A call to prayer: Parishes help in Haiti
Local churches unite to provide relief to Haitians
Katie Moggio, who just finished her junior year at Westminster Christian School in Palmettto, spent part of her summer vacation amid the rubble of Haiti.
Wendy Bourgault, a Pompano Beach mom of three, has been there and is planning to return this fall.
They and hundreds of church members throughout South Florida have been volunteering to help Haiti rebuild from the Jan. 12 earthquake.
They have brought food and water while helping build orphanages and other buildings.
They have toiled under terrible conditions, working under the scorching sun. But they have focused on the task at hand.
Through the pain and struggle, volunteers are grateful for the experience. It’s been life-changing, they say.
“Learning about conditions in Haiti has helped our community to put life in perspective,’’ said Bourgault, program coordinator at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Pompano Beach.
“We are so very blessed here in the United States. School is free; we can catch a bus if our parents can’t drive us…not so in Haiti.
“While it is not free, clean water is available in our homes, not so in most areas of Haiti. Electricity, phone, food…so much that we take for granted.”
While learning about this is important, she said, nothing is like being there – smelling the smells, meeting the people, hearing their stories first hand.
The volunteers, Bourgault added, were needed to help with what can be an overwhelming amount of work to remove rubble and rebuild the country. She quoted a Haitian proverb: Men anpil, chay pa lou, or Many hands make the burden light.
Religious bonds have inspired congregations in South Florida to reach out to Haiti, where a little less than half the population is illiterate.
The volunteering has also helped bring church members closer.
“We have a large Haitian community and right after the earthquake we had a prayer service and the whole community came together to pray together,’’ Bourgault said.
“All the walls that can be insurmountable between cultures seemed to crumble.’’
The enthusiasm to help has spread to young groups at churches. Most kids eagerly await their summer vacation, but a youth group at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, a Catholic church in Cutler Bay, could hardly wait for the break so they could volunteer in Haiti.
They have helped keep local efforts strong to aid Haiti. So have other young people throughout South Florida.
Both adults and teenagers at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary have raised $55,000 along with El Shaddai Ministries International to rebuild an orphanage for more than 200 children.
The nonprofit El Shaddai Ministries International promotes evangelism through education and empathy.
Moggio, 17, was one of the first to sign up to help rebuild. Fourteen other teenagers volunteered to help the orphans in Port-au-Prince.
They ranged in age from 14 to 20 years old. They flew from Fort Lauderdale along with project directors and parents.
Moggio proposed the idea to her parents who had doubts considering stories they had heard about kidnappings in Haiti, especially of foreigners.
“My first reaction was there’s no way she’s going, but the more I prayed about the trip and the more I saw how enthusiastic Katie was about helping this devastated country, I know it was where she was supposed to be,’’ said her mother Jan Moggio.
“The minute she got off the plane I could tell that the children and experience had changed her life forever.”
Moggio returned to her hometown a new person, showing more compassion and understanding for others, a quality she has been developing since her enrollment in youth group at age 4.
She said she had been moved by volunteering in Haiti, to build the new home for the orphans while working with the children.
“We used dancing, singing, and raising spirits as a form of communication with the children,” Moggio said.
Now she realizes how lucky she is.