MANATEE COUNTY — Christian Retreat employees Kathy Benham and Christie Leonard went to Haiti earlier this month to help install plumbing at school that is being built in the village of Vignier.
And while the women were fully prepared to get their hands dirty, they hadn’t anticipated the political rioting that shut down the airport in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 8 and left them wondering when they’d be able to return home.
Although stressful, the two extra days they were stuck in Haiti at their hotel proved to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
During their delay, the women met former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, her husband, Todd, and daughter, Bristol, as well as Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren and Franklin Graham, CEO of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.
“We were supposed to leave on Friday (Dec. 10),” Leonard said. “(Sarah Palin) came on Saturday night. There was nobody there but her and us. It was amazing.
“We kind of waved at her,” she said. “She walked over, stuck out her hand and asked where we were from.”
Benham said the Palins and their colleagues were getting dinner and spending the night before touring clinics operated by Samaritan’s Purse the following day.
“They were very down-to-earth and friendly,” she said.
Bristol Palin even snapped a photo for the group.
But besides meeting the politician and her family, Leonard and Benham said their trip also gave them a unique look into the hearts of the Haitian people.
The riots, which stemmed from disputed presidential election results, kept them from going out to work on Dec. 9. They even heard reports of a construction truck being hijacked and used as a roadblock.
“Even in some of the outlining areas people were creating road blocks and finding ways to participate (in the riots),” Leonard said.
“I saw the heart of the people in it,” she said. “They’re struggling against (corruption). In America, we’re (established already). We don’t have any idea how (hard it was) for our forefathers. (In Haiti), it’s more (they feel like) you have to fight for what you get because nobody’s looking after you. Loss of hope is a hard thing.”
Leonard, who was on her first mission trip, also said she enjoyed watching the master plumbers who came with them as they worked directly Haitians and taught them their trade.
Behnam, church administrator at Christian Retreat, has taken groups of individuals and master plumbers to Haiti for more than seven years to help Haitian Pastor Benite Jeune construct and improve the school he started and runs, called, in English, The Christian School of Vignier. This year’s trip was shorter and more specific than normal because an American contractor is building a new school facility for Jeune to replace the one damaged by the earthquake nearly one year ago, Benham said.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Riots delay more missionaries
Armed with more than 200 jars of peanut butter and jelly, Christ Presbyterian Church members Kirstin and Dan Shontere were ready and willing to board a plane and head to Haiti for their annual Christmastime mission trip.
But because of rioting surrounding Haiti’s election, the weeklong visit was canceled just a few days before their scheduled Dec. 15 departure.
The Shonteres, along with fellow Christ Presbyterian member Kelly Pleasant and her daughter Karlie, as well as about a dozen college students in their Young Life College group, had planned to visit and help make repairs to The Good Shepherd School, the only educational facility in a small urban slum of Port-au-Prince called Pele.
The group’s trip has been rescheduled for February.