By Mary Jane Buchanan
All Saints Outreach Committee
During World War I churches and women's groups with great care and love prepared comfort packages for US service men in Europe. Parcels often included shaving cream, razors, socks, tobacco, and liquor (yes, liquor). Apparently, lavender water was also included in the contents. This must have confused many of the young soldiers unaccustomed to the toilette of ladies. Many assumed that the liquid had medicinal application as a gargling solution. Rather than appear silly in the presence of their peers, pride served only to strengthen their commitment to folly. As history has the peevish propensity of repeating it self, I find myself experiencing my own kind of lavender gargle as we prepare for our first visit to St. Syprien, Haiti.
Being new at the works of Outreach, I depend heavily on the example of those more experienced: Rebecca Tinsley, whose mission has been medical aide and schooling for survivors of African genocide, outlined for me the challenges of working in a different country and culture. The work of Betsey and David Kain with Goats for Life gave me an observable model of how to energize and promote a project. And, David Boyd's work for Transition House is a reminder that a commitment should be a long lasting relationship that endures beyond any single individual.
To begin, I had to repeatedly acknowledge that on occasion I have strong opinions about things of which I know nothing. Asking questions began the Outreach Committee's conversations with our parish priest, Pere Soner; our challenge has been the willingness to accept the answers.
On March 14, 2013, Susan Evans, Father Bob and I met with our Diocesan advisor Serena Beeks to plan our itinerary for May, 2013. Serena had provided us charming travel narratives of what to bring, what to wear, shots to get, matters of local currency and useful phrases in Creole. It has been my experience that Episcopalians are extremely companionable travelers, so it is no small wonder that much of our planning involved how to be a good guest and what we should bring to show our appreciation to our hosts.
Already, I had proposed to the Outreach Committee that Syd Walker and I bring a second suitcase of children's books. The cost would be $150 both ways to check a second bag each of up to 40 pounds. I imagined that we could return with a sampling of Haitian art to share with the church and preschool.
The Outreach Committee eagerly offered their support. Funds were allocated to cover the transportation costs of the second bags. A list of books was needed as well as a source for purchase. My hair was on fire with enthusiasm. Barbara Askew took the initiative to contact Mary Collier for French books she could suggest.
Scanning the internet, I found many of my childhood favorites: Babar the Little Elephant, Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Madeline, Cinderella as a parade of Disney characters clicked across my monitor. Ding-a-ling a moment of clarity came: Having grown up in a world of Barbie and Ken, with the outstanding exception of Babar the Elephant, my list of books were a collection of stories about white girls and princesses. I had also failed to ask the question whether the books should be in French, Kreole or both. Immediately I write to our parish priest, Pere Soner for suggestions.
As always, Pere Soner answered quickly: "Please, do not bring storybooks for the children. They will only be eaten by mice and ruined by the rain. Perhaps, some retractable ballpoint pens."
Some pens! I was sorely disappointed and inclined to ignore his response. I could not fathom an educator telling me not to bring books to a school. I forwarded Pere Soner's email to Serena, hoping she would encourage me to pursue my plan. Her response was surprising:
"My experience has been that in the countryside children and adults alike are TOTALLY unacquainted with the notion of reading for pleasure or even for information. There are no books or any kind of printed material available except the state curriculum and sometimes not even that. This is one area where I've decided to be subversive ..."
Only a month away from our visit to Haiti, and we needed help.
Help arrived in the person of the Rev. Betsey Hooper-Rosebrook, our guest preacher on Sunday, April 14. She met with members of the congregation after the 10 o'clock service and spoke of her experiences in Haiti and shared the usefulness of a sewing machine. Our Senior Warden, Chip Nichols, shot off an email to me with a suggestion.
Back on course, Chip Nichols and Susan Evans pulled together the details. We learned that a company named Janome makes treadle sewing machines for the Amish. The machines work off pedal power rather than electricity. A machine weighs about 13 pounds and costs $245. The table and pedal wheel are separate components. Syd Walker volunteered to help in the transportation and the assembly of the machine and table when we arrive in Haiti. Pere Soner is delighted with the idea, and I am much relieved not to be delivering a suitcase full of lavender water to our host in Haiti.
The Outreach Committee expresses our profound gratitude for the privilege of working with this project on behalf of All Saints By-The-Sea. Indeed, it is rare that any one of us is given the chance to participate in such an extraordinary undertaking as building a school. It is my hope that many parishioners of All Saints will visit our partner parish in St. Syprien, returning with the lightness of spirit we have seen in those we follow.
To donate new retractable ballpoint pens (all colors), please contact Mary Jane Buchanan at (805) 570-7158 or MaryJaneIngalls@Gmail.com. The school at St. Syprien has approximately 260 students and 8 teachers.