Try 1 month for 99¢

The 2010 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country of Haiti prompted response across the world, with an emphasized effort at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Bettendorf.

Ann Wester, a retired nurse, coordinates the St. John Vianney program that, in partnership with others, is building a new school, pays teachers a higher wage than average, hosts a medical clinic on an annual basis and takes steps to promote economic development.

After the quake hit in 2010, Wester said a group of church members was asked by Rev. Robert McAleer to see what could be done. A team of five traveled to Haiti nine months after the disaster.

At that time they met a priest, the Rev. Jean Salomon Vincent, and settled on helping in a rural area, Jean-Denis, Haiti, three hours north of Port-au-Prince. 

After that initial visit, the group came up with a long list of needs. First on the list was the installation of new fans in the church. "We fixed that need as soon as we returned home," she said.

The St. John Vianney effort works in tandem with Hands Together Palm Beach, a group that helps Haiti out of southern Florida. It is also linked with Haiti through the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas.

One of the biggest challenges has been helping the village school. Teachers had not been paid in 18 months, Wester said, so funds were raised to repay the teachers, and also to raise the pay.

Medical care was also needed. Now, the church provides a five-day clinic, held in January every year.

"Our church is fully committed to this effort," said Wester, who retired as a nurse from Genesis Health System, Davenport. She has visited Haiti seven times since 2010.

The people of St. John Vianney have been generous. For example, money is raised for Haiti during a massive garage and rummage sale held in June at the Bettendorf church.

In addition, the volunteers support the food program for the children in school. Protein foods and spices are supplied, and rice is donated from an agency. "The students have lunch every day now," Wester said.

The new school is under construction, it is being paid for by the Bettendorf church, and by the Florida organization.

The St. Denis church, in the Notre Dame Du Rosaire Parish, is the site of the annual clinic. Medical personnel travel from the Quad-Cities, but the volunteers also hire medical help in Haiti.

The latest mission team included 40 people, with 27 from Iowa and 13 from Florida. The trip was eight days long, and a clinic was held for five days at a time.

All supplies needed at the clinic are shipped from the United States, and this includes toothpaste, tooth brushes, soap, Tums, Tylenol and ibuprofen.

"Many of the people have sore backs, and stomach issues," Wester said. There are patients with high blood pressure, or hypertension, and headaches.

The Americans are still learning about the Haitian culture, Wester said. At a basic level, what is important to Haitians is also important to Americans, she said.

One person on the most recent mission group was Katie Kustes, 16, Wester's granddaughter who will be a junior at Bettendorf High School. Katie kept a journal during the trip and worked at the clinic's intake center where the Americans saw almost 2,000 patients. 

"My favorite part by far was the kids!" Katie Kustes wrote in the journal. She brought along nail polish, hair ties, beads, Frisbees and other fun things to play with.

According to Kustes, the Haitian children seemed happy because they focus more on what they do have, and less on what they don't have. "That's something we all need to do more of," she wrote.

The overall goal is to help the parish and the community to become self-sustaining, Wester said. To that end, they promote economic development by providing the Haitians with a tiller. It has been rented out to 120 farmers to increase rice production.

Wester calls the Haitians friendly, and very helpful. "It's fantastic to go to church with them," she said.