Haiti/Good Sam Hospice
By Frances Stebbins
Learning of the severe earthquake on the Caribbean island of Haiti, I cannot help but think of the work there of Salem allergy specialist Dr. Tom Fame and his parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Salem.
It was Fame in an interview I had with him some 25 years ago about his visit and his resulting book, “The Lambi’s Call” that put a personal touch for me on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In the small book the physician briefly traced the history of the mountainous land in a tropical sea.
In his book, the long-time Salem physician explains that Haiti was settled in Colonial American times mainly by slaves brought there by French and Spaniards; the country has a large Black population. In the earliest years of the 19th Century, when the mother country of France was deeply involved in wars led by Napoleon Bonaparte and its leadership was paying little attention to its far-away island, Haitians rebelled and in time became an independent nation.
French influence is strong, however, and the people’s language is a mixture of African dialects and French known as Creole.
Once heavily forested, the island was stripped of most of its trees by the Europeans who settled there since the tropical wood was commercially valuable. Its bare mountains make it especially vulnerable to flooding and landslides from the hurricanes that annually form in the area. And clearly, it’s also prone to earthquakes.
Following the 2010 earthquake and remembering Fame’s interest in the country and his book, I attended a program at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church where two later active members, Tommy and Jean Denton, reflected on their involvement in working with a school the Salem Catholics had made possible for the island.
The couple said they were surprised that a school was desired more than a medical facility, but one was built; it’s a simple structure resembling a shed but was better than nothing, they observed.
In 2011, the Denton couple reported, more than 1,000 children had been given at least a minimal education through one of the shed-like schools. Around 22 teachers were involved 20 years ago. Used to doing manual work, the pupils’ male relatives built the structures. Cinderblocks were even made from crushed-up rock, the visitors learned.
In his book, “The Lambi’s Call,” Fame explained that “lambi” is Creole for the familiar conch shells found in Haiti. They can be employed as a call to action.
The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus and has a land area the size of Maryland. Dangerous narrow roads wind about the narrow valleys; when the Dentons visited just before the 2010 earthquake, they found it took hours to reach some interior sites such as Cabastor where financial help from the Salem Catholics has enabled several schools to be built. The country has a high birth rate, and with most of the citizens living at poverty level it is not surprising that the island has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Even before the past tragic year, it is well known that corruption among government leaders has been widespread and assassinations frequent. Persons wanting to send financial help are generally advised to do so through their church or other well-established helping agency.
Good Samaritan (“Good Sam”) Hospice, about which I have written many stories over the past three decades, will observe its 30th anniversary of founding in 2022. To mark the occasion, a short video is being made featuring brief remarks from 30 persons who have in some way been involved with its development and on-going service to the Roanoke and New River Valleys.
I was invited to share a memory, and on my willingness to do so, a staff member equipped with a video camera came to my home.
I related to her the tale (pun intended) of Gloria, a calico Manx cat. During the pre-Christmas Advent period in 2006, a small group of Good Samaritan’s volunteers presented briefly at patients’ homes, when desired, some familiar carols. I was among those who entered a Southeast Roanoke apartment house to be greeted by the golden, black and white cat who promptly hopped to her dying master’s bed.
Readers may know that on the Isle of Man, just west of Ireland, cats have the unusual feature of being tailless and with slightly shorter front legs. The beautiful kitty at the sick man’s home wears a half-pointed tail.
Told that she would soon have to be returned to an animal rescue facility, I arranged for her adoption to our home and renamed her for the season.
Sadly today, she is showing her age of at least 18 years; it appears her sight is failing and she’s fearful of my other rescued cat. But when she’s gone, she’ll remain as my enduring Good Samaritan video memory.