Saturday, 5 June 2010


We arrived in Haiti on 1st June which is the official start of the hurricane season. Fortunately for this country that has suffered far too much already, there are no hurricanes currently expected, but the rainy season has started, as was clear by the downpour we were welcomed by at Port au Prince Airport. This is not good news for the thousands of people who are still living in tents throughout the country. As our plane flew over the capital we saw all too clearly the patchwork of blue tarpaulin under which people are now living.

Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the world when the massive earthquake struck on 12th January. The dreadful state of the city’s roads, (“roads that make you dance when you drive on them” we were told!) poor quality housing and piles of rubbish on the streets were all signs of the failing infrastructure prior to January 2010, but now there are large piles of rubble on almost every street where houses once stood, and many houses that are clearly damaged beyond repair.

Estimates vary, but of a population of around 8 million, well over 200,000 people were killed by the earthquake and over 300,000 seriously injured. 600,000 fled Port au Prince to more rural areas in land, leaving behind over a million people living in over 460 tented camps. 720,000 children were affected by the earthquake.

The Methodist Church saw 8 of its schools destroyed with another 18 damaged, whilst of the 150 churches, 9 were destroyed and 21 badly damaged. 76 church members were killed with 170 physically injured. However countless numbers bear the psychological scars that will take years to heal. The first man we spoke to told us how one of his two young children had been killed, and how 6months on it is the mental anguish that his wife continues to bear that hurts the most. These were stories we were to hear repeated again and again. For one a father, another a mother, still another a child or even a whole family, lost beneath the pile of rubble that is now the only sign of a house. We passed the site of one of the areas biggest supermarkets in which over 400 people lost their life. Others recalled how they watched the terrified faces trapped behind the glass entrance doors.

There were also stories of lucky escapes. A church worker whose house was destroyed and is currently living at the District manse were we are staying only missed being crushed in a supermarket because she stopped to take a mobile phone call before going in. However two of her friends were not so fortunate and were killed inside. District President, Revd Gesner Paul, told us how he had left his office earlier than expected but remembers vividly watching cars being tossed around in the street and roads rising and falling during the 30 seconds that changed everything for so many.

There is so much that needs to be done in Haiti it is hard to know where to start. But for the Methodist Church their number one priority is education. They have made great efforts to re-open schools and ensure teachers’ salaries are paid. Not only does this give a sense of restored normality and hope for the future, but it is clear that it is through investing in education that will help the most in the long-term development of this country.

The Church is also keen to develop its health care work, which it recognised had limited resources to respond effectively on 12th January. In addition communities are asking for help to rebuild their churches, often before their own homes are rebuilt, again because a restored church gives hope and a visible sign of progress.

As we arrived we joined a development planning meeting involving local church representatives and workers from the US NGO, United Methodist Committee on Relief, as they prepared for a workshop which will help to co-ordinate the development response.

The following morning we met UMCOR’s Head of Mission, Samuel Namanga Kinge who outlined in greater detail the size of the task.

They have been working with the UN in many of the camps and are building temporary solid bases for more robust tents, as well as transitional shelters. Longer term they want to start to build over 1000 new homes. They will also support training of Haitians to follow better building practices that will ensure more robust structures that could cope not only with another earthquake, but the far more likely hurricane that everyone currently fears. In addition they support health care, work with women’s co-operatives and youth work as part of longer term development.

80% of Haiti’s food is imported, so when the earthquake struck availability of local produce was a major problem. UMCOR want to encourage a greater number of agricultural projects, and can see that this fertile land could be so much more productive, help with exports and also provide much needed job opportunities in a country with a massive unemployment problem.

No comments: