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Haiti Hurricane Relief Efforts
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Viloux, Les Cayes, Haiti. Tuesday, October 18, 2016, Sr. Marie, a finally professed member of Compassionate Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Viloux, a village in the south, 96 miles from our mission in Port-au-Prince, and an hour away from the town of Les Cayes, gave us the assurance that roads and rivers have all been cleared.
After an early Mass at 3:00 am the following day, Brother Joseph and I with a hired truck, driver and his companion made our journey to Viloux. Loaded with 500 boxes of pre-packed meals to a total of 18,000 meals, 30 bags of 100 pounds of beans and 75 bags of rice we hit the road for 6 hours. Once in Les Cayes town, Sr. Marie, on a motorcycle, proceeded before us on the way to Viloux. This time we were entering to what appear to be the road less travelled. The farther we move the smaller the road becomes.
Just half an hour before our final destination we decided to seek the assistance of the local police stationed in Camp Perrine, a nearby village, to accompany us on the way. While discussing all possibilities and moves we have to do some people in the area sneaked in and saw the amount of food we were carrying. Within seconds the truck was surrounded by mobs beyond control – at most 300 of them. Some of the men were carrying stones and hammers; women and children carrying sacks and bags. It was obvious they were not asking for food. They would take the food by force.
Brother Joseph and I tried our best to calm the increasing number of people pushing and even fighting among themselves. Shouting and screaming became the norm of conversation. Some men climbed up and started hammering the pad lock at the back door of the truck. Tensions were rising and the whole scenario was getting out of hand. But we stood our ground and guarded the door in the midst of what I consider a sea of uncontrollable humanity driven by hunger and lack of discipline.
Out of nowhere a man from the crowd – God’s sent angel – told the police that it would be to their shame if something worst happened to us since we were literally parked just outside of the police station. Within minutes a police officer took control of the situation and directed our driver to maneuver the truck and park it safely within the compound of the police station. We were followed by the crowd shouting in unison “gran gou”, gran gou”, “gran gou” – meaning hungry.
Since it was already getting late, we sought the assistance of the Parish Priest in that locality. He welcomed us and made plans for the safety of the goods we were carrying. Eventually, it was decided that we should park the truck within the parish for greater safety. Six men were hired to keep an eye and guarded the truck the whole night. When everything seemed to have been in placed, we hired three motorcycles to bring us to the convent. Sr. Marie, Br. Joseph and I passed through rivers, valleys and hills for almost 45 minutes. Somewhere along the way four more motorcycles accompanied us. They were the leaders of the village where the mission is located. They heard of what we went through and decided to accompany us. We reached the convent when the sun was just kissing the horizon. As is our habit we visited the chapel. In the silence I could only say “Lord, thank you for the ride.”
Early morning of the following day we had an emergency meeting with the village. We were sorry that we could not bring the food directly to them. Together with the people in the village it was decided that 20 men of strong character and physique should accompany us to ensure the safe passage of the truck to the village itself. Little did we know we never had an option on this matter.
The Parish Priest shared with us how terrible the night had been. The back door of the truck was almost tearing apart. The six men that guarded the truck were exhausted. The crowd did not leave them. One after another groups of men were trying to break in. These, they said, were not their people. They were the vὸlè – thieves. Another priest told us that a week ago two humanitarian relief trucks loaded with food traveling on the same mountainside were we passed by were forcibly stopped by thieves. They blocked the roads and took everything to be sold in other places. The rice, he said, they threw away since they considered the bags of rice of lower quality.
Yes, it is true….there have been attacks. We were fortunate enough that we still had the food with us.
But now we worry for the safety of the sisters. With four sisters in a convent with their protective walls down to the ground would it be wise enough to bring and store food in their unfinished convent? What if the very same vὸlè attacks them, will they be safe? Against all odds we have to make the decision at hand. The hired truck needed to go back to Port-au-Prince otherwise we will have to pay for the delay and further damages that might eventually happen.
Sr. Marie contacted His Eminence, Chibly Cardinal Langois, Archbishop of Les Cayes for guidance and assistance. His Eminence was like a father to her. He acted very promptly and found another parish where we could store the provisions. With the police behind the truck and a motorcade of twenty motorcycles from the village of Viloux we were able to escort our truckload of food for twenty minutes to its secured location. Likewise, the place is not too far from the sisters convent. Sr. Marie was given a spare key and was assured that she could come anytime to get food for the village. Only then we were able to breathe in peace.
Returning to the convent on a motorbike, Brother Joseph and I decided to stay until Sunday due to heavy rains. Thus, making the roads inaccessible. While there we celebrated the Holy Mass for the sisters. One afternoon a sister asked us if we could extend our stay a bit longer. I asked her why. She replied that with my presence they need not walk for 45 minutes to attend Mass. The next day we decided to visit the parish. It was a long walk, crossing rivers and hills. We were tired but the thought of going to Mass and walking for 45 minutes to receive the Holy Eucharist must truly be a “walk to remember.”
The sisters are now preparing to distribute food packages to the families in the village. Thank you for your help. With gratitude we promise to keep you all in our prayers. God bless!