(Written by Lynn)
Every other Saturday the widows are invited to the Church for food distribution. Pastor Francois instigated the program because, as he likes to remind us, the Bible says, “Pure religion and undefiled is this, to care for the fatherless and widows in their affliction.”
The widows arrive early, asking if there will be food today, even though they know it won’t begin until after noon. Sometimes Pastor doesn’t know for sure until the very morning whether he can afford the rations. By 9am there are many women sitting quietly on benches in the courtyard. Most are elderly but there are also many young widows in Pignon. And again, they greet each of us with big smiles and Bon jours. A couple of the old widows bring a child with them whom they care for.
(Sista’ Este and I have witnessed a funeral procession nearly every day since we’ve been in Haiti. Death is common here in Haiti, usually due to malnutrition or illness – illnesses that would be easily treatable in the States. I find it interesting that even though death is a daily occurrence in this small town, each death is honored with full ritual: the coffin is carried through the streets accompanied by music and many fancily dressed townspeople. One evening we encountered many trucks filled to over-flowing with young men and women bouncing along uneven road, enroute to a funeral service. Today we saw a baby’s coffin – 3mos old, carried into a church.)
Yes, there are many widows in Pignon. Many of the orphanage children take part in helping organize for the handout: the boys come in the gate with 50 or 100 bags of rice or beans; Edianne (14yrs) is helping the workers fill smaller bags of rice and beans for each woman; Sista Este helps with the beans, and I help fill recycled water bottles with a liter of cooking oil. Pastor’s not happy with my first attempts and makes me go back and top them all off – “they need the full amount!”
There are 20 widows enrolled in the program now. Last Widows Day I got in trouble because I was standing at the door and an old woman came up with a battered, dirty water bottle, “Souple’?” she asks. Please? “Of course, I say – come in.” Wrong. She isn’t in the program. This is a difficult thing for me emotionally, even though intellectually I understand there is only so much. It happens at the medical clinic too – there has to be criteria followed so that some may depend on the help. The criteria for the widows is that pastor knows their situation: that they are “true widows” and have no other family to take care of them.
(Regarding death…one of the resident artists here – there’s 3 that continually bring drawings to me and Este’- Jubli’ 11yrs just handed me a drawing including The Childrens’ Home, flowers, trees, and airplane, and an elaborate truck with a dead body laying in the back. Yesterday he gave me a drawing of a beautiful small house with a family holding hands and walking up its path – my eyes filled as I pointed to the figures: “Mama?” I asked, “Papa?” He answered with a shy smile, “Oui” and “Sista, Bratha.”)
When the food bags and oil bottles are ready, pastor greets the women, tells them he loves and respects them, is happy to see them. Then he tells them who contributed for this Saturday’s food. One of the women stood to thank Pastor “for not being hypocrite, but being honest man who don’t keep everything to himself, but shares everything.” She also thanked me and Esther. I asked Pastor to tell them that when I get back to the United States, I will ask my friends and family to help support this program for them. But I’m not sure he told them that. Instead he told me about a visitor in December who told the widows he would continue to help them, but he left and they never heard from him again. It IS INDEED easy to get excited in the high emotion of the moment, and promise all kinds of things. But I feel confident there are enough of us who care, that we could make this happen, right? Make sure these widows eat, at least a couple times a month?
Here’s the cost breakdown – surprising to me that many prices in Haiti are comparable, or even higher than in the US – but makes sense due to shipping. A 100 lb bag of beans, and 200lbs of rice each cost $150 – with oil, the cost comes to $350 per widow day, so $700 a month- a lot for ANY church to support. We are asking the Church to absorb some of the cost or supplies (10%) through its congregation. It is important for the members of the church to also fulfill their duty in taking care of the widows. But Pastor is feeding 35 orphans, paying workers, maintaining buildings, and helping the widows when there is extra. Madam runs a sewing center, which, besides bringing in revenue, trains young women with a valuable skill. The Church runs a school which brings in some tuition from neighbor children.
“I cannot do all the good the world needs. But the world needs all the good I can do.” Mother Teresa