Saturday, 5 June 2010

Haiti – Day 3

Today we travelled with Edzaire Paul, Director of Methodist Schools, and Kerline Felix who also works in the Methodist offices, along the coast south-west from the capital to Petit Goave, close to the epicentre of the earthquake on 12th January. With the mountains on our left and the sea on our right it would have been beautiful if it were not for the increasing number of collapsed and damaged buildings along the roadside.

On any available empty space, whether it is farmland, a football field or a town’s park, camp sites had sprung up on them. The tents and shelters told a story of where the aid had come from, by far the majority from USAID and UNICEF, but lots of other organisations were clearly involved in supplying much needed emergency shelter including Shelter Box, Samaritan’s Purse and Oxfam through the British Disaster Emergency Committee.

We were told that many people are staying in tents rather than sleeping in buildings that are habitable, so great is the fear of a further earthquake.

Just beyond Petit Goave we visited Fond Doux Methodist Church in the neighbouring Circuit accompanied by the Superintendent Revd Maude Hyppolite. This small rural church had been completely destroyed and church members were starting to rebuild it. They had been helped with the initial clearing of the site and digging new foundations by a visiting United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team.

We returned to Petit Goave and went to the Institute for Rural Life which was established in 1962. We were welcomed by Superintendent minister Revd Ralph Denizard and with freshly cut coconuts. It used to be a site for agricultural training with buildings for livestock and teaching blocks. Sadly it had to be closed for financial reasons, although an office running a successful micro-finance project continues. This is the sort of project the Church in Haiti would like to re-establish if at all possible.

The Methodist Church in Petit Goave lost its bell tower but the main structure of the building remains sound, much to the gratitude of the 700 people who worship here every week. However their neighbouring bookshop was destroyed. We were also to hear more heart-wrenching stories, including of a mother who had lost all nine of her children.

At the nearby Methodist clinic, which offers general care to each day but also hosts a visiting eye surgeon once a week, two of the main buildings, including the simple operating room, remain functional, only the out-patient area was destroyed.

Finally we also visited the large Methodist Harry Brakeman College which, as elsewhere, now has a large number of temporary tented classrooms in the school grounds. Today was a public holiday so the school was quiet but we got a good idea what life is now like for the children and teachers as they try to re-establish a normal pattern of education. The school is also currently playing host to the Petit Goave Methodist Church congregation, who meet under a tarpaulin outside until they can gain confidence to return to their own building.

As we returned to Port-au-Prince we stopped at another rural church, Mellier Methodist Church. Here too members were busy building a temporary church and UNICEF had provided a tent for the school. Again they had been helped by two visiting Volunteer in Mission teams. They have already started to plan for a permanent church and a bigger school. They hope too to develop a rural clinic for an area that currently has no health facility.

The Methodist Church in Haiti plays a significant role in education. With over 20,000 children in around 100 schools their 150 churches have clearly seen this as a vital part of their mission, and their commitment to their schools, and in particular re-establishing them after the earthquake, has been very impressive. World Church Funding has helped enabled this to continue during this very difficult time.

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