By Maria Wiering
ESSEX – “There have been many times in my life that I have felt like I was in two realities, but none like yesterday,” wrote Kathleen Sipes, the president of Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Essex, on her blog July 19.
It was her second day in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the capitol city devastated by an earthquake in 2010. From the moment she stepped off the plane she saw both poverty and promise – the latter particularly tied to Catholic Relief Services, whose work she was there to witness.
“It seems that in this country, everywhere you look there is a vision of despair and then just a minute later, one of hope,” Sipes wrote the day before she left. “I have learned that if hope translates into reality, there need to be connections and partnerships so that people like me remember how blessed (we) are and understand the best ways to share.”
Sipes, 63, traveled in Haiti July 17 to 23 with a delegation entrusted with developing educational materials based on their experience for CRS, the U.S. Catholic Church’s international relief and humanitarian agency. Their work will be used in a new CRS initiative to help Catholic schools weave Catholic social teaching and global awareness into their curriculums.
The program launched two years ago as CRS’ Global Solidarity Schools Initiative, but it is currently being rebranded as iNeighbor. OLMC partnered with Baltimore-based CRS in the program’s early phases.
The iNeighbor initiative includes five components: a full-day faculty and staff workshop on CRS’ mission and programs, and the role students can play; a theme-centered, school-wide Global Solidary Week focused on education and action; a “solidarity action” project to help the poor; an opportunity to exchange ideas with other Catholic school faculties; and the possibility of becoming a curriculum development school, like OLMC.
CRS provides materials to partner schools to help them successfully integrate annual themes into their curriculum and school-wide events.
OLMC director of campus ministry Missy Lawrence and fifth-grade teacher Ryan Kloetzer were also part of the Haiti delegation, along with representatives from schools in Arizona and New York.
Together they are developing materials on the theme “Going Home,” which will center on the plight of nearly 2 million Haitians left homeless after the earthquake and CRS’ response.
Brian Backe, CRS’ director of domestic programs, said iNeighbor helps teachers reinforce schools’ Catholic identity and connects CRS’ work to issues all students face.
About 10 schools across the country are involved in the initiative, which has “significant” potential to grow, Backe said. More information is available at crs.org/gssi.
Mercy High School in Baltimore is among the partner schools. Last year it used the theme “What are the Walls in Your Life?” which focused on students’ roles as peacemakers in their communities and involved CRS’ work with Israelis and Palestinians.
“We want global awareness to be part of the everyday life at Mercy, and the partnership with CRS helps us do that,” said Jessica Robinson, director of Mercy’s Center for Global Education, which launched last year.
Sipes hopes iNeighbor deepens her schools’ understanding of global issues and the impact the Catholic Church can make.
“It allows us in our own community to really promote some of those bigger issues, which is really exciting and positive, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” Sipes said. “Not everybody has to go to Haiti, but if we can support the good work that’s being done, then we’re part of it.”
About 80 percent of Haiti’s 9.8 million citizens lives below the poverty line, making it the poorest country in the western hemisphere. CRS helps Haiti by:
- Responding to disasters
- Preventing cholera and providing health care
- Improving child nourishment
- Caring for those living with HIV and AIDS
- Rebuilding homes and work opportunities
- Increasing clean water access and hygiene education
Copyright (c) Aug. 16, 2012 CatholicReview.org