Mary Maher holding a Haitian baby. Mary, center, and two other volunteers on board a bus to take them to the airport for a flight back to the United States.

Home safely despite Haiti unrest

Mary Maher is safely home following a mission trip to Haiti that included unrest and an attempted overthrow of the Prime Minister that forced a delayed flight back to the United States.

Maher is a native of Currie and a 1974 Tracy High School graduate. She lived in Porter and worked in Minneota for several years for Dr. Schulte’s dental office and also as a Success Coach at the high school before moving to Marshall.

Her four daughters all attended school in Minneota. This was Maher’s third mission trip, following a trip to Jamaica two years ago and one to Vietnam last year.

“My goal is to go on a mission trip every year,” the personable Maher said.

“I’ve had a good life and I want to give back now.” And what we have here in the States is a far cry from the lifestyle of Haiti; the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Maher joined a former high school classmate that lives in Rosemount and 14 others on this mission trip through the Church of St. Joseph.

Even though the entire time spent in Haiti was an eye-opener for Maher and others working with the Mission of Hope project that assists needy families, it was the end of the trip that will be unforgettable.

When Haiti Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant recently called for an increase of up to 51 percent of fuel prices, violent protests erupted in the streets. At least seven people died and dozens of businesses were looted. Lafontant resigned his position this past Sunday.

“Their idea was to stop traffic so they put up roadblocks everywhere,” said Maher about those protesting. “They used rocks, cement blocks, wood and anything else they could find. And they lit tires on fire which caused a lot of thick black smoke.”

When it was time for several of the approximately 300 mission workers from all over the United States to leave the Mission of Hope compound and return home on Saturday (July 7), they were awoken at 4:30 a.m. and told to quickly pack their luggage and get on a bus so they could get to the airport and avoid the unrest on the streets.

“We were supposed to leave later than that, but they figured we could get out of there easier if we left early in the morning likes that,” said Maher.

“We had 20 minutes to get ready. We had brought our own sheets along, so we stripped our beds so we could donate the sheets to the Haitian people.”

“The bus we got on was like an old school bus. We were pretty packed in there and then we had to wait 45 minutes to an hour to see if we could get on the road.”

With all roads out of the city being blocked, the mission workers exited the bus, but were told to leave their luggage on board in case there was a road available and they would have to leave in a hurry.

Around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday (July 8), Maher and others were told to re-board the bus and they would be taken to the main Mission of Hope campus that would be supplied with food and water, and is also located closer to the airport.

“We were really crammed in the bus because the aisles were full of mattresses that we all had taken with us with so we had somewhere to sleep that night in the other mission place,” Maher said.

“Some of the buses had armed guards on them. And because of the protesting, we were told to keep the windows up on the bus. That was really uncomfortable because it was always so hot (in Haiti) every day and we were so packed together in that bus.”

There was a convoy of seven or eight buses carrying the mission volunteers, led by a unique bulldozer-like truck. “I’ve never seen a truck quite like that,” Maher said.

“It was called a King of the Road. It went ahead of all the buses and knocked all the roadblocks out of the way so the buses could get through.”

“The Mission of Hope has a good relationship with the people of Haiti. So they didn’t throw any rocks or anything at our bus. We could see all the roadblocks and fires everywhere, though.”

After reaching the campus after dark on Sunday night, Maher and others set up their beds and mosquito netting. Mosquitoes are prevalent in Haiti and malaria is common, so the mission volunteers took malaria pills.

Maher was still unable to get a flight out on Monday, but she and some others were able to finally reserve a seat on a flight on Tuesday morning (July 10). But the bus ride to the airport proved nerve-wracking for Maher and the other riders.

There was an interpreter on board, but no armed guard.

“Everything was going fine, but the traffic was horrible,” said Maher. “People were passing us on the right and the left.”

“And then a ‘Tap-Tap’ (privately owned share taxis) that had eight to ten people in it and a load of bananas tried to cut in front of our bus and we hit them and blew their tire out.”

The men angrily jumped out of the Tap-Tap and began picking up rocks to throw at the bus driver. The interpreter, who was a large man, was able to quell the anger by calming the men down and having someone come and change their tire and pay for it.”

“There was a time when I was a little scared or nervous,” said Maher.

“We had five or six 15 and 16 year olds on our bus. But the interpreter assured us that the men were only angry with the driver and would not harm any of us.”

Because the accident caused a delay, Maher made it to the airport just as they began boarding for the flight she would take. “We had to go through immigration and a security checkpoint first,” she said.

“But they let us go through pretty quickly. So I just made it on time to catch the flight. I was quite relieved to finally get on the plane.”

The flight took only one hour and 43 minutes before it landed in Miami. Maher later took another flight to Minneapolis and then drove home to Marshall on Wednesday (July 11).

“It felt so good to sleep in my own bed,” Maher remarked.

Planting trees

One of the main tasks the mission workers performed was planting several trees in Haiti to replace those lost in an earthquake and that villagers cut down to use for firewood.

“The Haitian people cut down the trees and use the wood to cook with,” said Maher. “They eat a lot of carbs like rice and beans.”

Another project the group had planned was to build a house in the village of Bercy.

“After the earthquake, they made these blue-tarped houses for the people,” said Maher.

“A lot of them are still living in them.”

But because of the hot sun, chemicals are leaking out of the plastic tarp and the people living in them are becoming ill.

So the mission clubs are building homes for them. “It’s in the upper 90s every day there,” said Maher.

“And the soil there is rock hard. And there isn’t much vegetation at all because it’s so hot and they don’t get much rain.”

The group Maher was with had to scrap the plans to build the home when it was rumored there had been a murder in the neighborhood and it wouldn’t be safe for them.

Other assistance

Each mission volunteer purchased two goats for $75 and donated them to a family through a mission program.

When the goats have offspring, the family is required to return one of them to Mission of Hope so they can be sold to another volunteer.

“We also purchased a water filter on a five-gallon pail and gave to people in the village so they could have clean water,” said Maher.

“And we gave them some things like Frisbees because they really don’t have much at all.”

Conditions not ideal

The mission volunteers slept in bunks with three-inch mattresses.

They dined mainly on rice and beans, although they brought along things like peanut butter, cereal and bottled water. Showers available in the compound were cold and those using them were urged to conserve water by shutting it off when soaping up, and turning it back on to rinse off.

“The biggest thing that surprised me there was that only about one-third of the population works,” Maher told.

“And there are very few places to shop, so the people sit around a lot.”

There also is no garbage service in some areas of Haiti, so there is trash lying everywhere. “I think everyone in the United States should have to go on a mission trip to a third World country to learn to appreciate what we have here,” said Maher.

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