Last month I again had the privilege of leading a group to visit our friends and partners at CONASPEH in Haiti.   The group consisted of Dianne Doherty and myself from First Church; David Entin, Pauline Bassett, and Heidi Rademacher from First Churches in Northampton; Ayesha Ali, nursing professor at AIC, with five nurses and students.


One purpose of these trips is to see with our own eyes what is going on at CONASPEH and try to determine if the help that First Church has provided over the years is being effective. This goal can be difficult to determine during a short visit, but overall things seemed to be going well.   The school was very busy, the students seemed happy and active, and many small improvements were noted. The ceilings and interior walls are being finished in the school building, glass windows are being installed, the utility building to house equipment for the trade schools is nearly complete, and a new (at least to Haiti) yellow school bus sits proudly in the school yard read for service next fall. The nursing mannequins and textbooks   and beds are in a secure place and appear to being used. There is now a lecture hall on the second floor lined with shelves of books that Nancy Marshall kept insisting that we carry down on previous trips. The water truck to fill the cistern for the flush toilets in the headquarters building came one day.


The main purpose of our visit is to share knowledge with CONASPEH students and here the results are more apparent. Dianne did an effective job teaching the basics of small business development. In the mornings, she taught a group of pastors and in the afternoons, a group of university students and teachers. She was able to solicit a few specific business proposals that will need some start-up funding.   David helped with teaching leadership skills and Pauline teaching team learning and networking skills. Heidi, who is fluent in French, helped with the translations and shared her passion for knitting with the students.


Ayesha Ali and the students again interacted with the CONASPEH nurses, by examining healthy students together and using the mannequins together. Eric Ruiz again taught CPR to the nursing students. Since he is now a certified instructor, he was able to hand out certificates, legitimately, afterwards. Unfortunately, there was not time for distribution of the eyeglasses that Dan Bausch had collected, but that will happen later. The nursing kits collected by Mary Friedman last Christmas were given to Madam Chery, the new nursing director.


The other purpose of these trips is to introduce and reintroduce the problems, complexities, and wonders of Haiti to people. This time we saw some of the beauty of Haiti by going to a local beach because school was cancelled due to a partial traffic ban. We also visited a nursing school in Leogone that is the first private nursing school to offer a four-year baccalaureate degree. The hope is that CONASPEH can be the second such school.


The long-term effects of such a trip is harder to measure.   One student nurse announced that she was going to change her career choice and go into international nursing. Others are already planning how to help re-establish the micro loan fund at CONASPEH or to help individuals with their business plans or graduate education. I think all return home more humble, more appreciative, more thankful, and more willing to work to help the less fortunate, no matter where they are.


More reports are available on the First Church Forum in the Haiti Matters section, available here.


Mark Pohlman



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