International Mission: Bread & Water in Haiti

Picture of aftermath earthquake on a building, debris rambling in front of a building

The August 14, magnitude 7.2 earthquake destroyed homes and left destruction in its path in Les Cayes.

They told her she had to leave. They couldn't say why, but there was something in the air because of hyperinflation and economic instability. And so Sister Sissy Corr left. She took the one plane she could to get out. Not two weeks later, the president lay assassinated. Four weeks more and the earthquake hit.

Sister Sissy kept to the road, the only road to Port-au-Prince and the one road to the airport from Les Cayes. Along its course ran the trademark beauty of the Haitian countryside along with extreme poverty. Now, a handful of weeks later, this same road is closed. Gang members have completely taken over sections of it. Bakery supplies are hard to get through.

"It's been rough," says Sister Sissy, stateside now but the driving force behind the Notre Dame Bakery in Les Cayes. Of the twenty employees of the Notre Dame Bakery, says Sister Sissy, many are afraid to re-enter the building due to aftershocks.

Yet still they show up.

"They've built their dream," Sister Sissy says. Even amidst the chaos, the tremors and the roaming gangs, the workers have said to her: "We have us. We have a bakery. We can do something. What can we do? We can open up."

And so they have.

The Notre Dame Bakery has re-established itself. First, in the hungriest days it gave away bread as fast as it could bake it. Now, in a new and fragile equilibrium, the workers are selling again. And they are trying to provide another essential: clean water. 

Sister Katherine "Sissy" Corr (center) provides daily support by Zoom or WhatsApp to her bakery staff after the devastating August 14th earthquake.

It was a project already started. A well was in process, a building built for equipment, the equipment sourced and a business plan underway. The water was to be processed through reverse-osmosis, the product distributed by sellers replenishing 5-gallon jugs at 35 cents a refill. And the bakery and the water plant, next to one another, were to work hand-in-hand — many of the same employees, many of the same sellers. 

Then came the trifecta of COVID reemerging, the assassination and the earthquake.

"It's been rough," Sister Sissy says again. "It's tougher than I've seen it. But they're resilient [the employees and sellers]. They want this bakery and they want this water project. They know the possibilities."

The road to Port-au Prince remains lawless and effectively closed. A recent truce allowed 2,000 gallons of water, a shipment of vegetables and peanut butter through. An engineer for the well arrived via small plane. Supplies for the bakery come by night through undisclosed means. "It's precarious," says Sister Sissy.

Yet the work continues, and the dream. Each morning Sister Sissy is on WhatsApp or Zoom with the bakery, and each day she and the Haitian staff move forward with the water project. Needs include technology, such as phones for the bread and water lead sellers, instructors in business math (via Zoom), and a Haojin (a three-wheel motorcycle with cargo bed) to haul jugs of water.

"Here we are," says Sister Sissy, "starting a new business. We'll grow slowly, and with training. We know to do it this way. The Sisters of Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, that's who we are. We teach people for life."

First published in The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Ohio Province 2021 Annual Report. Register to receive your copy in the mail HERE.