With love from American soil
By ROXANNE DASS
A Brooklyn couple has dedicated their time to helping those in Haiti.
Rodney and Carol Horrigan have offered their time, money and talents to better the lives of those living in Haiti even before the earthquake that devastated the nation's capitol city of Port-au-Prince.
“It’s been so touching to work with people who have nothing but the love in their hearts,” said Rodney.
Over the past several years, the couple has been involved with Touch Ministries, a Christian missionary-based ministry run by Gary and Carol Walker of West Virginia.
The Horrigans have been to Haiti six times over the past several years, working in Saint Marc, about 75 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, in the El Shaddai School.
Most recently, Carol and the couple’s 14-year-old adopted son Spencer went to El Shaddai from Sept. 8 to Dec. 22, 2009.
El Shaddai is an English-speaking school with American standards for education, said Carol. The school uses the A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education) Program, which is used by many home educators in the United States.
Each student who attends the school is given an academic evaluation upon entering the school. Whatever academic level the student scores on the test is where he starts.
“Their age doesn’t matter,” said Carol. “We had a 25-year-old man doing second-grade work.”
The students are required to finish six paces, or books, and score 80 percent or higher to go onto the next level.
While in Haiti, Spencer, normally a student at BGM schools, completed a semester of work using the same program as the Haitian students. The school runs from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Monday to Friday. On Friday nights, Carol ran a chapel service for children of the streets. “I used puppets and skits to act out Bible stories,” said Carol.
Then, on Saturday morning, Carol would teach an Old Testament survey class at the Bible college, again acting out several stories from the Bible. The class consisted of 75 Haitian students. “Most of the students had no television and all their education was done by rote memory,” said Carol. “They were just riveted to see their lessons acted out.”
When Carol gave her last lesson at the Bible college, two of her students hugged her with “a passionate, thankful grip.”
NATION OF POVERTY
Haiti is the poorest country of the Americas and the Western World and the Horrigans lived by meager means when they visited the country.
The temperature, said Carol, was usually around 85 to the mid-90s. One day the heat index reached almost 130 degrees. And, to top it off, there was no air conditioning, all the missionaries had was a fan.
“Luckily the house had a generator because we only had about three days with electricity,” said Carol.
Carol and Spencer’s shower handles were vice grips and when they would take a shower, they tried to use no more than one gallon of water.
Even then, their used shower water would be saved.
“We would use the shower water to flush the stool,” said Carol. “There was a saying, OIf it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
For most American children, such a change would be a culture shock, but Spencer has experienced these living conditions before, going on a mission trip with his parents to Africa in the past.
Their clothes were handwashed, their beds were on cement blocks and their meals almost always consisted of rice, beans and bananas, but they were still better off than most living in Haiti.
“Most Haitians only make a dollar for a day’s work, and that’s if they even get paid for that work,” said Carol. Carol said the nation’s poverty was evident everywhere they went and was also a reason why the buildings of Port-au-Prince were so badly damaged.
“They have no infrastructure; everything is done by hand,” she said. “The bricks they use for their buildings are made by hand and there’s actually very little cement inside of them.”
As Carol and Spencer drove through Saint Marc or to Port-au-Prince for supplies, roads were little more than dirt paths; bridges and canals were built by hand, and sewage would empty into the streets.
“It’s a beautiful country when you get away from the filth,” said Carol.
WHY DO IT?
Most people would wonder why the Horrigans would trade in a comfortable lifestyle for harsh life in another country.
There are several reasons, said Carol.
One is because the Haitians need their help, especially the children.
One of Carol’s students, named Jefferson, was failing almost all his paces and was far behind other students on his level. One day he said to her,
“Miss Carol, my dad says I’m no good.” Carol replied, “Jefferson, we’re going to prove to yourself that you’re good and then your dad.”
After that, Carol would have the other students give Jefferson a standing ovation when he received a 100 percent on his tests. A couple months into the program, Jefferson was ahead of his classmates and doing well on his schoolwork.
One day he walked up to Carol and said, “Miss Carol, I’m good.”
Another story involved a young boy named Hensen. He was brought to Haiti by his mother, a native Haitian, saying they were going on vacation. When they arrived at Saint Marc, she dropped him off at his uncle's house and left, never to be heard from again.
Hensen proved to be a bit of a troublemaker in class until one day he asked Carol if he could call her “Mom” and she said yes.
“He would still get in trouble sometimes, but all little boys do,” said Carol.
The Brooklyn Kiwanis Club members gave $500 out of their own pockets to provide a chicken leg meal for the students at the school. Most of the children had never even seen a chicken leg in their life.
“They would divide five chicken hindquarters between 100 people,” said Carol. “Some of the children had no idea how to eat their chicken legs.”
Making a difference in the lives of the children and the people of Haiti is why they keep going back, said Carol.
The Horrigans also said they continue to visit the country because it is their Christian duty.
“Jesus said to OGo out to the world and preach the Gospel,’” said Rodney.
“Americans seem to have changed it to invite people in instead of go out to the populace.”
Carol felt every one is worth saving through the Word. “They have a soul, just like we do,” she said. “They don’t have the exposure through television and churches to the Christian Word like we do in America. At best, they are 50 years behind us.”
EFFECTS OF QUAKE
With the recent earthquake, the Horrigans hope the Haitian people don’t fall farther behind.
“Now there are no roads, no banks are open, they don’t have access to anything,” said Carol.
But, said Carol, thanks to the grace of God, no one they knew from Saint Marc was killed or injured by the earthquake.
“Things got shook up, but no one was hurt,” said Rodney. “Everyone was not affected physically, but emotionally, everyone was.”
According to the Horrigans, all the staff and students at El Shaddai lost at least one family member to the earthquake. One staff member lost his entire family.
The Horrigons said they don’t plan to go back to Haiti for a while, but they do plan to continue helping the tropical nation by sending money.
“The best thing to do is send money because if you mail items, it takes more money to send it through customs and send it down there,” said Rodney. “We use Agape Flights because they deliver the supplies directly to missionaries and volunteers.”
And, the Horrigans pray the Haitian people they have come to love will continue to strive to come through their most recent tragedy.
“They are a wonderful, beautiful people,” said Rodney. “I hope they have the strength to get through this.”
The Horrigans have gone on mission trips to both Ghana and Haiti on several occasions.
For more information on Agape Flights, visit the Web site www.agapeflights.com.
For a list of Haitian relief charitable organizations, visit the Web site
UPDATED February 3, 2010 5:20 PM