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A priest from the small village of Colladere, Haiti, is wrapping up a 10-day visit to Hot Springs on a quest to raise funds for textbooks for his church's school, with the continued help of church members here who have taken his village into their hearts.

Benjamin Van Wagner and Wally Marroy, both members of St. Mary's of the Springs Catholic Church, have been working with the Rev. Asmith Servil from St. Andrew's Parish since his arrival Aug. 11, and both have made frequent trips to his impoverished farming community to make what improvements they can to its infrastructure.

"I think Hot Springs is a very nice place," Servil, who returns to Haiti on Monday, told The Sentinel-Record Thursday. "The thing that gives me emotion is the generosity of the people in Hot Springs."

Servil oversees his church, which serves an area of about 2,000 people, the main school located next to it, and two missions out in the countryside that also have schools, with a total of 769 students in all three.

"He's been the priest, mayor, police chief, ambulance driver, doctor and tax collector," Marroy said, laughing.

Servil said he has been the priest at Colladere for almost three years. Born in Maissade, Haiti, Servil said he was 9 years old when he decided he wanted to be a priest and "never changed the idea." He first studied in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, where the only diocese is located, and was ordained in January 2010. He was sent to study philosophy in Rome for three years and then assigned to Colladere.

Van Wagner, director of Information Technology at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, and Marroy, a retired residential contractor, made the trip to Colladere again on May 17 for five days and among other things did an inventory of the books available for the children.

The school next to the church was built in 2004 and the text books the students use have not been replaced since then even though enrollment has tripled. "You basically have one book for every four to five students, " Marroy said. "Think about when you went to school and how you would take your books home at night. They can't do that.

"Our focus with (Servil's) trip is raising money to buy books so every child will have a book," he said.

"They need about 5,500 books, text books for different subjects," Van Wagner said. "What makes it challenging is they have to be in Haitian Creole. There is a publisher in Port-au-Prince so the books are there, we just need the money, about $35,000," roughly $6 or $7 a book.

They have been going to area churches in Hot Springs and around the state, including visits to Conway, Camden and Magnolia, and have raised about $21,000 so far. "So we're close," Van Wagner said.

He noted at one time Hot Springs had three Catholic priests in residence who all got involved with the mission at Colladere and who have since been transferred to other churches in the state. "They took the passion with them so we went to where they are and enlisted their help."

A Baggo tournament is planned for 5 p.m. today at St. Mary's, located at 100 Central Ave., to raise money and anyone who wants to donate can stop by the church or mail their donation to the church designated for "Haiti books."

Another project the men accomplished during their last visit was to put the village's wind generator, which had been blown down in a hurricane, back up so it could continue to provide electricity to the church, school, rectory and teacher's dormitory.

"Ben came up with some better mounting brackets so we think it will stay up this time. Ben is a very resourceful guy," Marroy said. They also replaced the generator's regulator, which keeps it spinning at the proper speed.

When the generator fell, the blades were broken, but Van Wagner said he was able to get the company to replace them. He noted that unlike the original blades where it was "plain to see" how to install them, with the new ones "the difference between the front and back was very subtle."

He said he downloaded a photo and "we installed them the way it looked in the photo," but once they got it up the blades were barely spinning. They even tried WD-40 at one point, to no avail.

He said Servil "with no engineering or scientific background at all tells us 'I think you got it backward,'" he said, and it turned out he was right. "I got the idea to grab it by the tail and spin it around backward to see how that would work. Well, it went crazy and started spinning as fast as it could go."

Van Wagner said he was up on a ladder and "I couldn't let go or it would swing back and hit me in the head. I was yelling for Wally to short it out." He noted it was a three-phase 48 volt generator and Marroy had to combine the three wires together to "short it out" and make it stop.

He said the generator provides electricity at night and six solar panels mounted on the rectory generate electricity during the day.

While getting the generator back up was a major project, they also had a more basic dilemma to address. "There were no light bulbs," Van Wagner said. When he installed the electricity during a previous trip in March 2016, he didn't put in light bulbs. The villagers installed some but they were "basically CFL bulbs" with very low wattage.

"That might be fine for a bedside lamp, but if your ceiling is 14 feet high that's no good," he said. Haiti's version of Home Depot in Port-au-Prince didn't have what they needed, either, he said, so they brought bulbs from the U.S. in May.

"I pretty much packed my suitcase with wide angle, LED flood light bulbs," he said. "Wally took some too. That ended up being one of the biggest things. Simply installing the right kind of light bulbs worked wonders for the place."

They also had to document the food shipments sent over in the fall. Feed My Starving Children, a Christian nonprofit organization based out of Minnesota that provides free food to 70 countries, had supplied food, but they require someone to document the disbursement to the villagers.

"They provide the food and we just have to pay the shipping and get it there," Marroy said. "But they want everything documented a certain way so we spent part of the visit doing that."

Marroy said they are discussing making a medical trip to Colladere later this year. "They have no medical treatment there. We had a meeting with some local doctors and are trying to get a group together and do a medical mission. We especially want to be able to treat the children."

Asked what the biggest concerns were, Marroy said, "Well, basically, if they get sick, they just die."

With no medications, even a bad case of the flu or a minor infection can prove fatal. "They don't have a Walgreens to go to," Van Wagner said.

Local on 08/20/2017

Print Headline: Books for Haiti: Local church members work to help church school

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