|February 5, 2018 • VOL. 56, NO. 3 • Oakland, CA|
CRS Rice Bowl a staple of Lent
Maybe you pick one up in the back of the church on Ash Wednesday. Maybe your children bring one home from school. However CRS Rice Bowl enters your home, the annual Lenten program of education, prayer, fasting and almsgiving brings the world a little closer.
Cassandra Bissainthe came to Oakland last month to give school children and parish leaders an opportunity to learn how Catholic Relief Services puts those donations to work.
Bissainthe, 32, was born in Haiti but moved to the United States with her family when she was 16, during a time of political unrest in her country. She graduated from high school and from Florida International University, where she earned a degree in international relations.
In 2012, two years after the earthquake hit Haiti, she said, "I was wondering what I can do that would be meaningful?"
She and her husband returned to Haiti, where she began working with Trocaire, the Irish-based agency similar to CRS. When Trocaire closed its services in Haiti, she went to work for CRS.
"Our strength is working through our partners," Bissainthe said, "empowering them. We give them tools."
The literacy program uses Creole, the language of the people of Haiti. CRS has helped teachers and principals learn how to introduce the program in their schools.
The children are learning quickly, she said. "The teachers use different ways to engage them," she said, including songs. "The kids truly grasp what they're learning," she said.
There's an added benefit of teaching the language the children speak at home. "When they go home, their parents can support them," Bissainthe said.
When needed, CRS provides a hot meal for the students. Bissainthe said that is often not needed in the Catholic schools, because the parish priest provides lunch for students.
Haitians, she said, are accustomed to living with earthquakes and hurricanes. "We do have resilient, smiling faces amid the chaos of challenges," she said. "We are a strong people."
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