Vickroy: From Richton Park to Haiti, busload of hope rolls on
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy April 1, 2013 3:36PM
An old-school bus from the village of Richton Park is being put to use in Haiti toward humanitarian efforts led by the Rev. Jean Isaac Jacquet. | Supplied photo
Updated: May 4, 2013 6:04AM
There’s an old saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
True humanitarians know the best way to help those in need is to empower them with a means of helping themselves.
Last week, the village of Richton Park learned it had achieved its goal of doing just that for a very poor community in Haiti.
A used school bus that had been bought here in the Southland, fixed up at local automotive shops and packed with much-needed supplies donated by area merchants not only has brought aid and transportation to an impoverished district in southern Haiti, it has helped a Haitian pastor launch a new business.
In another example of the potential of cooperative humanitarianism, the bus sent from the Chicago suburbs now will be used to transport paying Haitians along a newly finished road, built by Canadians, between the city of Jeremie and the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Jeremie sits due west of Port-au-Prince along a southern peninsula on the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. About 117 miles separate the two cities, but for a long time, it might as well have been a thousand, given the rugged mountain terrain and lack of paved roadway. The Canadians’ efforts to link the two by a modern thoroughfare were halted by the 2010 earthquake, which devastated much of the area in and around Port-au-Prince.
But now, three years after the earthquake, comes word that the passage is complete.
Not only will the “tap-tap,” as taxi service is called in Haiti, enable locals to travel for work, medical or family visits, it means a source of income for Pastor Jean Isaac Jacquet, who is struggling to feed and educate a growing number of orphans he has taken into his home.
Last week, Robert Bartz, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Richton Park, which organized the Haiti bus project, forwarded an email from Jacquet heralding the good news.
Bartz wrote: “Now, Pastor (Jacquet) will use this bus to start his own transportation business. ... This business will help Pastor support his family and his ministry in Jeremie. If other congregations would do what Immanuel did it would help these pastors become self-supporting, which is our goal.”
The news is a reminder of two things: The stuff we take granted and often throw away in this country is cherished in Third World nations, and the gift of hope is always the best gift of all.
The bus story begins at Christ Lutheran Church in Orland Park, which began its Haitian Lutheran Mission Project in 2004, years before the 2010 earthquake heaped even more misery on the already dirt-poor Caribbean nation of Haiti.
In 2010, Christ Lutheran church member Sue Gross approached the congregation at Immanuel Lutheran in Richton Park seeking assistance in fundraising efforts to help the people of the Jeremie District, where Jacquet had his hands full trying to tend to the growing number of orphans.
Immanuel Lutheran members immediately embraced the idea of helping the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. And then they came up with a creative plan for sending more than just needed supplies. If they could get their hands on a bus, well, that could really change life for Jacquet and the children.
The community coalition set an original goal of raising $30,000. But because so much of the work and so many of the supplies were donated, they were able to finish it for a mere 10 percent of that.
In every regard, Bartz said, the Lord provided. Even in terms of helping the coalition accomplish its ultimate goal.
“We always strive for self-sufficiency,” Bartz said.
Sometimes it takes a village to accomplish that. Bartz said he was most proud of the community involvement.
Local politicians stumped for the cause. Local merchants and organizations, including Flossmoor Auto, Ace Hardware, The Chicago Dough Co. and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, all pitched in by offering cash or services. Rich South High School hosted a launch celebration.
Bartz said people came from all over, including Matteson, Monee, Orland Park and Tinley Park, to help get the bus on the road.
In January 2012, bearing a sign reading “Haiti or bust,” the bus was loaded with shoes, clothes, bicycles and medical supplies, not to mention a set of bunk beds. Parishioner Dale Batterman, a former long-distance trucker, then drove it to a Miami shipyard, where it was lifted onto a freighter and shipped south to Haiti.
After it arrived and spent requisite months clearing customs, Jacquet was able to claim the bus and have it readied for the rugged terrain of Haiti. He had air brakes installed so it could handle the mountainous roads.
At last, in late March, it was ready to begin a new life.
Gross, who travels to Haiti regularly and will be taking a youth group from St. Catherine of Alexandria in Oak Lawn this June, keeps in close contact with Jacquet.
“He received the bus about eight months after we started the project. And, yes he did get all the supplies,” she said.
The new taxi service will be a big asset for the people of Jeremie, she said, “because in the past it took several days to make the trip and there were often accidents along the way.”
Many have been killed en route. The alternative to navigating the unfinished road was to take a ferry, which is faster but is often overloaded and dangerous. Ferry accidents, she said, led to Jacquet starting the orphanage in the first place.