Our last full day in Papaye

Many of us can’t believe that the end of the trip is just a day away. It’s been an eye opening experience to be able to get to know this community and spend time with them in such different scenarios. Luckily, because we are twinned with the normale school, these goodbyes are only temporary and we’ll continue our ministry work from back home. 

Our last full day in Papaye was packed full of being witnesses to a normal day here. 

After eating breakfast, we were honored to join the students at their flag raising ceremony where they all line up and raise the Haitian flag. Some students have speeches and others performed the ceremony and then they concluded with their anthem – similar to flag raisings on a military base. 

During the ceremony, we were invited center stage to award this year’s recipients of the scholarships that OLN gives out: two for a rising first year and two for a rising second year. After getting their names announced, the recipients came up and we all congratulated them individually, it was nice! A student’s representative then gave a speech afterwards to thank us for our continued partnership and generousity. 

We then walked down the road to the local primary school (Tito school – the spelling might be off). Since it was recess, the place was jam packed with joyous children running around and immediately lining up at the entrance of the school curious at the sight of unfamiliar faces – us! As we walked-in, kids waved, smiled and laughed around us. I extended my hand to one of them to shake his little hand and then all of them crowded me to touch my hands and arms – it was adorable. Once we were by the classrooms, we met some of the student teachers from our twin! It felt so neat seeing them and recognizing their uniform and simply knowing they come from our twin – we have that bond, plus I recognised a couple of them. We were invited to address one of the 2nd grade classes and the kids responded with very articulate and loud answers, followed by one of them saying “welcome dear guests” in French – very cool. 

Upon returning, we stopped by Sister Marie’s sewing school and took a breather. Sister was excited to show off her new stove (provided to her by gracious donations from OLN) and many of the items made there. All of us were excited to hear that she’ll be sending some over soon so that we can sell them at our next fundraiser. Sister Marie also thanked us for all the sewing equipment that we’ve donated to the school and that it’s made a huge difference in the quality of instruction for many of the young women she trains at the school. 

Next stop was Sister Anise’s clinic that also services the community. Sister showed us every room and corner of the building! We were all impressed at how many services they provide for such little costs but with excellent care. 

After all the tours, we went back to the school library to demo the Internet in a box for interested teachers. We walked them through the features step-by-step and all of them were excited at the new opportunities made possible by having access to an encyclopedia and 1000s of books in 4 languages. 

The group then decided to go to get some peanut butter and snacks next door at the brother’s campus – I decided to take a nap since I needed to recharge. 

After my nap, some of us made our way to the computer lab to give any interested students the opportunity to learn how to use PowerPoint through hands-on instruction. We ended up having a full house! Cyndy taught a comprehensive lesson and many of them came away from that class with an obvious itch to learn more. 

Finally, we ate dinner with all the sisters that live here at the normale school. It was an awesome experience sharing a meal with these holy women who embody strength, wisdom, charity, and grace in all that they do for the community. As was mentioned to us, in many ways, the sisters are the backbone of Haitian society and are at the front lines with education, medicine, and faith formation. As always, the meal was delicious and extremely satisfying – a fitting end to our last full day in Papaye. 

We’ll be traveling tomorrow and I will continue updating the blog. Thanks again for reading intently and for the prayers you send us. We’re inspires and driven by every bit of it! 

God bless, 

Joe Cuadrado 

Truly, a Holy Sunday

It’s been a day of celebration and sharing from beginning to end today. 

We all made it to mass with Father Romel at the Emmaus Retreat Center at 7am where the entire liturgy and song was in French. During the consecration of the host, the four Haitian priests sang the prayers together in a harmony that captured the solemn nature of the action and what we are doing in Jesus’ name. 

After eating breakfast with Father Romel, he showed us around his campus and some of the future things he wants to build. He’s done so much and has a beautiful vision of more to come. 

Eventually, we hopped into a van and went to Hinche to have lunch and meet with the normale school’s teachers. We spent hours chatting with them and listening to their successes and hardships at the school. It was a real hot for all of us to be in this room together and feel like true partners in improving life here through education. Similar to the United States but even moreso, the most common difficulty that the teachers faced was that the students arrive at the school at different skill levels for each course. For example, in French, many teachers have to give extra lessons to get them proficient at speaking and writing in French even though they were supposed to have been learning it for 14 years of education!! 

Following the meeting, Gene spoke to the students about the water quality of the well and sampled more water to improve confidence in their well. He even drank the water in front of them to prove the point (the students were shocked).

We then proceeded to the library to go over more of the Internet-in-a-box but with more students. The students themselves setup the system and had it up and running. We then gave them a demo of its capabilities which are as follows: 

  • Wikipedia in Creole, French, Spanish, and English 
  • Over 2000 Ebooks in Creole, French, and English 
  • Instructional video lessons in French from Khan Academy that cover many subjects ranging from math and science to history and language. 
  • Typing lessons 
  • A world atlas and maps
  • Haitian geography
  • Health videos 

The students were very eager to learn more and we could tell they simply wanted to expand their knowledge! We have high hopes for this and so does everyone here. 

Finally, our night concluded with attending the school’s weekly Sunday Night Open Mic night. These students are a talented bunch. They played original songs, jammed together and improvised the beat, danced to traditional music and drums… The list goes on and on. Clearly, the students are extremely talented and we were all honored to see how much fun they have on a weekly basis. The joy was palpable and infectious. 

Because this week marks the start of in-school teaching for the second year students, the night ended with a powerful prayer which they sang in unison. They had a beautiful harmony and the feel of the prayer was both pleading and somber since many were nervous. 

I can tell that this school takes their profession very seriously and so do the students. Future kids in Haiti will be blessed to have a graduate of the papaye normale school – that much is clear. 

Thanks for keeping up with us and for sending your prayers, he’s working through us every moment of every day. 

God bless, 

Joe Cuadrado 

Life on the road north 

What a long day… 

Today’s objective: Visit the farm up north run by Sister Moline’s order ( Little Sisters of St. Therese) and make it back in one day. 

We did it. Let’s just say that making it up north and back in one day is a challenge in good conditions, let alone running into roadblocks of sorts. 

We had to wake-up at 4am and leave the campus. We made some stops on the way and got up to the Sisters around 9am. Their property and location is beautiful! We saw the lush and green side of Haiti that paints a picture of a tropical paradise that is perfect for agriculture and relaxation. These sisters have been there with a farm for close to three years and they’ve done a wonderful job with it. They compost and use drip irrigation systems to maximize yield while minimizing water usage. 

They fed is lunch with food from the farm and it was delicious. Every aspect of it literally homemade, down to the chicken. Some students came with us on this trip to experience it since for all of them it was their first timer in this part of Haiti – pretty remote. While we waited for the meal, many of us learned some Creole from the students and we taught them some more English. I spoke Spanish with a couple of them and that was a real joy! I didn’t think I’d use my Spanish that much on this trip. 

After that, we started heading back but we went by the second biggest city in the country: Cap-Haitien 

It was busy and made quite the impression on us. You know those Captain Planet scenarios that teach you not to litter otherwise your world will look like this: (insert a littered world that looks like a landfill but is really a beachfront). This city looked like that. People crowded the streets and trash was piled all around. Businesses and street vendors of all sorts filled every space of the city. It was overwhelming. 

Luckily, we were able to stop at Sister Moline’s old convent and we met her Aunt, who is also a Sister in the same order! Beautiful. This was a nice and relaxing stop in a small slice of calm surrounded by plants and trees, I loved it. 

We were then on the road back and experienced a flat tire in the town of dondon. Yes, Don Don. They had a sign on the side of the mountain in case you forgot, kind of like the Hollywood sign, Luckily, our wonderful drivers changed the tire quickly and we were on our way. Along the long road back we experienced some interruptions, some bigger than others that delayed us considerably. So, we made it back quite late. 

But, by God’s grace and blessings, we made it back safe and sound. 

It was a beautiful day full of monotonous and great moments that made us appreciate our homebase of the Papaye Normale School. 

Thanks for reading today’s entry and God Bless! 

Joe Cuadrado 

Halfway there – let’s slow it down 

We’re halfway through our pilgrimage and its flown by so fast. Yet again, we slept-in and missed mass with the students since these days have been jam packed with somewhere to be, people to meet, and something to do. Therefore, today was meant to be a slower day – one where we stay here at the school and be one with the community. We stayed here, but it we still busy. 

Our first activity was a tour of the computer lab that OLN has helped to develop. The room is about the size of the church conference room and houses around 30+ computer stations for students to use. Each station has a full suite of Microsoft office (word, PowerPoint, excel, publisher, access… Etc) and ran at a comfortable enough speed to learn how to use the programs and get some schoolwork done. The majority of the computers are networked and there were some lagging issues but nothing that would hinder real work from getting done. 

Two students are in charge of the computer lab and they helped us out with getting started. After speaking with the classes of students over these days, we realized that many of them still do not know how to use these programs and could benefit from some lessons to spark an interest. So, Cindy took it upon herself to teach one of the students how to use PowerPoint. He picked it up within 20 minutes and was excited about having a new resource to assist in his teaching curriculum. I think the fire has been sparked. 

Then we met with Sister Moline to discuss her challenges and desires for the school and how we, the OLN Haiti Ministry can assist in making this place even better for the students. That meeting took around three hours and many things were discussed that provided clarity and direction for our twinning program. To sun it up, her first priority is providing clean drinking water for the school community. Currently, we have helped them in building a well but the students and staff do not trust that water for unknowable reasons. Let’s just say it’s a perception problem. 

So Gene tested some water from different locations around the campus from the well, the main spout, the main cistern, and the river. The test would show the probability of the water being of drinking quality or far from it. The results came back today and it looks like our well water is clean! Everyone was happy about that and it went a long way in providing confidence in this new water source, especially for drinking. (the cistern and river water showed that they were not good quality, but that was expected). Once confidence in the water is gained, we can move-on to the next project with sister. Until then, water comes first. 

The rest of the day we did a couple exciting things that I’ll describe in a future post since my fingers are tired and this is long: 

  • Gene and I setup the Internet-in-a-box in their library to aid in research
  • We spoke to the third year class of students about their experience and aspirations 
  • I made a couple friends amongst the student class when I said I spoke Spanish and they could speak it too!

Tomorrow we’re traveling to the farm that belongs to Sister Moline’s order. We have to wake up here at 4am. Yeah, 4 in the morning. It’ll be a long day, but a fruitful one I hope. 

God has been good to us in every way while here. Thank you for reading and keeping us in your prayers, he is with us. 

God bless,

Joe Cuadrado 

Donations and going to Hinche 

We all slept-in today until 7:30 am which amounted to a late start compared to our last two days.

Breakfast was served and we all ate some kasava, jelly and peanut butter made by a local order of brothers and sisters – it was delicious.

After eating, we sorted all the donated items that we brought with us by air from Roanoke. This was 8 suitcases of donated material including but not limited to the following: 

  • School supplies (notebooks, pens, markers, paper, etc)
  • Tote bags
  • Backpacks 
  • Slippers 
  • Binder clips and staples
  • Stationary 
  • Decorations (apparently Haitian people love to decorate)
  • Computers 
  • Flash drives 
  • 1 saxophone with music books (courtesy of Colleen) 

    Sister Moline was very grateful for our generosity with donating items she requested. 

    Then we were on the bumpy road again to make our way into Hinche! We made a stop at St. Martin’s primary school to checkout their kitchen and were greeted by a youthful sister with a broad smile who excitedly showed us around. Flocks of children gathered and waved at us with beautiful smiling faces and childlike wonder. We were lucky to meet some current students of the normale school and a graduate who were teaching there – I felt the impact of our twin here, it’s palpable. 

    After seeing the school, we made our way for a meeting with the Bishop of Hinche! We was a wonderfully well spoken man who spoke to us with honesty and sincerity about his challenges in the diocese. Since he’s only been in the position for 7 months, he mentioned some things that he is struggling to overcome: 

    1. People don’t go to the Catholic church anymore since many are atheist or Protestant 
    2. They have a lot of seminarians, which is a good thing but it’s also a drain on resources – the diocese has to support them with studies abroad, travel expenses… Etc
    3. He has 84 priests and only 44 parishes with diminishing congregations. He can’t just create a parish to give them jobs! 

    There’s more, but you get the idea – please keep him and the Diocese of Hinche in your prayers. 

    We then made our way to the DeSolt Haiti Ministry Mission that’s also in a Hinche. It’s run by an American priest from Louisiana by the name of Father Meaus. He has cultivated quite an autonomous establishment that services 10,000 people in 14 villages and provides school to 1200 of their kids K-to-6th grade. We admired their operation based aroujd the Catholic social justice teachings and took some notes! 

    Finally, we concluded the day with some testing of the water on-campus and meetings with the 1st and 2nd year student bodies. I’ll write more on those in a more specific post – they have so much to say and I want to do it justice. 

    That’s it for now, it’s close to 11:30 pm and I am beat. Thanks for reading and for the prayers, we feel God’s grace at work here. 

    God bless, 

    Joe Cuadrado 

    Our First Full Day! 

    We kicked-off our day with a brisk walk to mass at 6 am. The students of the school were ready for us as we walked-in and we got mass started right away. It was a beautiful service in English since they had been practicing the songs and responses in our language since November!!


    Let me say, the students here have impeccable harmonizing and variance when singing as a group. Their songs at mass were beautiful no matter the beat or language. Father Joe presided the mass and was wonderful (as always) with his message and humor.

    Then we had a tour of the school campus – a full tour! We saw the dormitories for the students, kitchens, stockrooms, and all the improvements they Sister Moline has made to the grounds including some beautiful tiling in the washrooms donated by OLN’s Crafty Ladies (thank you).

    We visited the classrooms for each year of students and they all sang us songs of welcome and thanksgiving for our being here. I only wish we had a song in French to sing to them – I’ll make note of that for later.

    While on our way into Hinche, we were exposed to more of the what is like for this region of Haiti. It’s a tough life. In Hinche, we visited the Catholic Relief Services based there to checkout their gas-powered stoves. You see, the our lovely school uses wood-burning stoves and that’s and issue for a couple reasons:

    1. They need to cut down woods to burn it
    2. The burning produces ash that is breathed-in and blown around
    3. It takes a lot of people and time to prepare a wood stove from start to finish

    From what we saw, the gas stoves are a really attractive future project that would benefit our twin.

    Upon our return, we met with the student council of the school to get a better idea of the state of the student body, their dreams and concerns for the future. It was eye opening and I’ll write about it in a future post.

    That’s it for now! It was quite thorough but that’s what I felt could do today some justice.

    It’s been good so far, so your prayers are working. Thank you for your support!

    God bless,

    Joe Cuadrado

    First night in Haiti! 

    We made it to Haiti and into our van around 3:30 pm – the airport remains a hectic place with loads of people but we were able to get all of our baggage and ourselves out without any incidents. (I did learn a lesson about being more assertive about saying no to airport helpers but I’ll mention that later).

    For the next three or so hours I looked out the window and say something like this: 

    Mountains in the distance that we eventually drove-on and a vast country of dust and patches of vegetation. All throughout, there we people hanging out in community with one another, getting water, laughing, talking, walking…..you get the picture. 

    It was a striking difference to the United States where there isn’t as much obvious poverty at first glance since we have jest neighborhoods and basic amenities. The poverty here is obvious and in your face but the people are more connected with each other in ways that have more meaning – it was mentioned that this was the case before we had A/C around the south. I believe it. 

    It was night time when we reached the school so there aren’t any pictures but we wee greeted by some of the student council members welcoming us with a French and English song. It was beautiful and made all of us smile. 

    It’s been a long day and I’m going to bed but I do want to mention that the stars are completely visible here at night – I love it! 

    Good night and God bless, 

    Joe Cuadrado 

    3 hour layover in Atlanta 

    We’ve made it to Atlanta (which doesn’t seem to show signs of having lost a Superbowl). We ate and are now waiting for 3 hours until our flight to Port Au Prince. 
    Here we are just about to leave Roanoke: 

    While we were waiting, Cyndy shared a scrapbook that a nice teacher at Roanoke Catholic School put together to give to the teachers we’re visiting in the Normale school! 

    What a way to grow the connection between our communities! 

    -Joe Cuadrado