|Haiti and Father Bernard Reiser
By Dave Hrbacek The Catholic Spirit
A few thousand Haitians are glad a local priest came out of retirement. Father Bernard Reiser decided to get back into active ministry last summer and took an assignment as pastor of St. Nicholas in New Market (Minnesota) in August. He wasted little time developing outreach projects. After making several trips to Haiti over the past several years, he was aware of some practical needs.
First, there was food. He approached a local farmer, Leander Wagner, and said he wanted to buy 10 tons of corn to ship to Haiti. Leander and the farmers 'donated 10 tons of shelled corn, put it in a container and it was shipped down to Miami and put on a ship to Haiti [in October]," Father Reiser said.
Then, there was water.
"We knew something had to be done because the people had no acceptable water for drinking or household use," he said. "The [distribution] system was run down, not operable." Father Reiser believed the solution to the water problem was a truck to take water from wells located in Port Au Prince to outlying areas. So, he turned to the St. Nicholas Knights of Columbus Council. The Knights accepted the challenge and last week, sent a 6,000-gallon water truck to Miami, where it soon will be loaded onto a ship bound for Haiti. The final hurdle is clearing U.S.
Although water currently is available to Haitians, a rundown distribution system combined with greed have driven up the price of drinking water and made it unaffordable for some. Father Reiser and the Knights say they hope that the water truck will eliminate the problem.
One Knight, Bob Seykora, worked to both find and modifies the truck to make it suitable for transporting drinking water. After canvassing New Market, he talked to a local contractor, Tim Rud, who donated a tractor and tank. Seykora arranged to have a stainless steel replacement tank put on, then added another tank on a trailer. He and a group of drivers drove the truck to Miami.
From there the truck will be in the hands of Kevin McClellan of St. Stephen in Minneapolis, who will go with the truck to Haiti and oversee its use.
The beneficiaries of the water truck will be residents of Citi Soliel, a section of Port Au Prince that lies about three miles from the nearest well.
'If I can deliver 20,000 gallons a day, I would be happy," McClellan said.
For the Knights, this is another item on a growing list of big charity projects. They already have built two houses since the start of the new millennium, one given to a needy family and the other sold to raise money for pro-life causes. Not bad for a group with only 50 active members.
"Our council has the faith to jump into any project," said Paul Laursen, the council's program director. "We think big. . . . We'll build anything, we'll do anything. "
|Ex-Haiti Slave Fights To Help Kids 5 Dec
AP / IAN JAMES, Associated Press Writer
As a child growing up in Haiti,
slept under the kitchen table, washed the feet of the woman
he served and endured beatings with a leather whip.
Cadet was a ``restavek'' -- a Haitian Creole term that means ``staying with.''
It describes children whose parents, often
give them to wealthier families as servants in hopes the children
will have food, schooling and a better life. The practice is
accepted in Haiti.
He has written a book titled "Restavec": From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American,'' in which he recounts the labor, neglect and violence that began when he was a young boy. Restavek is the modern spelling. Cadet says he has met many Haitians who acknowledge isolated cases of abuse in the restavek system but believe it often helps poor children who otherwise would be worse off. ``My goal is to make the term restavek a social taboo. Once you do that, the system will end.''
The use of children as domestic workers in
Haiti has drawn
the attention of UNICEF and other groups that monitor
rights. Last year, the U.N. agency estimated the number of
in Haiti at 300,000. ``Domestic labor and mistreatment of restaveks
go hand-in-hand,'' the UNICEF study said. ``These children
live in painful conditions.'' Restaveks are beaten more
than other children, and young girls working as restaveks
often sexually abused, said Dr. Louis Roy, the official ombudsman
Nearly two centuries ago, African slaves in Haiti successfully rebelled against French rule, and in 1804 created the first independent black republic in the Western Hemisphere. But Haiti's free population reinstituted servitude for children.
In his book, Cadet argues that restaveks ``are treated worse than slaves, because they don't cost anything and their supply seems inexhaustible.'' Seeking to bring attention to the issue, the National Coalition for Haitian Rights hosted more than 300 guests at a benefit in New York on Nov. 5 and presented Cadet with an award. ``We are raising the issue of slavery living and thriving among us today,'' the group's executive director, Jocelyn McCalla, told the crowd.
But one Haitian woman at the event, Michelle
said her family previously had restaveks and had treated them well,
sure they attended school and learned to read.
In Haiti, Social Affairs Minister Mathilde Flambert has said the keeping of restaveks is a problem that should be addressed. But so far, the government has done nothing.
Near Port-au-Prince, the Maurice Sixto Center
provides one hot meal of rice and vegetables each day to needy
most of them
The center, founded a decade ago by a Roman Catholic
attracts about 230 children each day and is funded by UNICEF, the
European Union and other groups. The children are taught to read
and write -- skills that many restaveks never learn.
Many restaveks are released from duty when
they are teen-agers
to fend for themselves shining shoes or doing any other work they
As an adult, Cadet reached out to his father,
him ashamed and unwilling to accept him. The father died last
before his son could show him his book about life as a restavek.
In his book, Cadet writes that he lost his childhood as a restavek. ``The child's very rights to life -- to belong, to grow, to smile, to love, to feel, to learn, and to be a child -- are denied, by those whose ancestors were slaves themselves.''