That’s the message sent every Lent by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S.-based humanitarian aid organization serving vulnerable and impoverished populations across the globe.
For a glimpse at how charitable giving during Lent can have a positive effect on others, look at an island nation about 600 miles off the Florida coast.
Haiti has faced a series of recent natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Catholic Relief Services has worked to oversee emergency response efforts, provide basic health care and support agriculture programs. The organization is often the first to provide an organized humanitarian response to victims after a disaster, and has been active in the country for 64 years.
“Haiti has its share of challenges,” said Cassandra Bissainthe, a native of Port-au-Prince who works as a partnership and capacity-strengthening advisor for Catholic Relief Services. “But despite those challenges, the people are warm, welcoming and resilient.”
The country was hit in January 2010 by a 7.0 earthquake that caused widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure. Just eight days later, a second 6.1 earthquake struck, causing more damage and hampering relief efforts. Then later that year, a Cholera outbreak hit, killing more than 3,500 people. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew blew across Haiti, killing 588 people. Tens of thousands were left homeless and without clean water.
Significant funding for the Haiti program – and many others across the globe – comes from one of the Catholic Church’s most popular Lenten giving programs, CRS Rice Bowl. Run and organized by Catholic Relief Services, the program calls on Catholics to pray, fast and participate in almsgiving in recognition and support of needy causes in their local communities and across the globe. The program was started in 1975 in Pennsylvania when parishioners made cardboard boxes to support victims of famine in Africa with a simple Lenten sacrifice – substitute a low-cost meatless meal for more expensive dining once a week during Lent and put the money saved in a cardboard rice bowl. The program was adopted two years later as the official program of Catholic Relief Services. Today, more than 14,000 Catholic parishes and schools across the U.S. participate.
In Haiti, Catholic Relief Services helped provide clean water in the wake of the cholera outbreak and continues to strengthen the country’s historically-weak school system, said Bissainthe, who discussed Catholic Relief Services programs during a recent visit to the Diocese of Orange Pastoral Center at the Christ Cathedral Campus.
The organization partnered with the University of Notre Dame to implement education programs that include teacher training and principal support. Much of the program focuses on creating early literacy programs for 1st and 2nd graders.
For Bissainthe, being a part of the program means going back to her native country and working with teachers living in poverty and educating students far removed from the modern classrooms found in developed nations. The teachers do more than educate – they help students aspire to complete their education, get good jobs and support their families.
“Our lives are not so different,” Bissainthe said. “The Haitian dream is no different than the American dream.”
CRS Rice Bowls can be ordered free of charge in quantities of 25 from crsricebowl.org/order or 1-800-222-0025. Visit crsricebowl.org to learn more and crsricebowl.org/app to donate.