Linda Thieman was determined to make her annual missionary trip to Haiti this year despite serious roadblocks.
After leading more than 50 volunteer trips to the region in past decades, her group of 18 faced a top-level travel advisory that warned against making the trip in June. Thieman felt safe in her arrangements but as a precaution took just one other person, Roger Huelskamp, a fellow resident of St. Henry, Ohio.
Huelskamp years ago began supporting a child, Junior Caliste, through Thieman’s Haiti Sponsorship Program (HSP. When Caliste was 6 years old, he dreamed of becoming a Catholic priest. He attended six years each of elementary and secondary school, five years of special schooling and six more years of seminary training. His ordination was set for June 15.
It was Thieman’s quest to get Huelskamp to the ordination so the pair could meet for the very first time and celebrate the occasion together. She was successful.
“Roger stood next to (Caliste’s) mother as Caliste introduced him to over 2,000 people as the father he never had and was able to meet in person for the first time,” Thieman recalled. “It was truly a moment in time that cannot be put into words and can never be forgotten.”
Another successful part of this year’s mission was sending a container to Haiti with various supplies, including nearly two dozen boxes of book bags, drawstring bags, cups, hand sanitizer and other items donated by Totally Promotional. The Haitians will use the donations for school supplies and in their everyday activities to promote good health.
The government of Haiti continues to make it difficult to get donated supplies into the country, Thieman said. It used to cost about $3,000 to send one container from Ohio to Port au Prince; it now costs $15,000 due to a new tax and handling fees implemented by the Haiti government. Money donated locally to the Haiti mission helps pay the cost to ship the containers.
“We carry what we can in suitcases when we go and when they request items too big or heavy, we consider the container,” Thieman said.
Thieman and her volunteers fill their suitcases with vitamins, school supplies, hygiene products and anything else that would be of value to the families. The vitamins are crucial to their health, she said.
“Most families in Haiti are only able to eat meat two to three times a year, so vitamins are essential,” Thieman explained.
Several women in the St. Henry area sew dresses, shorts and skirts that Thieman delivers to the orphanages she supports: Our Lady of Perpetual Help; Wings of Hope for orphans with mental or physical challenges; and the Missionaries of the Poor who treat people of all ages for a variety of issues at no cost by volunteers.
Another goal this trip was to get as many photos of the children in the HSP as Thieman could snap in three days. She managed to photograph 367 of the 438 children enrolled in the program and will share the images with their sponsors.
HSP helps send children to school to get an education to promote a brighter future. Thieman said there are currently about 25 children in need of sponsors.
Thieman and her volunteers help the people of Haiti in many ways, but her sole purpose is to “bring people” to the region, she said.
“No one can understand how these people live the way they do in these conditions unless they see it for themselves,” Thieman said.
While on a mission in the early 1990s, she unexpectedly met Mother Teresa. While talking in private, the Catholic nun and missionary gave Thieman this advice: “Bring your people.”
Thieman said she now understands Mother Teresa’s message. She can build structures, start programs and join the many groups who work in Haiti, but showing others the life of the people is her true focus.
“I show how the poorest of the poor can bring such joy and so many smiles to those I bring in a 10-day period and it’s worth every minute of our time to be there,” Thieman added.
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