After a demanding four-days photographing the Women in Religion Conference in New York, I headed to the last event. The cocktail hour for the obligatory discussion replay and business card exchange. My goal was to be seen, speak with key participants, and find a quiet corner.
After a few pleasantries, I saw an empty chair beside Berry Rice, a woman who appeared perfect for a few minutes of low keyed polite conversation. She appeared around my age, with salt and pepper colored hair and wearing a short leg cast from some kind of leg injury. Little did I know she was Bethlehem Ministry's chief recruiter. After a few minutes of introduction, it became clear I was hearing a well-crafted pitch. In spite of a near-death auto accident there, she remained evangelical about the "miraculous transformation" in Northeast Haiti sponsored by Bethlehem Ministry.
With a little delay, she popped the question in her disarming silky southern accent, "Bob have you been to Haiti?" I shared the story of my enjoyable week in Port Au Prince and how I spent a day with the dean of the business school who indicated the need for computers.
After enlisting my then employer, Westinghouse Electric, and other donors, I hit a wall of bureaucratic obstacles in Haiti, preventing delivery of the machines. Even my Haitian friends warned me of impenetrable obstacles that often frustrate outsider involvement.
Berry acknowledged everyone has some difficulties in working in Haiti. She also explained Bethlehem Ministry had succeeded because of its deep community roots and capabilities not available to most other NGOs. We left the event promising to stay in touch.
After a series of convincing phone conversations, I was on a plane headed to Terrier Rouge for the first in a series of, what would be, eye-opening and thoroughly rewarding visits. Father Bruno welcomed me warmly and was curious about schools, low-income housing, and social programs sponsored by my church. Though humbled by his interest, I conceded we in New York have more to learn from his accomplishments with meager resources than he from our programs that benefit from extensive public support.
Being there fulfilled two long-term interests. As a child, I dreamed of visiting one of the few countries that welcomed African American vacationers during the segregation era. Photographing the lovely school children and community was my way of publicizing and supporting the school Bethlehem Ministry had created a magnificent educational oasis and much-needed health services. Having participated in many not-for-profit organizations, I knew this was is the crown jewel of the region that, in no small way, has fueled the area's growth and development. Father Bruno's stature and family history provide unquestioned credibility among residents and officials. He and the staff embody the spirit and aspiration of the country and a model for creative development throughout the Caribbean and North America.
The next year, 2008 my son, Dr. Rob Gore, Dr. Christina Bloem, and a number of their colleagues from Kings County Hospital and Down State Medical Center began their visits and have continued to provide patient care and emergency medical training for professionals ranging from nurses to physicians, tap-tap drivers, and teachers.
The commitment of Berry, husband Peter, daughter Sarah, the generous U.S. donors, staff, and dedicated board members underscores the credibility of this vital, sustainable venture. Oh yes, since 2007, I've returned a number of times. My association with Bethlehem Ministry and the people of Terrier Rouge is a once in a lifetime privilege.
Bob Gore, faith-based communities across the U.S. and the Caribbean
Two Generations of Black Activists Discuss the Past and Future of Social Justice