Despite Challenges, Haitians and Aid Groups Persevere

Some 500 Haitian children are receiving a hot meal each day (shown here holding meal vouchers) in a program being run by the Eglise des Freres Haitiens (Haitian Church of the Brethren) and Brethren Disaster Ministries. This is one of five feeding points in Port-au-Prince area that are either in place or in the planning as part of the Brethren response to the earthquake. The Church of the Brethren also is supporting the work of Church World Service in Haiti through grants from its Emergency Disaster Fund. Give to the effort  Learn more about the Church of the Brethren’s Haiti earthquake response at .

Church of the Brethren Newsline
Feb. 2, 2010

By Chris Herlinger of Church World Service (CWS)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti — As she waited in a food distribution line late last week, Marie Therese, newly widowed and bereaved, patient but tired, tersely summed up Haiti’s current plight. Though thankful for the assistance from CWS and the ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance reaching her and others in the village of Gressier, Therese, 51, said: “It’s like we’re in a desert.”

In the nearly three weeks since the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, Haiti has indeed felt like it is a land bereft of much that makes for a dignified life.

Port-au-Prince’s downtown area, hit hardest by the quake, still looks and feels as if the disaster happened just days ago. Homes and apartments are crushed; the smell of rotting flesh wafts through the air; and the sides of some buildings jut out and look as if they are ready to fall into the street at any moment.

It is startling to see a building cut in half, with furniture and desks, filing cabinets and sinks suddenly exposed to the harsh midday sunlight–just as it is to see thousands of people, suddenly displaced, living in the makeshift displacement camps within and outside the capital city.

Yet the capacity of Haitians to embrace elements of normalcy is encouraging beyond words. That means dressing in your Sunday best to attend worship, offering a hand to neighbors or visitors, or as barber Charilien Charles, 25, has done, reestablishing his business, complete with quake-cracked mirrors, within one of Port-au-Prince’s sprawling displacement camps.

Is business good? “Unpredictable,” Charles said, shrugging his shoulders, saying he has to be patient.

Unpredictability and patience are also watch words as the international community continues its role in providing humanitarian assistance to Haiti–an effort that by all accounts was slow in starting and is still not seamless, given the many daunting challenges that faced Haiti before and immediately following the quake.

“The devastation is beyond comprehension,” said Martin Coria, Latin America/Caribbean regional coordinator for Church World Service and ACT, reiterating a point that is probably all too well known by now but which must be stressed given the logistical difficulties in getting aid to disaster survivors.

Something else that needs repeating is that aid workers themselves continue to live in the streets because of the wide-spread devastation, according to Sylvia Raulo, country representative in Haiti for ACT/Lutheran World Federation. “Everyone here is dealing with this loss of life,” Raulo said.

Raulo knows that, three weeks into the response, donors are rightly concerned about whether aid is getting to those who need it, a concern she says is both legitimate and welcome.

“We are accountable, first and foremost, to the survivors living in Haiti, and then to those abroad giving and pledging money,” she said. While Raulo said exact numbers of those receiving assistance are still being compiled, between 40,000 and 50,000 persons have been assisted by CWS-supported ACT programs in the last three weeks in efforts that have included providing water, food, shelter, and psycho-social assistance.

Future efforts will focus on reconstruction of homes and schools, and on long-term food security–part of the ACT Alliance’s commitment and mandate “to look beyond immediate emergencies,” she said.

Raulo does not downplay challenges, either in Haiti or with the response. Aid efforts will have to deal with problems like government corruption and the unpredictability of events.

The Saturday (Jan. 31) distribution in Gressier, located some 20 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince, by Lutheran World Federation (LWF) aid workers was proof that situations are not predictable, especially when people in rural areas find themselves in desperate situations.

A group of young men who were not on a list of recipients earlier compiled by LWF workers tried to disrupt the distribution that included food from Haiti and non-food items from CWS and ACT members in Finland.

Local police also demanded tents that were being distributed and did little to control the crowd; the young LWF workers stood their ground and continued to direct aid to those who had been identified as particularly vulnerable, including families with pregnant women and young children.

Eventually, the crowd got unruly and a policewoman fired two shots in the air. The distribution was disrupted and LWF staff left the village, frustrated that their efforts had not gone as planned. “Yes, it’s complicated,” said distribution coordinator Sheyla Durandisse. “There is a lot of pressure on the team.”

Fellow aid worker Emmanuela Blain, who had been at another LWF distribution a day earlier, admitted she and other aid workers were frustrated. “Yesterday we had a distribution that was perfect. Perfect.”

Raulo, who praised LWF workers for their patience in a difficult situation, said the problems in Gressier have to be seen in context–in a situation that can seem like it is bereft of hope. “People are traumatized,” she said, “and we know how people can react in these types of situations.”

Still, she said, one unassailable fact has emerged in the last three weeks, particularly given a history of weak state structures. “Haitians are an extremely resilient people.”

The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Contact  to receive Newsline by e-mail or to submit news to the editor. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


Brethren in the News

“Coming Together To Help Haiti: Area churches join relief effort,” Herndon (Va.) Connection (Jan. 26, 2010). On Jan. 24, volunteers gathered at the Dranesville Church of the Brethren in Herndon, Va., to assemble hygiene kits for distribution to Haiti through the Church World Service. John Waggoner, a member of the church’s Service and Outreach Committee, was surprised by the amount of material for the kits. “It’s really nice to see,” said Waggoner. “There are at least 300 kits we’ll do.”

See also:

An update on the Dranesville Church effort: “Dranesville Church Helps Earthquake Survivors by Collecting Hygiene Kits,” The Observer, Herndon, Va. (Jan. 29, 2010). “…At the end of the day, volunteers had packaged a total of 1,311 hygiene kits were ready for distribution to Haiti….”

Obituary: Willie Morris, WVIR TV Channel 29, Charlottesville, Va. (Jan. 28, 2010). Evergreen Church of the Brethren is holding funeral services today for former Greene County (Va.) Sheriff Willie Morris, who passed away on Jan. 28. “Sadly, the former Sheriff of Greene County took his own life Jan. 28th,” reported WVIR TV in Charlottesville. “But through this tragedy, his legacy is coming to life.” Morris is remembered fondly in this obituary. He served as Sheriff for five terms until 2003. Funeral services scheduled today at 2p.m.

See also:

“Former sheriff laid to rest: Morris ‘loved Greene County,’” Star Exponent, Culpeper, Va. (Feb. 2, 2010).

Obituary: Edith G. Bennett, Staunton (Va.) News Leader (Jan. 28, 2010). Edith Marie (Gordon) Bennett, 67, died on Jan. 28, while a patient at the University of Virginia Medical Center. She was a member of Arbor Hill Church of the Brethren in Staunton, Va., and was a dedicated member in her earlier years and sang in the church choir. She was employed with Augusta Health as a patient care assistant until her retirement and worked many years at the DeJarnette Center. She is survived by her husband of 47 years, Harold G. “Bobby” Bennett.

“Brethren Church Leader Deported from Israel,” Palestinian Think Tank (Jan. 27, 2010). An interview with On Earth Peace executive Bob Gross, following is deportation from Israel in mid-January. Gross had been traveling to Israel and Palestine to co-lead a delegation sponsored by On Earth Peace and Christian Peacemaker Teams. In the interview, he speaks about the experience of being interrogated and jailed in the Tel Aviv airport before being put on a plane back to the US.

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