Action - 2 September 2018

en - Local drive aids Haitian schoolchildren with backpacks full of supplies


By Paula J. Owen
Correspondent


Posted Jul 29, 2018


WORCESTER – Throughout the year, Tanya E. Connor painstakingly picks out special toys to fill backpacks for schoolchildren in Haiti, hoping in some small way the gifts will inspire awe for God’s creations in the children.


Ms. Connor organized toys in a bin in the hall of Sacred Heart-St. Catherine of Sweden parish on Cambridge Street Saturday afternoon, including a Doc McStuffins’ doll with a dark face that she specifically chose so the young Haitian girl who receives it will see the doll looks like her.


Ms. Connor, 56, of Charlton, a reporter and photographer with The Catholic Free Press, was working with about two dozen other volunteers to fill more than 100 backpacks Saturday and Sunday with items including school supplies, toiletries, age-appropriate toys, adult coloring books, clothing and non-perishable food.


She and her fiancé also sponsor young children from the Pierre family in Haiti that allows at least three of the family’s seven children to go to school. School is not free to children in Haiti, she said, and many families are too poor to afford food.


“I do the backpacks because I just feel so grateful for what God has given me – a wonderful upbringing and family,” she said. “I can’t give these kids all of that, but maybe I can give them something that will help in a small way. It’s not just me. So many people are helping.”


Ms. Connor visited Haiti twice, once in college in 1982 when she saw a young dark-skinned boy with red hair and recalled something she had learned in one of her classes.
“I remember seeing a black child with red hair and in my studies in ‘food in affluence and poverty’ at the University of Rhode Island, we were told that a black person with red hair is a possible sign of malnutrition,” she said. “I was afraid to go down to Haiti the first time because I thought, ‘How will I come back and eat a regular meal knowing these people don’t have enough to eat ?’ I found God gave me the grace.”


She fell in love with the country and returned seven years later, she said.


“It was an amazing juxtaposition of extreme poverty and, yet, people were happy and friendly,” she said.


At first, Ms. Connor was filling a backpack for Rose, the first child from the family she started sponsoring in 2013, who is now a teenager.


Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy of the Sisters of St. Anne and director of the Worcester Diocesan’s Haitian Apostolate asked people who sponsored schoolchildren in Haiti to fill backpacks in the summer that she delivered to the children for school, Ms. Connor said.


But, not all sponsors are able to do it, so Sister Judith asked Ms. Connor and others to donate their time to fill additional backpacks with items Ms. Connor purchases and with other donations. A favorite with the children is boxes of spaghetti, Ms. Connor said.


“We also put something religious in them to remind the children about the Lord,” Ms. Connor said. “I really hope it is an experience of God’s love and God’s provision to them. To me, I am just in awe of God as a creator when I think about the stars and planets, and when I pack a pencil box inside the backpacks, even material items that God has created, I am just in awe. I hope the children are in awe, too, when they get things that represent something bigger.”


There are also volunteers cleaning donated items and washing and sewing gently-used clothing, she said. Sister Judith reimburses Ms. Connor for the items she purchases throughout the year, but a climate-controlled, clean, accessible storage area is needed, she said. And Sister Judith is always looking for more volunteers, she said.“Anybody is welcome,” Ms. Connor said.


Cathleen M.T. Grant, a substitute teacher from Worcester and member of the Sacred Heart Church was packing school supplies into the backpacks.


“I am a teacher and a mother and also a human being and the people in Haiti deserve so much,” Ms. Grant said. “They have lost so much it breaks my heart. The country is ravaged by weather and there is corruption. It has just been very hard for them. Tanya has brought it to the forefront of my attention.”


Vanessa P. Sulminski, 7, from Leicester, whose family also attends services at the church, was picking out a stuffed animal with her Nana, June E. Sulminsk from Auburn, to put in a shiny, silver backpack. Both her grandmothers and her brother were helping out in the hall.


“I like to help people,” Vanessa said. “They (Haitian children) can’t always get stuff because they are poor. I think it is sad that they can’t go to school there and it makes me feel good to send it to them.”


 

Foto: Beatriz Garlaschi/ Cruz Roja Española