By Sean Howell
Almanac Staff Writer
For some, the recent earthquake that devastated Haiti provided a reason to travel there, or send money. For Sister Suzanne Lasseigne, it was, briefly, a reason to reconsider.
Sister Lasseigne had purchased her ticket before the earthquake struck near the capital city of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, she said. Though she initially revisited her decision to go after the earthquake, her hesitation did not last long. She left on Friday, Jan. 22, and will deliver over $500 raised by students at Menlo Park's St. Raymond School, which the order will put toward helping in the relief effort.
A member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart order, she was approached by her congregation on Jan. 3 and asked if she would travel to Haiti to assist two nuns based in Port-au-Prince who were teaching children how to read and write.
"For about 12 hours (after she heard the news of the earthquake), I was thinking, should I go? Then I thought, this is when the need is the greatest. They need me even more now. People were asking me about it, and I knew I couldn't just say, 'No, I'm not going.'"
Originally, she had planned to assist the nuns for about two months, filling in for a third nun who is taking a trip to the United States for medical treatment. Now, she said she is less certain of what her charge will be, and is prepared to help in whatever way is needed.
Sister Lasseigne had been contemplating doing missionary work abroad for some time, but until recently, the opportunity hadn't presented itself.
"I have never been on a missionary trip outside the country, and I'm 64 years old, so it's getting kind of late," she said. Haiti appealed to her because of the poverty, though strangely enough, her decision to go was also influenced by an article she read about the fact that Haitians compost human waste. A "master composter" herself, Sister Lasseigne wanted to learn about the practice, designed to replace topsoil that had been stripped from the land after intense logging.
"I began putting all these pieces together, and I started thinking, maybe this is the Spirit going in this direction," she said.
Sister Lasseigne stocked up on camping supplies -- she'll be sleeping under the stars with the other nuns outside Port-au-Prince, as the building the order was using collapsed in the quake -- and is bringing plenty of medical supplies, such as bandages, iodine and creams, she said.
The trip will provide a break from her social work assisting infirm seniors. She spends most of her time helping them with Medicare paperwork, she said.
"I'm very hopeful. I'm looking forward to this," she said. "This will be an adventure for me, and I'll help people, hopefully.
"What's life for if it's not worth enjoying? You take a few risks, and you just go."