Deacon, wife offer update on Haiti mission

Photo Caption: Deacon Richard Hammond is surrounded by the people he serves in Haiti.

By: By Jennifer Willems

BARTONVILLE — For Americans, mud is something children love to play in and adults work to keep off of clothing, cars and carpeting.

For the people of Haiti, it is something to mix with lard and salt for sustenance.

“I don’t know why they put lard and salt in there. It still tastes like mud,” said Deacon Richard Hammond, founder of Friends of the Children of Haiti (FOTCOH). “It’s something to fill their stomachs.”

Deacon Hammond and his wife, Barb, who are based in Bartonville but live in Haiti nearly 10 months a year, note that this is one of the grim realities of life for the people they serve through the non-profit group. FOTCOH sponsors a clinic in Cyvadier, about seven miles from the southern coastal community of Jacmel, and medical teams from around the United States visit six times a year to treat new and returning patients.

In any given year, they provide care for as many as 14,000 people, according to Deacon Hammond.

The first trip of 2009 is scheduled for Jan. 19-30 and will be led by Eric and Sue Behrens of East Peoria. The Hammonds, who have been in central Illinois since Thanksgiving, will return to Haiti on Jan. 12 to make sure everything is prepared for the volunteers.

While he was in the area, Deacon Hammond met with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and he shared both good news and bad news.

“We watch people as they come to the clinic and we ask ourselves, ‘Are they doing any better or are they not doing any better?’ That’s one of the things we’re concerned about,” Deacon Hammond told The Catholic Post.

“We want to keep them as healthy as we can,” he said. “During the May and July clinics you could actually see a positive difference in the Haitian people.”

Then came Gustav, Hanna and Ike. The three hurricanes swept over the island nation in three weeks last summer, taking crops with them and making even day-to-day staples hard to find.

The storms also wiped out roads so that the medical mission team in September had to walk into the village from the main thoroughfare, Barb Hammond said.

“People are really hungry. That’s pretty constant anyway, but the hurricanes enlarged the situation tremendously,” she explained. “The thing I heard at the September clinic is, ‘I’m hungry. I’m hungry. I’m hungry.’ They were less joyful.”

She added that they have also seen an increase in “failure to thrive” children.

“There has been a marked decline in the weight of the people and in the general health of the people,” Deacon Hammond told The Post.

“One of the things I told the bishop is that a number of patients who may have children, you see one is thriving, one is dying,” he said. “Mothers are having to make a choice: ‘Which child do I want to live?’ That’s a terrible choice to make.”

He said they would like to develop a food program to help the people and have tried to stock more baby formula, but they can’t do everything.

“We have to keep our focus on the medical missions or we can’t do anything,” Deacon Hammond said. “If we focus on nutrition, we would be so overwhelmed we couldn’t maintain either the medical or the nutrition programs.”

While there are many problems and they may seem insurmountable, he is confident that they can be conquered in time.

Working with a private hospital in Jacmel, Friends of the Children of Haiti has already been able to expand its work to include a surgical program in three of its missions each year.

FOTCOH also has a sponsorship program, which assists one child per family. “That way we can spread it around and have more people helped,” Barb said.

People can sponsor a child for $25 a month, which goes to the family. The child is expected to go to school, which is possible with the monetary assistance they receive from FOTCOH.

There are currently 284 children in the sponsorship program, which puts $6,000 (U.S.) into the Haitian economy each month, she said, adding, “It’s another way of helping the Haitian situation.”

The Hammonds rely on prayer to do what they do and the Lord hasn’t failed them, Deacon Hammond said. Neither have the Haitians.

“I think we get a lot of strength from the Haitian people themselves — their attitude toward us. Their smiles,” he told The Post. “God only knows the Haitians love the volunteers that come down. And I think they have a soft spot in their hearts for us, too.”

The feeling is mutual.

“I know it’s taken a lot of our life to be there and to work with them, but if I had the choice to make again I’d make the same choice,” Deacon Hammond said. “I know that we’ve been called to do this and I guess we’ll do it until we can’t do it anymore.”

For more information about Friends of the Children of Haiti or to offer assistance, visit the organization’s Web site at

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