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Kittanning man works to aid poorest nation in the hemisphere

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 10:56 a.m.
Rev. Art Seaman, interim pastor for the West Newton United Presbyterian Church on February 25, 2013. Seaman has made several recent trips to Haiti. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Woman gets her daughter a check-up by a nurse at the hospital clinic.
Exterior of Holy Cross Hospital
Pharmacy inside Holy Cross Hospital

An island in the Caribbean, where the temperature is 90 to 95 degrees in February, sounds like a luxury vacation, but not when the destination is Haiti — the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The Rev. Art Seaman of Kittanning said he tells that to his friends and family when he leaves for visits to Holy Cross Hospital in Leogane, a city of about 200,000 people located 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince.

His most recent visit, from Feb. 4-8, was his third in seven months, when he responded to a call for French-speaking volunteers through the Presbyterian Church.

“I'm not a doctor; I'm not a nurse,” he said. “I can't dig wells, so what can I do to help out?”

The 67-year-old minister already is helping out in Westmoreland County. After 41 years, he retired in 2007 from Grace Presbyterian Church in Kittanning but has since taken on three interim positions, including one at West Newton United Presbyterian Church in October.

Linda Blick, moderator of the West Newton Presbyterian Women group, said Seaman gave a relatable perspective about his work in Haiti when he spoke before a December gathering of about 40 women, showing photos and describing his work.

“To talk to somebody firsthand who's been there … there's so much more to do,” she said.

Seaman, who is fluent in French and learned Haitian Creole, monitors financial reports and helps out wherever needed at the 30-bed hospital, which houses the only bachelor's degree nursing program in Haiti.

“I'm not an accountant, but I can read a spreadsheet,” he said.

About 75 students attend the school, which costs $3,000 per year to attend, including books and room and board during the four-year program, the pastor said.

Graduates of the school can boost their earning power to between $6,000 and $10,000 per year.

“She can support her family on that and really have a middle-class living,” Seaman said.

Run by the Haitian Nurse Foundation and Medical Benevolence Foundation through the Presbyterian Church, the hospital is taking on a clinic and grade school about 6 miles away where 100 people per day visit for medical services and 600 students attend school.

Seaman said that is beginning to become an increasing problem in the country devastated by an earthquake in January 2010 that killed nearly 300,000 people and left at least another million homeless.

Organizations are cutting the aid they provided after the initial relief period, causing distress in what was and still is a nation plagued by disease, poor infrastructure and a corrupt government, he said.

“It's going to leave a huge vacuum,” Seaman said. “It's just grim.”

He and his wife, Mary, a retired Armstrong School District teacher, plan to sponsor a student at the nursing school next year.

“We feel the only way to get ahead is education,” Mary Seaman said. “They have not recovered from the earthquake and people need to go in and continue getting (Haitians) on the right foot.”

The earthquake did some damage to the hospital structure, which was mostly still functional, but “there are always improvements that need to be made,” the minister said.

Seaman plans to make his next trip in May.

The minister said he knows the country's people are in dire straits, but tries his best to make a difference in small, incremental ways.

“God really calls us to help the helpless,” he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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