Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 3, 2007
Fr. Denis Hebert sows the Roots of Change for Nicaragua's poor
Edmonton priest's 17-year mission brings hope to the people
By BILL GLEN
"Everywhere we went, he was greeted by children running up to him. 'Padre Denis! Padre Denis!'"
- Suzanne Foisy-Moquin
LeBlanc has known Hebert for a number of years but it was his daughter Charla's three visits to Nicaragua that got the ball rolling. She offered first-hand accounts of the poverty endured by the local people, who live their lives with a strong faith in God.
"The people in the barrio had very little yet through our discussions on their social situation, I had the sense that they were confident in achieving a better future for themselves and their children," said Charla LeBlanc, 24.
"They had nothing in the world but their faith to better their lives, and they felt like they could achieve their goals because they had support and means to do so from Father (Denis). The various projects I visited showed me that it was possible to help them improve their situation."
Hebert had mentioned he would like to see a foundation established locally to assist the people of Edgard Lang. Rick LeBlanc took up the challenge in 2005.
"Although he looks very good for his age, he isn't a young man anymore," LeBlanc said. "He is starting this to continue the legacy he began down there. And this is the primary goal of the foundation - to ensure the funding and the programs he started, continue."
"The projects they choose are ones they can do if only they had the means."
- Fr. Denis Hebert
Although he isn't contemplating retirement any time soon, Hebert knows he won't be there forever. Until then, he remains committed to helping the poor.
"The main social issues are poverty and unemployment," Hebert said. "These projects are geared to allow the people to grow and become responsible persons in their environment where they can make decisions for their own lives, but also make decisions for the community in solidarity for their own welfare."
Hebert does not do as much direct parish work as when he became a priest in the archdiocese in 1958. His mission offers formation programs for the poor, who learn agricultural, textile and computer practices, for example.
Originally from Villeneuve, Hebert will celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest next year.
A non-government organization called El Bloque, consisting of some 2,600 poor farming families, tends to the agricultural issues of the community. With assistance from Roots for Change, funding for a large grain storage facility is in place. The project will help El Bloque further its self-sustainability.
"The government does not provide for them," Hebert said. "The people choose their projects. We spend a lot of time in meetings where they express what they think they - and the area - need in order to be able to move forward. They have a very deep, Christian faith. They relate by saying 'This is God's will for us and we need to help ourselves.'"
Hebert's intent is to elevate the farmers to a position where they can negotiate a fair price for their crops, rather than having to accept a low-ball offer because they are poor.
- Photo supplied
A farmer shows the vegetables that will allow the people to be self-sufficient in food.
"The projects they choose are ones they can do if only they had the means. Then they administer the projects on their own."
Through the Society for Third World Dental Care, retired Edmonton dentist Dennis Bedard heads a team that travels to numerous villages in Central America, offering free dental care. One of his missions is to assist Father Denis.
"It's become quite a thing for the people. It's nice because we interact with them," Bedard said. "We go down for about three weeks. We provide our own gas compressors and generators.
"There are upwards of 350 people we see in a village, for fillings, extractions or roots canals. There is a satisfaction knowing we are helping them, and that they accept us with all of our faults."
Suzanne Foisy-Moquin heard Hebert give a talk about his work in Nicaragua at St. Thomas d'Aquin Parish. They struck up a conversation.
"He asked if I would be interested in taking a group of students down," said Foisy-Moquin, religious education coordinator for the francophone school board in Edmonton.
"I wasn't sure at first, but he convinced me. We took 19 students for two weeks."
The group collected computers and other items for a small village north of Managua, where they connected with a local youth group. They visited 18 schools and took part in workshops. "Their connection was instantaneous. They still email and make collect phone calls."
Next spring, a group of teachers will make the trip.
"We saw a lot of the work Father has been doing," she said. "Everywhere we went, he was greeted by children running up to him. 'Padre Denis! Padre Denis!' It was obvious where he was at home."
LeBlanc admires Hebert's dedication to the poor. "His approach to how he continues to maintain the dignity of the people he is helping, is really appealing. He listens to them and understands their needs. He helps them from the ground roots and then lets them do their thing."
As poor as they are, residents of Edgard Lang care more about matters of the heart and soul. It's a testament to their faith, Hebert said.
"With visits from the dental clinic and the students and teachers, there is a confidence, trust and openness of the people. They are a very compassionate, loving people," Hebert said.
"Knowing people care about them isn't so much about money. They talk to me about friendships."
For more information about Father Denis Hebert's mission in Nicaragua, contact Rick LeBlanc of the Roots of Change Foundation at 780-483-6222 (ext. 110) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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