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Claude Gagnon in Haiti

Claude Gagnon ’53 with young friends in Haiti

Haitian hospital
Members of the medical mission group minister to injured refugees fleeing from Port-au-Prince.

February 2010

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Disaster in Haiti prompts immediate response and plans for future aid

When, for more than 20 years, you have helped build better lives for needy children in Haiti, seeing broadcast footage of the destruction in the country caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake affects you deeply.

“It was overwhelming, shocking,” said Claude Gagnon ’53. “The devastation was so complete. I immediately wondered how many people survived.”

Gagnon made his first mission trip to Haiti in 1988. Much of his volunteerism continues to be devoted to three Haitian orphanages. He returned from his latest visit to the country on Dec. 15.

“I was down there working on some special projects,” he said. “We are attempting to start a bakery to support the orphanage (Trinity House) in Jacmel. We are also working on roasting coffee beans. Jacmel had a lot of damage.”

The building of a second orphanage Gagnon serves collapsed in the quake.

“It’s located in a suburb of Port-au-Prince,” he said. “Fortunately most of the children were outside at the time when the earthquake hit. Two people were seriously injured, but are expected to survive. One person was killed.”

Wings of Hope, an orphanage located in the mountains, suffered substantial structural damage. Gagnon was able to contact several friends in Haiti, but has yet to reach others.

“In Cité Soleil, a very poor part of Port-au-Prince, I have a number of friends who run schools and feeding programs,” he said. “I’m still trying to contact them.”

Gagnon has made multiple mission trips to Haiti most years. His stays have become longer with each visit, he said. The service has included projects ranging from vocational training to constructing freshwater wells. He hopes the earthquake brings attention to the needs of the Haitian people.

Gagnon is planning to return to Haiti in the spring. He praised the Haitian people for their resiliency, which will serve them well in this dire time.

“They have a very strong spirit,” he said, “but their spirit is not enough. They need help.

“Most people didn’t have the vaguest idea where (Haiti) was,” he said. “This destruction will make people aware. They’ve always needed help and haven’t gotten it.”

Early to the rescue
Biology and pre-med major Emily Klug ’11 was on a medical mission in the Dominican Republic with a church group from Wausau when the earthquake struck. She felt the quake, but was unsure what had happened.

“I was shadowing one of the surgeons at the time when I began to feel this rocking,” she said. “I began to feel nauseous. None of us knew about the destruction until we searched online.”

Following the earthquake, the group, along with two Dominican doctors, made their way to the Haiti border equipped with medical supplies.

“It was too dangerous to try to go into Haiti,” said Klug. “They opened the borders so there were a lot of people going to the Dominican Republic.”

The mission group joined a surgical team from a church in Illinois to volunteer at a hospital and then a vacant clinic.

“A lot of the people had lacerations and cuts,” said Klug, who assisted by handing out medications. “I was working on adrenaline.”

Klug, who plans to attend medical school, said she regretted having to return home. “I felt guilty leaving,” she said. “I would love to go back.”

Confronting the disaster on campus
The college is promoting donations in support of Haiti through Catholic Relief Services. Posters on campus provide information on text message donations. Ed’s Café is offering “Hearts for Haiti” for purchase as a means of contributing. A fund-raising dance is also being planned.

“Personally, I’m really curious to see how (students) react to it,” said Bob Pyne, director of the Peace and Justice Center. “I’m anticipating that a large number will want to know what they can do. [In Haiti] they do not need general labor at this time, but maybe at some point there’s a service trip opportunity.”

Pyne was among several from the campus community who found themselves scheduled to preach on the Sunday following the disaster. He faced the need to address, in his message at Green Bay Community Church, the questions that a disaster on this scale pose within his pre-assigned topic, “The Discipline of Delight.” 

The Rev. John Bostwick, O.Praem., ’68 preached at Old. St. Joe’s. “The hour by hour, day by day, overwhelming images of death and destruction and the awareness that this is a people for whom suffering is nothing new are a heart-wrenching plunge into the deepest questions of the human spirit,” he acknowledged in his homily

“Let me suggest that the Lover of humanity is with the beloved.  We learn in Jesus that God casts His lot with the suffering, the poor, the hurting. Jesus identifies himself with the homeless, the naked, the hungry, the sick and imprisoned. How can we not seek God among the victims of the earthquake, the long-suffering, long-neglected people of Haiti?”

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