One year later, local efforts to help Haiti rebuild continue

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, January 16, 2011

When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti on Jan. 12, bringing much of the nation to rubble, emotional shocks were felt hundreds of miles away in the Chicago area. The Caribbean nation, among the world’s poorest and least developed nations, needed help and many responded in earnest.

Frustration and aggravation are simmering across Haiti a year after a terrifying earthquake ripped apart the country’s most densely populated region and as a persistent cholera epidemic endangers the health of virtually everyone in the impoverished nation.

Life in tattered tents in crowded makeshift camps with no alternative on the horizon, threats to personal safety and the need to scramble for food and clean water are fueling the growing anger, said Archbishop Louis Kebreau of Cap-Haitien, president of the Haitian bishops’ conference.

“The people of Haiti are tired of misery,” Archbishop Kebreau said in a Jan. 4 interview with Catholic News Service during a visit to the Washington headquarters of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“They are tired of living in their tents. The people are saying they are not happy. They’re frustrated and angry. That provokes violence.”

More than 1 million people continue to live in hundreds of settlements that sprouted after the 35- second magnitude 7 earthquake. At least 230,000 people were killed. He expressed concern that the surge of hopefulness felt by Haitians at the world’s compassionate response immediately after the Jan. 12 quake has given way to a feeling of abandonment. People don’t think their pleas are being heard any longer, he said.

In the quake’s immediate aftermath, Winnetka’s Sacred Heart Parish worked with Catholic Relief Services to get food and medicine into the hands of St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Sassier, Haiti, Sacred Heart’s sister parish since the millennium.

Though not physically impacted by the quake centered 120 miles away in Port-au-Prince, St. Jean Baptiste has hosted more than 2,000 refugees from the most devastated areas, many turning to the parish for food and medical care as the nation’s ever-tenuous logistical operations ceased amid the earthquake’s wrath.

In subsequent months, Sacred Heart’s compassionate efforts to help St. Jean Baptiste have continued. In February and March, Sacred Heart parishioners supplied two additional large-scale food distributions in the parish. The Winnetka parish’s financial support, sparked by ongoing church collections and various school and parish fundraising projects, also allowed St. Jean Baptiste’s 20- classroom school to enroll 100 refugee children at no cost.

“And we continue to be focused on supporting a variety of programs that provide necessary assistance for the St. Jean Baptiste Parish people and refugees,” said Sacred Heart Deacon Gerry Keenan, who is presently in Haiti on a 12-day medical mission trip with a group from Michigan.

Sacred Heart’s supportive hand is now helping St. Jean Baptiste initiate an evangelization project and, in the fall, the construction of an 18-room schoolhouse to accommodate the growth of the 631-student primary school.

“Sacred Heart has had a longstanding focus on moving the liturgy and Eucharist out into the world,” Keenan said. “Particularly in the wake of the disaster, this push has become even more important. For so many who wanted to help, we wanted to give them that vehicle.”

Our Lady of Hope

Since 1993, Rosemont’s Our Lady of Hope Parish has served as the principal ally and fundraiser for St. Joseph’s Home in Port-au- Prince. In the Dec. 12 quake, the St. Joseph’s home was completely destroyed and its affiliated complex, Wings of Hope for children with disabilities, was condemned; a third St. Joseph’s campus, the Trinity House, an all-boys school, survived with minimal damage.

Deacon Jim Ernst, who has maintained ties with St. Joseph’s through the years, says Our Lady of Hope remains committed to its Haitian partners.

Since the quake, the parish has provided more than $50,000 to St. Joseph’s administration to help restore operations.

Ernst said parish volunteers are planning a trip to Haiti tentatively slated for late 2011.

Catholic Relief Services

Immediately after the Jan. 12 earthquake, CRS, which claims a 55-year relationship with the Caribbean nation, began distributing food and medicine throughout the nation while also providing medical care at six clinics near Port-au-Prince.

In the last year, often working with partner hospitals and other humanitarian agencies, CRS has further ramped its efforts and become one of the nation’s principal allies in rebuilding. To date, CRS has served over 10 million meals to 900,000 people; created temporary shelter for over 274,000; reunited 227 lost children with their families; constructed 1,400 transitional shelters with plans to build more than 7,000 more by April; and provided medical care to nearly 70,000 patients.

“It’s going to take a long time for Haiti to recover … but it’s happening — slowly but surely, it’s happening,” said Adrienne Curry, CRS director for the Archdiocese of Chicago, adding that the archdiocese raised $3.4 million to support CRS’ Haitian relief efforts.

Over the next five years, CRS anticipates spending $200 million to address Haiti’s reconstruction and long-term needs. For parishes looking to get involved beyond relief efforts, Curry cites a number of CRS programs in which parishes can pledge money for basic life necessity projects, such as water, health care, education and sanitation.