Half of those who die each day in Haiti — the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country — are children younger than 5.
Passionist Father Rick Frechette has taken on the grim task of giving some of them a proper funeral.
Each week he goes to the main morgue in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and picks up as many corpses left unclaimed by their destitute families as will fit in the 20 papier-mâché coffins volunteers make each week. He gives priority to deceased children, who are buried as many as 20 in a coffin. Father Frechette and a team of workers transport the bodies by truck to a field, where a brass band plays music by Verdi and volunteers shovel dirt into the series of graves.
"Of the thousands of people we have buried, we don’t know any of their names," Father Frechette says in the documentary "A Hundred Dead People in My Truck," which originally aired on the Irish television network RTÉ in December of 2008.
The documentary was shown in October at St. Louis Parish in Pittsford, where parishioners have been among many local residents to financially support Father Frechette’s work with the Our Little Brothers and Sisters organization. The international charity operates an orphanage, several health-care facilities and community outreach programs in Haiti.
"Father Rick wants to open a couple more orphanages in Haiti," said Marcia Mendola, the chair of St. Louis’ World Hunger Task Force.
In addition to Father Frechette, the documentary also follows Gena Heraty, who runs the special-needs section of the Our Little Brothers and Sisters orphanage in Haiti, and Dr. Louise Ivers, a Harvard Medical School professor who works seven months of the year at two Haitian hospitals.
Heraty was scheduled to travel to Pittsford in October to speak following the documentary, but had to cancel due to the death of one of the orphanage’s residents. The documentary shows her working and playing with some of the developmentally disabled young people who live at the orphanage. In Haiti, the disabled are often abandoned, a fact that is poignantly depicted in the film.
"If we didn’t accept him, he would be dead," Heraty says in the documentary as she discusses a developmentally disabled young man who recently had been taken in. "He has a right to live, and be happy and be healthy and be loved."
Father Frechette notes in the documentary that Haiti has the highest infant, under-5 and maternal mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere. Most children die of starvation or treatable medical conditions, noted the priest, who is also a medical doctor and the medical director of Our Little Brothers and Sisters.
"Eighty percent of the people (in Haiti) live in abject poverty," Father Frechette says in the documentary.
Camera crews documented some of this poverty: people dig in a field for scrap metal to sell for money, and children walk naked through the streets. Father Frechette also shares stories of gangs kidnapping people for ransom money, while Ivers tells of people postponing medical treatment due to lack of money, geographic isolation and a reliance on voodoo. The documentary includes several graphic scenes and shows the bodies of several children and adults who were swept away during major hurricanes and floods in Haiti in 2008.
Damage from hurricanes damage has heightened the needs of the people there, said St. Louis parishioner Robert McNamara, who helps raise funds for Our Little Brothers and Sisters through New York Friends of the Orphans.
"One (hurricane) did a lot of damage to the roof at the latest hospital," McNamara said. "They are trying to raise money to fix up the roof and also to add an emergency-care ward there."
EDITOR’S NOTE: "A Hundred Dead People in My Truck" can be viewed: http://www.rte.ie/news/2008/1208/haiti.html. Details about Our Little Brothers and Sisters’ programs can be found at www.friendsoftheorphans.org.
In November and December, St. Louis Parish, St. Mark Parish in Greece, the Cathedral Community in Rochester and the Webster parishes of Holy Trinity, St. Paul, Holy Spirit and St. Rita will sell $6 ceramic ornaments made by students at the School of the Holy Childhood in Henrietta to raise funds for Our Little Brothers and Sisters’ Haitian operations. A list of local businesses participating in the sale will be posted at http://stlouischurch.org.