MOLINE — The second commandment reads, “Love your neighbor as yourself ... .” and the Friends of the People of Haiti believe in that scripture even if it means loving your neighbors who are nearly 2,000 miles away.
Friends of the People of Haiti, FOPH, was founded 30 years ago in October of 1989 by the late Don VanderVennet, a deacon at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Moline, and his wife, Cleon VanderVennet.
The VanderVennet’s daughter, Luann Polissaint, said her parents “along with a handful of a very faithful and committed group of supporters, began the not-for-profit organization in an effort to broaden the vision of church by building a relationship of prayer and friendship with the people of St. Anne’s Parish in Trouin, Haiti.”
That “connection” was 30 years ago, and the local FOPH group met this week for a dinner to celebrate the anniversary of their commitment to their friends and neighbors in Haiti.
St. Anne’s parish in Trouin, is about 36 miles southwest of Haiti’s capital of Port-Au-Prince. It consists of a church, school, and numerous outlying chapels and smaller schools.
Polissaint said in 1989, the school offered education through eighth grade, but in recent years classrooms and students have been added through high school level.
“FOPH sends monthly financial support for the parish, and over the years we have worked with the pastor on specific projects including the construction of St. John Bosco Chapel in a remote chapel community of St. Anne’s and medical missions,” Polissaint said.
The medical missions started in the 1990s. They ended after the earthquake on Jan. 10, 2010, because numerous non-government aid organizations that responded to the natural disaster built a clinic in the village.
“During the two-week medical missions, the team would see approximately 2,500 of our brothers and sisters with conditions ranging from scabies and malnutrition to wild pig bites and infections,” Polissaint said.
Seeking other options to continue helping the people of Haiti, the annual mission trips became work trips when team members repaired roofs and did cement work of shoring up foundations and even building latrines, she said.
The mission work trips are usually held in January and February when 10-12 team members travel to Trouin and repair approximately 10-12 houses in a 10-day period.
The FOPH organization has also helped with the expense of rebuilding both St. Anne’s Church and an outlying chapel, St. Theresa’s Chapel, which was also severely damaged in the 2010 earthquake, Polissaint said.
A mission trip is planned from Jan. 28 through Feb. 6, 2020, and more information is available on the FOPH website, which is www.fophqc.org. The website also provides information about supporting the FOPH.
“There is so much current unrest in Haiti, we are asking for prayers for the people and the country,” Polissaint said.
Another effort of the local group has been working to improve water quality and supply, and they have worked with a European group to cap a spring in the mountains and provide a clean-water tap for the village.
They also built two cisterns for the village and repaired other existing cisterns in their effort to improve water availability.
“One of the many blessings of our work is the relationships we continue to build with the people of the village over the years and the thrill of seeing the growth of the children becoming young men and women," Polissaint said. "They are the future of Haiti.”
She credited part of that growth of the young people to the continued support of the FOPH Sponsor-A-Child program that was introduced in 1990.
“The importance of education has always been a primary focus of our organization,” she said.
“Many of the students at St. Anne’s School are able to attend and learn and grow and become more confident, intelligent, motivated people because of the education they receive through the sponsorship program, which has grown over the years to a current level of 87 students. In addition, FOPH has helped pay teacher salaries and maintain the school, provided school supplies and made repairs and upkeep to the classrooms.”
The cost to sponsor a child in the SAC program is $160 per year, she said, adding that information about the program is available at the FOPH website.
“All of these things FOPH has accomplished through generous donations and the support of countless friends bridging the gap between the United States and Haiti, Quad-Cities and Trouin," Polissaint said. "Our mission continues, to stop the hate and spread the love of our neighbors.”
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