Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
MIAMI GARDENS | A math teacher, an English teacher, and a fine arts teacher, led by a theology teacher, cross a river in Haiti. Mountains surround them, banana trees dot the slopes. It’s typical Caribbean scenery, rugged yet tropical. Ankle-deep water rushes by as the group pose for photos.
It sounds like the start of a Travel Channel special, but these teachers from Msgr. Edward Pace High School were not traveling to Haiti for vacation. They went on a mission trip.
Andres Novela, director of Campus Ministry and theology teacher at Pace, has made the trek as many as three times a year with Amor en Accion, the official missionary organization of the Archdiocese of Miami. Pace High students also have gone on mission trips after graduation.
But this was the first time Novela traveled with members of Pace’s faculty: math teacher Courtney Bloom, English teacher Pascale Reseau, and fine arts teacher Marcel Navarro.
‘Crazy’ first impressions
From Nov. 9-15, 2017, the group traveled throughout Miami’s sister diocese of Port de Paix in northwest Haiti. They visited villages and towns, hiked mountains, visited hospitals and artisanal ateliers, and rode through bumpy roads, praying they would not get stuck in the mud. Most importantly, however, they met people.
“It’s like Google Earthing a location that you’ve always wanted to visit,” said Novela. “You can’t compare the two. You have to slow down and take a look. There are people’s lives here.”
Navarro summarized many of his first impressions: “crazy” and “awesome.”
“They prepared us, but I didn’t know what to expect until I was there,” he said as he described trying to process the slower pace of life as well as the sights unique to Haiti. “You can explain and describe, but until you do the walk yourself you won’t know how awesome the experience can be.”
Weeks later, they look back at the pictures and agree: The camera cannot capture the fullness of their experience.
“I look at my phone and it’s a good picture, but I appreciate that I was there,” said Bloom. “I go back there in my mind.”
Many Haitians pegged him as a native and began speaking to him in Creole. “It was a little uneasy,” he said.
Fortunately, Novela speaks Creole and Reseau is a native. “Pascale lit up every time she spoke in Creole,” Novela said.
Despite the language barrier, none of the group said they ever felt like outsiders. Everywhere they went, people greeted them warmly.
“The pace of life is so much slower that people take time to look,” said Novela. “The humanity is expressed more fully in how they interact with one another.”
One of the highlights for the teachers was visiting Pace’s sister schools in Perou, Lormand and Moulin. They delivered school supplies and chatted with students and faculty.
Thanks to money raised by Pace students and faculty over the years, the schools have evolved from tarp roofs over concrete blocks to sturdier roofs and structures with windows that allow light and ventilation to enter classrooms. The supplies delivered with every Amor en Accion mission trip are precious.
Seeing the children in their uniforms, greeting guests in unison, evoked nostalgia in Reseau, who lived in Haiti until age 13. “I really enjoyed speaking with them, hearing them laugh and sing,” she said. “They had a great time watching Marcel jump rope with them.”
Navarro, who has a long beard, was called by many Tonton Nwèl, or Santa Claus, in Creole. Seeing Santa jump rope brought smiles to many students.
Inside the classrooms, Pace teachers were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the students.
“You have kids in the states that come up with a thousand different reasons not to do something, or miss an assignment, or not even go to school,” said Navarro. “It’s totally opposite in Haiti.”
Bloom agreed. “It’s not that we don’t value education like others do, but you can see it over there that it is a big deal,” he said. Education there means the desire to learn things, which is “what I think education should be. It shouldn’t be boiled down to test scores and grades” like it is in the U.S.
No abridged version
While the teachers have not figured out how to use their lessons in the classroom, they do feel an overwhelming need to share their journey.
“There is no abridged version of sharing the experience,” said Reseau, who tried to journal most of her time in Haiti.
One particular memory stands out as a perfect good-bye moment, she said: the school children running after their departing truck, waving and smiling.
As the only woman on the trip, the youngest one of the bunch, and the newest faculty member at Pace, she also treasures the bond she developed with her fellow missionary teachers.
Bloom said he also enjoyed the bonding time. Regardless of the arduousness of the day’s trek, at the end of each day they sat down at a dinner table, wherever they were and whoever they were with, and shared as a family.
“You see a totally different side of people when you walk with them,” said Bloom. “And the love that they have for the community moves you when you see people loving people like that.”
Navarro said he’s thinking of using his artistic skills to process the experience. “I think I’m going to be debriefing for a while, and I think I’m going to go back.”
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