,000 a month for the school lunch program and another $1,000 a month to supplement the 35 schoolteachers’ salaries and pay the school-lunch cooks a salary.

The church group’s senior volunteer is Flo Lewis, who is over 80. The November 2018 trip was her sixth to Chauffard with the medical mission. Other helpers include Kate’s husband, Dr. Jerry McMahon, and Dr. Tom Abbamont. “We also have a number of volunteers over the years who have served with another family member on the same mission,” Kate said.

The St. Michael–St. Peter group helps the main school in Chauffard and the four outlying schools, with a total of about 1,100 students. Other than the main church, there are six chapels in the outside villages.

Kate said the local priest wants the focus to be on the school and the school-lunch program. It costs $50 a school year (10 months) to feed a hot lunch to a student. The main school has a cistern, and gravity-fed running water goes into the clinic building.

Seven hundred dollars buys a family a new house with concrete walls, a metal roof, and a sturdy door. In her thank-you letter to a donor of money for a house last month, Kate wrote:

“It is hard for us, sitting in our homes, to imagine living the day-to-day lives of the people of our twin parish. Most people’s homes have no floors or screens in the windows. The doors may not shut properly or just be curtains. The ‘kitchen’ shelter is outside as cooking is done over a wood or charcoal fire. All the water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking is carried to the family home in old buckets from a stream which could be a fair distance away.

“Homes do not include a bathroom, as there is no plumbing. Most villagers bathe in the stream and toilets are often behind the home. Without electricity, the laundry and dishes are done by hand. Entertainment does not include television shows or movies. It is a different way of life for the farming people of our twin parish. Still, Father Raymond and the people of Chauffard have the same dreams for their children to grow up healthy and have fulfilling careers.”

New homes like this one, with concrete walls and a metal roof, in Chauffard, Haiti, cost around $700. (Photo courtesy Tara Polcaro)

‘A priceless gift’

Kate continued: “Father Raymond identifies families who are in need of new homes. They meet many times to set up a timeline. The three-room replacement home will have sturdy, cement brick walls, a cement floor, and a metal roof and should withstand the next hurricane. … The family collects rocks and sand and contributes what labor they are capable of. …

“Having a home with a floor, strong walls, and a roof will improve the health of a family, beyond peace of mind. You are giving a priceless gift to a family. We will continue to help with rebuilding efforts as money is available.”

St. Michael–St. Peter’s 12 volunteers (seven making a return visit) went on their ninth medical mission last November. In her thank-you to the donors, Kate wrote:

“They joined with a Haitian doctor and three Haitian nurses to form six doctor/nurse pairs serving over 1,100 patients. Father Raymond … picks up some medicines and supplies in Port-au-Prince in advance of our team’s arrival. … Here in the U.S., we order medicines and supplies and pack them into two large suitcases per volunteer leaving from Syracuse. This year we packed 18 suitcases (about 900 pounds of supplies!). With the cost of supplies, baggage fees, renting three all-wheel drive vehicles, paying room & board, buying gas, and paying the Haitian staff salaries, the whole trip costs us about $14,000. …

“The route from the city out to the village is pretty rough once you leave the paved road. The team left the city at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon, got stuck in mud, and did not reach Chauffard until 11:30 p.m. … This was our second year in the newly rebuilt clinic which is now staffed with a nurse and laboratory technician. … The community is so grateful to have the medical facility there. People walk for hours to reach the small clinic for basic care. … The walk over the mountains to Port-au-Prince to a hospital would take six hours.”

The people of Chauffard are hardworking farmers, most of whom have small plots, Kate said. They carry produce over the mountains to sell it in Port-au-Prince. They don’t have a lot to eat and they often have stomach worms. “So many children die,” Kate said.

Kate would love to raise money to have a doctor visit Chauffard more frequently, perhaps every three months. Her volunteers provide mainly primary care once a year, and they always see some things they can’t treat.

Haiti-mission volunteers see the conditions in Haiti, Kate said, “and always come back appreciating what they have here very much.”

Medical perspective

That includes her husband. In an email, Dr. Jerry said:

“The people are poor, and make an income selling crops, making about $15 monthly, as long as crops are not destroyed by bad weather. They walk on mountain trails for hours to market, and children do the same to go to school in the village.

“At the medical clinic, we see some common conditions such as hypertension, acid reflux, and back pain that have been untreated, because there are no physicians in the area. We also see conditions uncommon in the U.S., such as malnutrition, parasites, and malaria. The Chauffard-area residents walk for hours to see us. They are humble and thankful for our help. It is a joyful thing to be able to use our skills to help them, even as we realize the limitations of our assistance. Still, we have been pleased to see improvements in the nutritional status of the children, in particular, and believe that our treatment of parasites and provision of vitamins has helped. …

For 19 years, the Haiti Committee at St. Michael–St. Peter Church in Syracuse has
supported its twin parish, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which is shown
here in Chauffard, Haiti. (Photo courtesy Dr. Jerry McMahon)

“I regard it as a privilege to be able to go to Haiti and work with the Haitians of this remote area. It is wonderful to learn about the stories of their lives. Their gratitude for small things strikes me and has helped me become more thankful for my blessings. …

“In pondering the way they live, I have become less worried about the difficulties of daily life. … I have deepened my faith in identifying with Jesus in the poor and understanding how He looks out for them.”

Registered Nurse Cynthia L. Allis said in an email that she has volunteered with the Haiti mission for five years: “Returning each year to Chauffard, a remote village with primitive housing and no electricity or running water, feels like a homecoming. We are welcomed by the people with open arms, loving hearts, and sincere gratitude.

“Witnessing the opening of the medical clinic was a very special experience. It was the result of both the parish’s financial support and the labor of the Haitians. It  demonstrated the power of God’s people — unconditional love and compassion.”


Kids’ Carnival For Haiti

What: Good family fun with carnival games, including a Bounce House, arcade room, and obstacle course; raffles; bake sale; lunch. A $10 game card is good for 20 games.

When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 2.

Where: Parish Center of St. Michael–St. Peter Church, 4791 West Seneca Turnpike (Onondaga Hill), Syracuse.

Why: All proceeds fund the school lunch program for five schools at the church’s twin parish, the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Chauffard, Haiti.

Goal: Event usually raises about $2,000, but Kate McMahon, chairperson for the parish’s Haiti Committee, hopes for $3,000 to $4,000 because the committee sends $6,000 per month to Chauffard.

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