Diaspora

HART has new mission in Haiti: St. Paul team spearheads orphan prevention program – Grosse Pointe News (subscription)

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Sunday, December 5, 2021
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Photos courtesy of Dr. Cheryl Mazzara
Dr. Cheryl Mazzara said her heart was stolen the first time she visited Haiti, as evidenced by this photo of her first day there.
 
The Haiti and Africa Relief Team, or HART, at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms has been traveling to Haiti regularly to provide medical relief since a hurricane ravaged the country in 2010.
A healthy meal is part of each day in the HOPE for Haiti program.
As part of its medical outreach, team members began visiting orphanages to provide those services. It wasn’t long before St. Paul missionaries realized how in need those children are.
“The longer we were there, the more we realized they also need food,” said Dr. Cheryl Mazzara, a HART missionary since 2016. “To have a future, they need education. We wanted to dig deeper, make a lasting difference and get to the root of the problem.
“We considered building our own orphanage in Haiti,” she continued. “Of the kids in the orphanages, two-thirds are not orphans. They’re kids whose parents have given them up because they have no money to provide food or lodging.”
Mazzara said children in the HOPE for Haiti program are
enthusiastic and excited to learn.
When plans to erect such a building fell through, Mazzara and other HART members worked with a Haitian priest and nun, Father Louis Merosne and Sister Natalie, to figure out a way to let children stay with their parents and make sure their needs are met.
From their efforts, HART’s newest program, HOPE for Haiti, was born.
HOPE, or Haiti Orphan Prevention Effort, focuses on feeding, educating and socializing children. Since the fall, 50 children ages 5 to 12 have benefited from the program.
“Sister Natalie is the administrator of the program,” Mazzara said. “She picked from the area 50 kids who are the most needy; they need help with just basic things like feeding their families. They meet after school in the area for a couple hours, Monday through Saturday.”
HOPE for Haiti addresses four key areas, the first of which is medical and nutritional needs. The children get physicals and medical care, as well as one hearty meal every day, Mazzara said.
A smiling participant of HART’s HOPE for Haiti.
Secondly, their intellectual needs are addressed. There is one mentor for every five students, helping the youngsters with their homework and, “taking a vested interest in their success, even when they’re not in the program anymore,” Mazzara said.
Socialization is a third focus of the program, she added.
“Parents don’t have time,” she said. “They spend all of their time scrounging to find food and make money to survive. Parents aren’t able to pass on the social, emotional things kids need.”
During supervised play time, mentors teach students etiquette and self-care. They also focus on the fourth key of HOPE for Haiti: spirituality.
“There are a lot of superstitions practiced in Haiti,” Mazzara said. “HART is centered on Jesus, helping them know the love of Jesus, so they can spread it to the rest of their family, then the country and hopefully, the world.
“The kids are very excited and enthusiastic about it.”
Children at the orphanage love to sing and dance, Mazzara said.
Even before COVID-19 restricted travel, political instability in Haiti prevented visits to the country, Mazzara said. HART missionaries have not been to Haiti in more than a year.
“Being here, it’s hard to know what’s going on in Haiti,” she said, noting spotty internet and phone coverage. “You have to have people you trust on the ground. We have people with amazing, good hearts. We feel fortunate to have them.
“The mentors are Haitians chosen by Sister Natalie and Father Louis,” she continued. “They helped find people in the community that they felt would be able to guide the kids.”
The program currently is limited to 50 participants, “but we’re hoping if we can expand and gain more resources, we can increase the number of kids and the age,” Mazzara said. “This is not a short-term thing.”
Next year, she said, they’d like to see 100 children being mentored; 150 the year after that.
“Sister Natalie was saying how more needy people are begging her to take their children into the program,” she added. “There really is a great need.”
Currently, students age out of HOPE for Haiti at 12, but Mazzara said she also hopes to increase the age limit into adolescence and beyond.
“We hope eventually mentors accompany children through trade school or universities or whatever they choose to do,” she said. “Parents often don’t have the education themselves, or they’re so burdened by poverty they can’t help the students. We hope with this model we can set up similar programs in other communities. And when they get through the program, they can become mentors themselves to other children.”
A HOPE for Haiti mentor works with students in the program.
Mazzara, a psychiatrist, joined HART because she wanted a way to give back; she stayed because she saw love in the hearts of everyone in the group: “Love for God, love for the people we treat,” she said. “The heart of the people in HART is so beautiful. It’s something I want to continue to be a part of.
“I’ve grown to know a lot of people over there,” she added. “When we go to Haiti, the people have nothing. They’re poor, but they’re so joyful. They love music, they love dancing. They’re so welcoming, so appreciative of everything you do for them. My heart just gets so filled with loving these people.”
Mazzara said HART will continue to “find a way to make the most impact in the biggest way possible.” Since medical trips are not possible at the moment, HART started a medical clinic and hired a Haitian physician “to do some of the work when we’re not there,” she said.
The team also would like to establish a sponsorship program, where donors can sponsor a child and get updates on how they’re progressing through the program.
While HART missionaries hope to return to Haiti as soon as possible, there are ways local families can meet the immediate needs of the program. First and foremost, “definitely prayer,” Mazzara said. “And financially we can use help.”
To learn more or make a donation to HOPE for Haiti, visit hartfund.org.
(Increase 11/22-11/30)
November 24, 2021
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