“This is My Haiti” – Sr. Denise Desil
Hope for Haiti’s Founder and Chair, JoAnne Kuehner, first met Sister Denise Desil in 2000 after reading an article in a Scranton, Pennsylvania newspaper. After this lucky introduction to the Catholic Order of the Little Sisters of Saint Therese, JoAnne knew she had to help the Sisters’ tireless efforts to better Haiti.
Baraderes is a mountainous region about two hours from Hope for Haiti’s headquarters in Les Cayes, Southern Haiti. The road is rocky, steep, and often floods, and because of the location residents there receive little of the government’s limited resources. Sister Denise joined the community in Baraderes in 1987 and helped start programs for malnourished children, public health, education, and religious services. Most recently, Sister Denise has been forced to respond to the Cholera epidemic—with over 500 cases in the months since Hurricane Sandy—and has also opened a new vocational school for young adults.
For the past thirteen years, Hope for Haiti’s support has allowed Sister Denise to expand her essential programs. “Healthcare is especially difficult here. If there is an emergency, sometimes you can’t receive care for 2 hours while traveling to Les Cayes – or even 6 hours to Port au Prince. Five years ago, I broke my leg, and the road was washed out for days. That’s why Hope for Haiti is important, especially before, during, and after disasters. They give support for midwives, who work with women in the mountains who have no prenatal care. They hired a doctor to help us, when we were so tired after Cholera came. They help schools and healthcare facilities all over, including my Order in Port au Prince and in Aquin.”
Sister Denise was born in Port au Prince, and she remembers her childhood fondly. “The hotels of Petionville were filled with tourists when I was little—the country was very different. My father died when I was very young, so my mother worked in a small business, selling products in the markets. I went to school with the Little Sisters of Saint Therese, and I joined the Order because I knew there would be opportunity for me. My family always encouraged me within the Church, and that helped me follow my dreams of serving others.” In 1969, at only 18, Denise chose to leave her family to join the Order—and she has never looked back.
“After I joined the Sisters, I went to school as a nurse, and then later I also had the opportunity to study Public Health. I always like using my brain!” Sister Denise’s passion for education continues to this day. The 62-year old remains a voracious reader and also loves to sing. When giving advice to young people, Sister recommends that they perform their work seriously and with joy, and treat others right with honesty. She explains, “there is a spiritual dimension to my work. I believe that God is always working for His people, so His people should always be working to serve one another.”
Encouraging others to work for the benefit of the community is Sister Denise’s greatest gift. She works for education and healthcare so that young people can prosper. “If this country develops, more people will stay here and work and build their communities. I hope in the future Haiti will have all that we need – schools, universities, roads, communication infrastructure, jobs, a strong economy, and hospitals. In particular, I would like to build a modern maternity ward, cholera treatment center, and vocational school here in Baraderes.” The list is long, but it is possible—thanks to leaders like Sister Denise.
Still, challenges remain. “The most difficult part of my job is when I am constrained by resources, when I want to do something and can’t. Baraderes has suffered from a lot of sickness, a lot of death, and a lot of natural disasters. For example, I had started construction on the foundation of the new vocational school I am working towards. Hurricane Sandy destroyed all my progress – all my transportation plans were impossible, and work had to stop for months.”
Work has re-started now, and the Sister always encourages visitors to come and see Haiti for themselves as she represents her community on the international stage. “First of all, the weather is beautiful. We have lots of sun. Even though the environment is a concern now, we used to have beautiful forests. People here like visitors, and they are very loyal.”
“Peyi’m ap chanje” – “my country is changing,” due particularly to the giving of others. “There are three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity. Hope for Haiti’s name is real,” smiled Sister Denise, “and I am very fortunate to have Hope for Haiti behind my community, supporting our work..”