Notre Maison: Our House
Gertrude Bein-Aime was a nun with Missionaries for Charity. The organization, founded by Mother Teresa, has two facilities in Haiti, a home for children, in which they provide care to children who are malnourished and extremely ill, and Sans Fil, a home for the dying. While serving amidst the young and the old suffering and dying under the most dire circumstances, Bein-Aime was given a task by Missions of Charity that she just couldn’t do: relocate to the United States.
“They were sending me to the United States, and it was very difficult for me to leave my country,” she said. “I said, ‘I cannot leave my country. I have to stay.’”
About that time, she also experienced a personal calling. She had often seen handicapped children on the street or on public transportation (tap-taps) being shunned by others, and it hurt her heart.
“I decided, ‘I will care for them,’” she said.
Children with disabilities are sometimes shunned or discarded for superstitious reasons in Haiti.
Bein-Aime started out meeting parents with disabled children at the hospital. Now the children come to her at her facility, Notre Maison. She has a reputation as a good facility, and sometimes children are brought to her by government officials.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, and I still love it,” she said.
She operates an orphanage in which some children stay all of the time, and some children attend school during the day and just live at her facility. In conjunction with it, she also operates a guest house for visitors. Her building was destroyed by the earthquake in 2010. At that time, she considered getting out of the guest house business and focusing entirely on taking care of the children. But people who had stayed there implored her to reopen, and she decided she needed to continue operating the guest house to earn money for her orphanage.
Four years ago, Kearney UMC made Haiti their focus for international mission work. Their first entry into Haiti was through the Missouri Conference’s water filter distribution effort, but from the beginning they also wanted to focus on relationship building. They entered Haiti carefully, having done book studies around Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts, two popular books that caution about charitable work that does more harm than good.
Now they are basing their work around connections formed at Notre Maision. It has been an effort that involves the whole congregation. Even children have contributed by setting up lemonade stands to raise money to sponsor a child to go to school.
“Once we made connection with Gertrude and decided to focus on education, things really took off,” Rev. Spencer Smith said.
Debra Buzard, a member of Kearney UMC, has been involved in Haiti from the beginning with Kearney, getting started with a Missouri Conference water filter team. She now heads up Love Haiti, the church’s signature project, as well as support for Notre Maison. The church supports Kim Gabriel, a full-time worker at Notre Maison who works with the students and the teachers.
Additionally, Buzard serves on the advisory council for Notre Maison. She’s the treasurer, and Kearney UMC serves as the financial base for Notre Maison.
“I would not be able to do this without groups of people, like Debbie, who come to help me,” Bein-Aime said.
The first time Buzard visited, all the children were sleeping together in on small room. She found several children tied to chairs. “They have really come a long way in five years,” she said. Now the children are getting some physical therapy and basic education.
“There’s been a tremendous improvement made in quality of life there,” Buzard said. Notre Maison currently has about 45 children under some auspice of its care.
About 30 members of Kearney have traveled to Haiti. The church sends around three mission teams per year that vary in size.
The church adopted a focus on education, and sponsors 20 children per year to attend school. All of the students being sponsored have to meet attendance and grade standards, or the sponsorship goes to someone else. The church is now considering sponsoring teachers rather than students.
They also built a home for one of the student’s families after the students mother acquired land for a home site. Last year they conducted a Vacation Bible School, and this March they are sending down a facility and medical team.
Holt UMC and Turney UMC have been partnering with Kearney to support their work in Haiti. Other churches in the Missouri Conference are also getting involved. Webster United Methodist sent a mission team of six to Notre Mission at the end of February. The team had requested in advance projects they could work on and were provided a list by Buzard. Upon arriving at Notre Maison on a Wednesday afternoon, they took measurements and went to a hardware store for supplies. The next day they constructed a therapy table and put up a backboard and basketball hoop, which required a little tree-trimming for clear shots.
While in Haiti, the Webster team also did a water-filter distribution and worshipped at the Methodist Church of Prayers. It was Rev. Sharon Kichline’s seventh trip to Haiti. Her previous trips had involved Sunday school classroom construction, remodeling a church, putting in a foundation, putting in a floor, working in a medical clinic and water filter distributions. Kichline visited some homes to check on the water filters.
“We were treated with beautiful hospitality, and it was wonderful to see the filters being used and find that they were working,” she said.
Kichline knew when she left Haiti that she would be back. “A little of Haiti gets in your soul, and it’s hard to get out. We will go back,” Kichline said.
She was encouraged by the good she saw at Notre Maison, was glad her team was able to provide some help, and looks forward to more collaboration between Missouri Conference churches on Haiti mission work in the future.
“Everybody can’t do everything, but everyone can do something,” Kichline said. “The beauty of our connectional system is we can accomplish so much more together than we can alone.”