Danville woman is on a mission: providing help to Haitians

January 30, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Yolantha Harrison-Pace purses her mouth in chagrin as she remembers how she reacted to a wish from a Haitian woman. The young woman was attending high school in Berea through a program similar to a student exchange.

"I asked her, 'If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want for your village?'" Harrison-Pace remembers.

The young woman's response was, "You could bring us water."

Harrison-Pace says she laughed - out of nervousness and surprise.

"It's such an American thing to do," Harrison-Pace says.

As she drove home from Berea, she decided she needed to tell someone about the water conditions in Haiti.

"I told Steven King, and it floored him," Harrison-Pace notes.

King is executive director of Christian Flights.

They told more people, and 2003's Haiti H-2-0 Benefit Concert was born "to get them water," she adds. "All of a sudden, I looked up and the whole thing had 'waterballed,'" she says with a smile.


Benefit concert set for Feb. 6

Another benefit concert is being held Feb. 6 to help raise money for food, education and to build houses, Harrison-Pace says. Performers and presenters include: Steven King; Scott Mandl, with a media presentation from Haiti; Eddie Arnold; Psalms 100 Quartet; Men's Choir of First Baptist, Second and Walnut; Lexington Avenue Men's Quartet; Ronnie Blackwell; The Reid Family; Krystal Floyd; Barry Harmon; Judy Leathers; Ruby Toombs; Mary Lou Beckman; Randy Myers; Baker Williams; Lana and Brandi Carpenter; Wendy Ashcraft; Alex Alford; Cathy Smith and Sally Christopher.

This year will mark Harrison-Pace's third year of going to Ronquitte, Haiti, through First Baptist Church, Broadway, where Tim Mathis is the minister. She says she and a friend, Cissy Hamilton, were the first black missionaries to go to Ronquitte, according to the people there. Harrison-Pace's translator told her, upon seeing Hamilton and her, "We thought blacks in America had forgotten us."

Last summer, Harrison-Pace saw some of the wells fixed that weren't functioning properly the previous year.

"Children hear the wells are getting fixed and they're walking miles with containers," Harrison-Pace says. "They're lining up to fill them with water."

She remembers one little boy walking several miles to get water.

"He was pumping, pumping, pumping," Harrison-Pace says.

But no water was left in the well. He put his finger in the pump, and stuck his face under, looking for any drop of water, she adds.

The boy and others went on to another well that had been fixed up by the missionaries. Emotion permeates Harrison-Pace's description.

"The looks on their faces, over water ... Just to go see that ... I understand why people speak in tongues ... The joy of seeing that water flow," she says, misty-eyed.

"Last year, I was thinking about how much water Americans use before they get in their cars to go to work. My bath water is cleaner than water I saw people drinking."

She recalls a pond of water, where at one end stood a donkey and at the other end were women washing clothes. In the middle was a boy brushing his teeth - all in the same water.

It takes around $1,000 to build a "happy Haitian home"

Harrison-Pace says it takes $1,000 to $1,200 to build a "happy Haitian home." She shows pictures of homes that are little more than amorphous conglomerations of reeds, blankets and wood. Large numbers of people and animals live in tiny dwellings.

About $1,800 takes care of a teacher for a full year, including supplies and food for all the students. Harrison-Pace remembers her first year in Ronquitte that a little boy begged her for a math book. Last year, she brought him one.

The first year, her missionary group didn't bring snacks for Vacation Bible School. Last year, amidst many other supplies and items for the Haitian people, they brought Oreo cookies and Little Debbie Snack Cakes. One mother, when asked by Harrison-Pace what to pray for, said, "I want to know your God, your God of Oreo cookies and Little Debbie crackers."

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