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02-28-04: Local woman delays trip to help Haitians


ST. HENRY — It would have been her 32nd trip to Haiti, but Linda Thieman had to cancel the trip scheduled for next Wednesday due to the rebel uprising that seems intent upon ousting President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Thieman, a long-time St. Henry resident, school bus driver and religion teacher, said e-mails she’s received this week from friends in Haiti indicate the situation will “probably get worse before it can get better.”
Haitian friend Yvette Papillion e-mailed Thieman last Sunday saying things have never been worse, but also expressing trust that God will take care of everything including the hunger.
Papillion wrote: “We are so thankful for the rain last week. The grass has greened, and now the people can at least eat grass.”
Thieman gently shook her head as she related her friend’s words to The Daily Standard last week at the St. Henry Catechetical Center.
“It touches your heart, doesn’t it,” she said, explaining people in the north are dependent on supplies coming to them from the south, which is not happening since the fighting began.
The Haitian people and their plight have touched Thieman’s heart since her first trip in 1988 when she joined a group formed by Br. Nick Renner to explore a Third World country.
“There was such culture shock I still can hardly find words to describe it. There was garbage everywhere, sickness and death, and such terrible poverty. But I learned to look past all that and I saw how beautiful these people are,” Thieman said.
She also was moved by the spirit of the people whose philosophy is that although today is bad, tomorrow may be better.
Her third trip included 19 high school students mostly from St. Henry. Although she doesn’t advertise or go through any agency, her frequent trips to Haiti, a country about the size of New Jersey, are popular through word of mouth only.
Those students, as well as nearly all who’ve followed over the years, were repulsed at first by the terrible living conditions of the people. But, like Thieman, the students soon learned to look beyond the poverty.
Thieman’s trips are not vacations by any means. She and her groups work in the St. Joseph Home for Boys and at a couple hospitals, one for babies and the other for terminal patients.
“Our hardest days are with the babies and children. Often you’ll look into the bed and think you’re seeing a preemie, but then you see the child is actually a toddler with a full set of teeth. But they’re undernourished and sick so they don’t develop as they should.
“Then the next day you go back to the bed of a little one you’ve cared for the day before and you find an empty bed. The child has died,” Thieman said, adding the medical supplies available in the babies’ hospital would barely fill two shelves on a home bookshelf.
The purpose of Thieman’s trips is to help wherever needed, even if it’s helping terminal patients with hair cuts, shaving or just talking with them. Many of the adults in the hospitals are dying with tuberculosis or AIDS.
“Often all we can do is to let them know someone cares,” Thieman said.
A second orphanage opened recently because someone in Coldwater cares. Thieman related the story ...
“A lady in Coldwater, who had visited Haiti with me several times, sold her farm and gave me the money for Haiti. She told me she didn’t know how it might be used, but that I would know when the right thing came along,” she said.
Thieman carried the money back and forth to Haiti on three different trips, not sure what to do with it.
“I didn’t tell anyone I had the money because, of course, there are a lot of good works it could be used for. Instead, I waited until the right thing would somehow become known to me,” she said.
On that third trip, Michael Geilenfeld, who operates the St. Joseph orphanage, confided in Thieman that the Sisters of Charity were begging him to start another home for boys.
“I thought all night about what he’d told me. I knew it was a good thing, but I still didn’t know if it was where I should give the money. I guess I was hoping for a sign,” she said.
The next morning she asked Geilenfeld how much it would take to start the second orphanage. The amount he told her was the exact amount the Coldwater friend had given her.
“I knew then,” Thieman said
Some residents in St. Henry have established an education fund for Haitian children. Thieman oversees the project and said $250 will sponsor one child for one year’s schooling and two uniforms. So far 50 children are benefiting from this charitable effort. Anyone interested may contact Thieman at 419-678-4403 or Randy Balster at 419-678-8322.


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