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Haiti, Aid Groups Recover One Day at a Time

Katherine Britton | Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor | Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti, Aid Groups Recover One Day at a Time

January 29, 2010

More than two weeks after Haiti's massive earthquake, aid groups in Haiti say they can't look too far ahead.

"What you try to strive for is that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today," said Keith Stiles, deployment manager for Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) disaster response teams. "That's all you can focus on."

Stiles joined a BGEA team of doctors and nurses which deployed to a hospital 30 miles outside of Port-au-Prince after the quake. The small distance form the capital city did not lessen the need at the Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital, a 100-bed facility with one full-time doctor.  

The small hospital crammed 350 patients into their floor space, and BGEA doctors and nurses swelled the staff ranks to almost 20. Still, "[t]hey were overwhelmed with patients," Stiles said. "They had to turn away hundreds of people."

Overcrowding extended beyond the hospital rooms where Stiles prayed with people through a translator.

"We had to empty out the morgue simply to make room for more people in the morgue," he said. With no way to figure out identities, hospital staff had to bury many people unidentified. "We were having funerals all day long."

When Stiles left more than a week after the quake, the group was still struggling for basic supplies. That evening there were only two gallons of drinking water to share among 30 people.

Development groups already active in Haiti have faced their own challenges. Compassion International, which has been in Haiti 40 years, partners with about 230 churches in Haiti that suppo. According to Compassion's President and CEO Wess Stafford, at least 30 partner churches have been damaged and need help.

Almost one in 10 of the 65,000 sponsored in Haiti have been deeply affected. Compassion's Haitian staff must now verify which children survived, died, or fled to the countryside after the earthquake - and all of that counting is done without computer records.

"We've recorded the number that we have the old fashioned way: it's word-of-mouth and it's spread on pads of paper at this point. It's the best that can be done right now," said Stafford, who lived in Haiti for four years.

Downed communications have required Compassion staff, graduates and leadership students to visit each affected church and bring a physical record back to Port-au-Prince. There, Compassion's 75-person staff meets in their building's parking lot, since their main building suffered structural damage. Only staff member, a woman named Farsee, died in rubble, but all of the staff have lost family. One man lost five children.

"They're not Americans running around, they're Haitians, many of whom lost their own homes," Stafford said. Despite their losses, he said, the staff has pushed forward to help partner churches and children. "Haitians are amazingly courageous, resilient people and our staff are no different."

Ministries already settled in the country, like Compassion, circumvented many logistical problems that faced newly-arrived emergency responders. The group has moved through the roads of the Dominican Republic into Haiti rather than trying to get through the supply bottleneck at Port-au-Prince airport.

"That's not holding us back because we've already built a relationship with those distribution points - they're called the local church. And the beauty is they haven't been waiting for the government to get its act together," Stafford said.

Compassion staff and program graduates "have gone as far as they can go in four-wheel drive to many of our projects, and then they have hiked through the rubble" to replenish food and medical supplies.

Stafford says he's grateful for the help emergency groups are bringing to the devastated country.

"I'm sorry that it's taken so long for so many of the organizations that didn't have infrastructure on the ground, but we are glad to seeing that freed up now. And we know that our children's families will avail themselves now of the goodness of other organizations."

Both Stafford and Stiles are quick to point out the faith of the Haitian people.

"There is a tremendous amount of respect for others, much harmony in working together anytime there is a tragedy," Stiles said, recalling his conversations with Haitians at the hospital.

"And above all else, we find such a love for Jesus Christ there, it's just overwhelming to me how close these people are to their Lord and Savior in times of tragedy."

Stafford praised the resiliency of the Haitian church, including both churches who were directly affected and those who are responding.

"They have mobilized and gone back to their brothers and sisters inside that devastated area, as well as helping many of the children and families in Port-au-Prince who have fled to grandparents' houses out in the country," Stafford said.

"So many of the churches are having influxes of what you might call emigrants from Port-au-Prince. Again, they are poised to help these children, many of whom will be sponsored children from other church projects. They'll take them under their wing."

As the Haitian people and churches deal with the new normal, both Compassion and BGEA have pledged to continue the recovery and rebuilding efforts. But the groups are pleading for partners to help with the work.

"I think an awful lot of Christians right now are realizing, ‘I've really done nothing about the poor, much less this sort of tragedy in Haiti,'" Stafford said. "This is no time to stand on the sidelines. Nobody can say, this doesn't touch my heart or this doesn't affect me. This is time for those who have been standing by to jump in."

If you'd like to support earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, consider joining some of Crosswalk.com's partners in their work: Global Aid Network (GAiN) USA, Food for the Hungry, Samaritan's Purse, and World Vision.