VIDEO: I Once Was Blind, But Now I See: U.S. Doctors Bring Hope to Haiti

Screenshot via Youtube / RNS

An iTeam doctor supports patients in Haiti. Screenshot via Youtube / RNS

Judith Mesadieu has dreams of becoming a doctor, but her poor eyesight and partial blindness makes it hard to study.

A corneal transplant could fix the problem, but the procedure remains rare in Haiti, which has just six eye surgeons for every 1 million people, according to the International Council of Ophthalmology.

Fortunately, Mesadieu snagged a spot on the recent surgery docket of a U.S.-based eye surgery missions group called the iTeam.

The iTeam, based out of Kansas City, Mo., has been traveling to Saint Louis du Nord for about 16 years. They preform eye surgeries twice a year alongside local ophthalmologists, teaching them new skills and improvements.

Lydia Allen, 66, is a nonmedical staff member of iTeam and said the Bible calls on her to continue to go these trips and help in any way possible. 

“Go ye therefore into all the world,” Allen said, quoting Jesus’ Great Commission.

Mission Trips Aren’t Just For Christians Anymore

Photo via Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Bethesda, Md. / RNS

Photo via Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Bethesda, Md. / RNS

Christian missionary work spans the globe. But Jewish mission trips?

Your average American synagogue is not planning a congregational visit to a poor corner of the world. But a few are starting to, and some rabbis are lobbying for more to follow.

“At a time when synagogues are losing market share and ‘Next Gen’ Jews are deeply ambivalent about how much they are prepared to identify as Jews, I can testify that this kind of service mission is a game changer,” said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founding rabbi of Adat Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in suburban Bethesda, Md.

Unlike many Christian groups, Jews don’t believe in proselytizing: It’s just not in their religious DNA. But alumni attest that synagogue-sponsored mission trips provide a hands-on way for Jews to fulfill the obligation of “tikkun olam,” Hebrew for “heal the world,” as they strengthen Jewish identities.

Schwarz and 20 congregants returned from a 10-day trip to Haiti in December — the congregation’s third trip in four years to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. There, they partnered with a pastor and used their bodies and their bank accounts to build houses and provide school tuition for Haitian families, many who had been living under tarps since the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Schwarz can point to less than a handful of synagogues that have done similar mission work. One is Temple Beth El in Hollywood, Fla., which has made more than 10 mission trips to Haiti since 2007 and leaves again for the island on Jan. 19.

“The Christians have a tradition of missionary work, and part of it is to Christianize the world. We Jews have no interest in Judaisizing the world,” said Beth El’s Rabbi Allan Tuffs. Nevertheless, “we should be out there.”

VIDEO: Water Everlasting?

In 2014, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) premiered Water Everlasting? The Battle to Secure Haiti’s Most Essential Resource, a documentary film addressing concerns about Haiti’s public water system.

Government agencies and charitable organizations have spent decades attempting to provide clean water to Haiti, but administrative weaknesses often impede these efforts. The 2010 earthquake exacerbated the problem. Suddenly, millions of people lacked access to safe drinking water, and waterborne diseases reached epic proportions.

Yet, despite the many instances of lack, there is good being done in Haiti in various capacities. Read “On a Firm Foundation” to learn of the many positive accomplishments of Haitians working in their own neighborhoods. 

What will it take to keep water flowing in Haiti? How can Haitians take charge? These are a few of the questions explored in the film. See all 25 minutes of it here. 

See the trailer to Water Everlasting? below: 


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PHOTOS: Rebuilding Haiti

Children in a tent, Haiti 2014. Image courtesy Chuck Bigger, Compassion Internat

Children in a tent, Haiti 2014. Image courtesy Chuck Bigger, Compassion International.

Five years after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan.12, 2010, killing hundreds of thousands of people, Haitians are still working to rebuild the poorest country in the hemisphere.

In August, Sojourners Editor Jim Rice traveled to Haiti to meet with nonprofits, ministries, and residents. His reports from the trip became the cover story for Sojourners' February issue. For the week of Jan. 12 only, we've released the story from our paywall. Go here to read for FREE. 

See the slideshow of photos from the trip at the jump. 



The Possibility of Heaven

A YEAR BEFORE her death from ovarian cancer, my 78-year-old mother finally started losing weight. She gave up fatty foods and sweets and went to herbalists who sold her pills that were supposed to regulate her digestion. In addition to all this, she was seeing her primary physician every three months.

The weight flying off seemed like a reward for her good behavior. The only downside was that my mother, who now weighed less than me, was burping all the time, as if there was thunder trapped inside her ever-shrinking body.

At Christmas time, I invited her to come spend the holidays with me and my family in Miami. At first she said no. Her birthday was three days after Christmas and she wanted to spend it at her home in New York.

She changed her mind right before Christmas, and she cooked us a wonderful Christmas dinner, and we took her to one of our favorite Haitian restaurants for her birthday. At her birthday dinner, my two daughters performed a birthday dance for her in the middle of the restaurant, and my usually reserved mother laughed and clapped with joy, a kind of joy we would rarely see again in the months that followed.

I took my mother to see my primary physician right after New Year’s. I could see an alarmed look on the doctor’s face as soon as she touched my mother’s stomach, which in spite of her weight loss was twice its usual size. The doctor, who is also a friend, asked me to touch my mother’s distended belly, and the spot where her fingers led me felt like a well-polished rock. She immediately started writing down a list of tests my mother would need.

Each test led to another, more-complicated test, and slowly both Mom and I realized that we were not on a quest to disprove something bad but on an expedition to identify how bad it was.

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On a Firm Foundation

HILDA DE BOJORQUEZ holds a set of blueprints in one hand. Her other hand is pointing. At a better future, perhaps, if things go well.

De Bojorquez is the chief engineer at this construction site in a neighborhood just outside Port-au-Prince still blemished with rubble from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She commands respect from the all-male crew of Haitians working at the site—she tells a group of visiting U.S. reporters that her gender has never been an issue in the male-dominated world of construction, here or in her native El Salvador.

When asked about obstacles on the project, De Bojorquez goes on for 15 minutes—she’s an engineer, after all—but the point is that they’ve tackled them, one by one, and done so the right way. She extols the importance of a solid foundation and robust retaining walls. She points to the cinder blocks and the rebar, and explains how her group had to teach a company how to provide high-quality materials, with the promise that they’d buy everything the company made. And she emphasizes that she’s there not just to oversee a number of construction projects, but to train Haitians to do it themselves the next time—and to do it right.

The steel-reinforced blocks are rising into walls that will surround a new six-room school for perhaps 200 children in this neighborhood four miles east of Port-au-Prince. The narrow site is wedged between two crumbling buildings, both showing earthquake damage. Even to an untrained eye, the differences are obvious between the fragile, deteriorating blocks next door and the solid retaining walls rising at our feet.

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PHOTOS: Rebuilding Notre Dame l’Assomption Cathedral

Three years after the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, the impoverished island nation is still struggling to rebuild. The ruins include Notre Dame de l’Assomption, Port-au-Prince’s renowned cathedral.

Hope abounds, however, as the capital city seeks to reconstruct this sacred place of worship. Edwidge Danticat’s “House of Prayer and Dreams,” in the April 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, beautifully illustrates why the cathedral is central to the city’s past, present, and future.

On Scripture: The Hell of Parenting — A Study of 1 Samuel

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Orphan Beaudin Lovinsky, 4-years-old, is placed into the Children's Foundation of Haiti orphanage. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Few narratives in the Hebrew Bible are more foreign to us than this week’s lection. We do not give away our children. In a society determined by socio-economic forces utterly beyond the control of individual citizens (e.g., globalization), we do our best to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of change. But what happens when we lose our footing?

Contemporary life changes too fast for habits and routines to have any chance to settle into a pattern. Western individuals must navigate their way through the fears and anxieties that are endemic to such an existence. Such is the pace of change, that effective life-strategies today may be obsolete tomorrow. We will do everything in our power to hold back the floods that threaten to wash away that which we hold dear — especially our children.

What was it like for parents in the Bible? Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was beset by another set of insecurities than those faced by contemporary Westerners. In the socio-economic situation of twelfth-century B.C.E., an Israelite woman’s worth was held in direct proportion to her fertility. Hannah was barren and thus her spirit was troubled to the point that she refused to eat, weeping instead on account of her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Sam. 1:16 NRSV). In desperation, she made a vow before the LORD of hosts that if God would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to the LORD. The LORD heard Hannah’s prayer and blessed her with Samuel, whom she turned over to Eli the priest, according to her promise.

Haiti's Only Hope

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Silted Dam Reservoir, Haiti, filled after deforestation. Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Colorado wildfires are raging this week. I’m in Denver, and the grey haze over the mountains in the distance gives me a sick feeling. Countless trees on hundreds of thousands of acres have gone up in smoke. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed. Even human lives have now been forever lost to the flames. It’s tragic, and it’s not over yet. 

But here’s what I believe. One day, when these fires have been extinguished, this land will be restored. People will do whatever it takes to reforest these hills and rebuild their homes. In a few years, mountainsides that are charred and blackened today will be green again. We have the will and the resources to restore our environment when it has been destroyed.

Two weeks ago I was in Haiti. Unlike the deforestation that has happened in Colorado in a matter of days, Haiti’s 98-percent deforestation has happened over centuries. The destruction to Haiti’s natural environment is almost complete. Birds are rare. Small animals are almost gone. Fish that once teemed in the waters around the island are barely there. 

It gets worse.