Organizations keep focus on Haiti

Faith-based efforts plan long-term recovery for survivors of January's devastating earthquake.

BY SANDIE GARCIA AND TEJINDER SINGH | PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI | May 2, 2010


People stand in line to for a once-daily hot food distribution at a tent encampment in the Petionville section of Port-au-Prince. Water distribution, sanitation and shelter material distribution at the camp, as well as camp management training and distribution of health kits, are projects of Lutheran World Federation and other faith-based organizations.
Credit: LWR/ACT: Jonathan Ernst

Residents walk to their home in a tent camp in Haiti.
Credit: ACT Alliance/Magnus Aronson

Haitian people are rising above the forced homelessness, insatiable hunger and ever-rising unemployment, unleashed by the devastating earthquake of Jan 12, as a number of faith based organizations work in and around Port-au-Prince to assist those impacted by the crisis,

Recent surveys of the disaster zone hit by the earthquake, which claimed the lives of thousands and made more than three million people homeless, hungry, and unemployed, showed tireless efforts of the organizations, remaining on-ground, committed to serving the quake’s victims, until the country is on its feet.

In the lengthening shadows of evening, Leogane, a community near Port-au-Prince, is grateful to the help being provided by different organizations as is evident by construction work being undertaken by the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

Bill Adams, Director of Disaster Response Services for the CRWRC, said that the organization recently began construction on 900 transitional shelters for Haiti earthquake survivors, noting that before the CRWRC came in, many earthquake survivors were living in shelters made of bed sheets and scrap lumber.

“Many of these families lost everything when their homes collapsed during the earthquake. With the donations we’ve received, we’ll be able to do a fair amount. We’re going to be there long term,” said Adams.

“The transitional shelters are earthquake and hurricane resistant and will provide safe housing for the next months and years,” said Ken Little, CRWRC Senior Relief Project Manager.

“The permanent homes will be built to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes and will be a two-room shelter that can be added to in the future as the family’s needs and income allow.”

Work will soon begin on an additional 720 permanent homes to replace those severely damaged or destroyed by the disaster, the organization added.

While the Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) have also distributed shelter supplies, they have focused more on providing food needs to quake victims.

More than 217 tons of food has been distributed, including rice, beans, pasta, sugar, canned milk, oatmeal, and much more.

The organization has a tent camp at College St. Pierre, which once housed 2,500 people, but now continues to provide daily meals for more than 800 people. The Diocese of the Dominican Republic has worked with ERD to bring two truckloads of these supplies into Haiti each week.

Malaika Kamunanwire, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications, said ERD and its partners have helped secure access to clean water for the residents of the College St. Pierre tent camp and twelve communities in the surrounding area. Bottled and bagged water was distributed to those at College St. Pierre immediately after the quake.

More recently, the camp’s pump and cistern have been repaired and are now a reliable source of water. The ERD has also delivered emergency water purification systems to twelve communities in throughout Haiti.

ERD also announced plans to stay in Haiti as long as their services are needed. Their next goals include, Cash-for-work programs to create economic opportunities for Haitians and rebuild local infrastructure, Construction of permanent sanitation systems, Provision of housing and shelter to those who lost their homes to the quake, and Stress and trauma counseling for volunteers and those affected by the quake.

Roy Winter, Director of Brethren Disaster for the Church of the Brethren, saw this stress and trauma first hand when he made an assessment trip to Haiti in the days following the quake.

“The assessment trip was very hard, but it was so very evident God was at work providing just what was needed and caring for each step,” Winter said.

Winter said that after his assessment trip, the Church of the Brethren set up feeding programs at six locations in Port-au-Prince. Through these feeding programs, a daily hot meal for children at school has been served. About 20,000 meals have been served total.

In March, Church of the Brethren built shelters primarily for Haitian Brethren families, which Winter described as, “effectively a plywood shed with a tin roof.”

Church of the Brethren is currently collecting money and supplies to distribute Family Household Kits. The Kits have critical supplies that enable families to prepare their own food and take care of other needs. Some items include pots, knives, utensils, towels and sheets. The kits “have really caught on across the denomination,” Winter said.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) says they have received $19.8 million for Haiti Relief. Right now they are using some of these funds to implement a five-year work plan called, “Helping Haiti Rebuild”.

The program consists of three phases: emergency, recovery, and rehabilitation, and is designed to assist about 30,000 people. It will focus on providing shelter, rebuilding schools and increasing access to community-based services, including psychological care, water and nutrition, and improving livelihoods.

The unique nature of the situation posed by the 7.0 earthquake makes most organizations agree that the best way to offer support is to donate money to charitable or faith based organizations, so that they may put it into existing projects and funds.

In a recent address to a select audience of heads of state including the Prime Minister of Spain, his own Vice President, members of Congress, religious leaders, distinguished guests at the National Prayer Breakfast meeting in Washington, DC, President Barack Obama praised the relief efforts launched by different religious communities in Haiti.

"By Hindu temples, and mainline Protestants, Catholic Relief Services, African American churches, the United Sikhs. By Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose," Obama said.

"It's inspiring. This is what we do, as Americans, in times of trouble. We unite, recognizing that such crises call on all of us to act ... recognizing that life is most sacred responsibility -- is to sacrifice something of ourselves for a person in need," Obama said.


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