Irishwoman brings hope to Haitians - Catholic Courier

Irishwoman brings hope to Haitians

PITTSFORD — Outside at the Oak Hill Country Club Sept. 10, golfers practiced their drives as the sun shined brightly in a cloudless sky.

Inside, in a small dining room filled with about 30 people, Gena Heraty was telling stories that contrasted sharply with the pleasant late-summer feeling in the air. Heraty, who lives in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, related tales of gang members killing each other on a regular basis, of people living in garbage-strewn streets and of poverty-induced despair that threatens to forever choke the hope of a long-downtrodden people.

“The hospitals are overcrowded,” she said. “The kids are dying from diseases no one should be dying from in 2005.”

The 36-year-old native of Ireland works with Nuestro Peque{n-tilde}os Hermanos — Spanish for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters” — a charitable organization founded by a Catholic priest in Mexico in 1954. The organization has provided food, shelter, clothing, health care and education to more than 15,000 children throughout the Caribbean islands and Latin America.

Robert C. McNamara, a parishioner at St. Louis Church, is fundraising coordinator for New York Friends of the Orphans, which supports NPH, and he had invited supporters as well as volunteers who had worked with NPH to come hear Heraty’s story that day. Heraty noted that Haiti’s poverty, social strife and other challenges may seem overwhelming at times.

“Some people have asked ‘Have you ever seen the light at the end of the tunnel?’ My answer is we’re building the tunnel,” she said.

Heraty works with more than two dozen children and young adults with developmental and/or physical disabilities at a rural NPH orphanage in Kay Christine. She’s been with NPH since 1993, and noted that she works with a marginalized population in a country that has little to offer the majority of its citizens who have no disabilities.

“Some have family,” she said of the children with disabilities. “Most of them have been abandoned and don’t have family. The reason they’re usually abandoned is because there’s no facilities for them.”

Only one hospital in Haiti serves children with disabilities, she said, and it’s located in Port au Prince, the nation’s capital.

She added that children with special needs are often left to lie in bed all day and, due to ignorance among the population, mothers suffer humiliation for having borne them.

“People think you’re wasting your time on these kids,” she said.

However, it was clear that Heraty felt she was doing anything but wasting her time.

“You can do so much,” she said, adding that her reward is “the smiles on the kids’ faces.”

She also urged Catholics to support NPH, noting that $1 can buy a day’s worth of food in Haiti.

She added that she’s used to people praising her for her dedication to the children, but she said she couldn’t imagine doing anything else with her life. She dreamed of being a missionary when she was a child but said that she didn’t want to become a vowed religious. Prior to volunteering in Haiti, she worked with the homeless in Ireland, where she learned about NPH’s work in Haiti.

“For me, I’ve found my best spot in the world where I can be the best person Gena can be,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Nuestro Peque{n-tilde}os Hermanos, visit www.friendsoftheorphans.org or contact Robert McNamara of New York Friends of the Orphans at 66 Stuyvesant Road, Pittsford, NY 14534 or at 585/381-5952.

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