Other Notre Dame Initiatives in Haiti

Author: Walton Collins '51

Louverture Cleary School is not Notre Dame’s only connection with Haiti. Father Thomas G. Streit, CSC, assistant research professor of biological sciences, has been working in Haiti since 1993 to combat lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic disease that can result in elephantiasis of the limbs and genitals. Tens of thousands of Haitians are estimated to have the mosquito-borne scourge, and many have been crippled by it. In collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization, Streit’s project dispenses parasite-killing drugs to eliminate filariasis. The program attracted a $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Last December, Jean Joseph Dorvil, a 29-year-old Haitian student in Notre Dame’s Master of Science in administration program who was working as an administrator in the filariasis project, was shot by an armed gang and killed. U.N. peacekeepers have not yet recovered his body because they won’t enter the most dangerous parts of the country. Five other people associated with the program have been kidnapped, but all were released.

Unlike Louverture Cleary, the filariasis project is part of a Notre Dame academic program, although the University currently prohibits undergraduates from going to Haiti. Streit’s target date for the complete elimination of filariasis is the year 2012.

Another academic program is engineering professor’s Stephen Silliman’s Haiti Seminar, through which engineering students teach Haitians how to maintain hand pumps in an effort to prevent gastro-intestinal diseases caused by unfiltered water in Haitian wells, many of which are contaminated with pathogens. The clean-water project, he says, has one additional goal: “We work with the local population to develop local empowerment.”

Like Streit’s projects, Silliman’s work in Haiti is currently restricted to graduate students only. His most recent group went there last March.

One ND-Haiti link dates even further back. In 1989 Dr. George Katter ’41 traveled with a medical team from Saint Louis University to the Haitian town of Milot, south of Cap-Haitien in the northern part of the country. For the next five years Katter paid three-week visits to a missionary hospital in Milot run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, caring for patients too poor to see a physician. During his last visit in 1993 he suffered a massive coronary attack; he survived the attack, but it ended his annual trips.

In 1992, Katter was given the John W. Cavanaugh, CSC, award by the Notre Dame Alumni Association in recognition of his work in Haiti and in his home community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where he continues to live in retirement.