By JANIE SOUTHARD
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
Thieman gently shook her head as she related her friend’s
words to The Daily Standard last week at the St. Henry Catechetical
“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
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,”
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,”
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.