LAKELAND — The church group from this St. Croix Valley city had been warned about visiting Haiti. The earthquake-shattered Caribbean nation was dangerous. Disease was rampant; clean water and food were in short supply.
It was not the place a group of good-hearted Midwesterners should visit, even if their intentions were good.
“At first it was a safety concern,” said Sheila Friedrichs. “The media portrayed Haiti as unsafe.”
What Friedrichs and and the rest of the EIGHT-person group from St. Croix Valley United Methodist Church in Lakeland found in Haiti, however, were people grateful for any help from the many American church groups doing mission work in a nation still struggling to recover from a powerful earthquake nearly three years ago.
“I felt they were 98 percent wrong,” said mission group member Norma Baker about media reports on conditions in Haiti. “We did not feel uncomfortable about our safety.”
One reason the St. Croix Valley group felt safe, according to Baker, was because the Twin Cities-based Praying Pelicans Mission group coordinated their Haiti trip. She said Praying Pelicans representatives met the St. Croix Valley UMC group at the Port-au-Prince airport, drove them to their hotel in Carrefour outside Port-au-Prince, set up the Valley group at a worksite and provided food and drinking water.
“Actually, once I talked the the organization’s leaders and coordinators, they totally put me at ease,” Friedrichs said about Praying Pelicans. “They had systems in place for safe food, safe drinking water. That’s what really made up my mind, talking to the organization.”
Baker said the St. Croix Valley group spent their Aug. 4-10 trip working in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Mariani.
“We did construction, cement work. We did bucket brigades with sand and concrete to be used as floors,” she said.
“The first half of our days, we had a lot of bucket work,” said 15-year-old Alaina Friedrichs, the youngest member of the group and daughter of Sheila Friedrichs.
“I happened to be on the empty bucket side with kids. That was fun,” added the incoming Stillwater Area High School sophomore.
Alaina Friedrichs said buckets were perhaps the group’s most important tool on the construction project.
“There’s no machinery down there. There’s no infrastructure. It’s very manual,” she said.
“It’s two-and-a-half years after the earthquake, but they just don’t have the resources to repair things,” Baker said.
She added that the group learned the hardships Haitians face trying to rebuild during their trips form the airport to their hotel and to their work site in Mariani.
“Every day our bus would travel by a three-block long dump and you would see children searching through it for things to eat and sell,” she said. “You would see animals feeding there.
“Roads are another indication,” Baker noted. “It’s hard for them to get everything in order.”
When not helping rebuild the church, Baker and Alaina Friedrichs said the St. Croix Valley UMC group cared for children orphaned by the quake.
“We played, sang, we did sports things with the children of Mariani,” Baker said,
“We worked with kids at the church and the orphans,” Alaina Friedrichs added. “It was a lot of playing with kids. It was cool to see how they looked up to us. I have long blonde hair and they (kids) were fascinated by it.”
Haitian adults were happy for any help the St. Croix Valley UMC group and other American mission groups have provided since the earthquake because much of the promised aid from other countries has not reached Haiti, Baker said.
“Many countries have not given money to rebuild,” she said. “They are thankful for the American mission teams coming to help.”
For Alaina Friedrichs, the trip to Haiti fulfilled her desire to experience a different culture and see the earthquake damage first hand.
“I wanted to go down there and see for myself,” she said. “When we went down there, we went to a church service and it was three hours long in a different language.”
One thing Baker said she noticed was how many Haitians have turned to Christianity and away from voodoo in the wake of the earthquake and the influence of visiting mission groups.
“There’s a sweep of Christianity going across Haiti,” she said.
And while the Haiti trip cost about $2,000 per person for the St. Croix Valley UMC group, Baker and Alaina Friedrichs both said they would like to make another mission trip to Haiti.
“I’ve been to 10 countries on mission trips,” Baker said. “I want to do more mission trips. We do not have a date, but we are going to do (another) mission trip to Haiti.”
“I’m very happy I did it and I would do it again,” Alaina Friedrichs added. “I have the opportunity to come back here and tell people what Haiti is and what it isn’t. I’m just glad I can come back and tell people what Haiti is really like.”
Want to learn more
St. Croix Valley United Methodist Church hosts a potluck dinner at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 28 where members who traveled to Haiti will discuss their trip.