Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Conversations in an earthquake zone.

Following are snatches of conversation with people living in the earthquake-affected areas in and around Port-au-Prince, conversations that took place "on the side" during the daily clinics offered by the Church of the Brethren medical delegation in March. Haitian Brethren church leaders and congregation members, university students, Brethren Disaster Ministries staff--each had something important to share. Several people's remarks were touching, even heart breaking. Others pointed to the hope that is alive in the Brethren communities in Haiti.
-- Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.

A catastrophe on a catastrophe:

Jean Bily Telfort, pastor of Croix des Bouquets Church of the Brethren and general secretary of Eglise des Freres Haitiens, told me that Haiti has experienced a catastrophe on a catastrophe on a catastrophe.... The damage from the hurricanes of 2008 has yet to be dealt with, and then comes the earthquake. And ever since the earthquake, he said, the problem of malaria has become prevalent, and now the price for medicine to treat it is exorbitant. His comments were sparked by seeing a woman coming from the clinic holding malaria medicine in her hands.

I want to do something for my country:

One of the psychology students, Alain Fleurimond, stopped to talk for a moment while on his way between the intake area and the pharmacy area at one of the clinics. He said he wanted to take the opportunity to congratulate the members of the medical team who had come from the US. Then he explained why he was taking part himself, working hard all day at each of the clinics. He wants to do something for his country during this hard time, he said.

For Alain, life is now divided between the "before" and "after" of the earthquake: On Jan. 11, the world was okay--he had his studies, a job, and a house to live in. And then on Jan. 12, the earthquake hit and everything changed. Now he can't go to school because the university isn't open, he has no job, his family lost their house, and he is living in a tent on the street.

A beautiful view:

The view from the preaching point at Tonm Gato was gorgeous, a mountain range with a white winding road climbing up the ridge to a small village across the steep valley. Even more impressive, however, were the new bean plants growing in a small terraced field right behind the palm frond hut.

Jeff Boshart, Brethren Disaster Ministries Haiti coordinator, explained that the plants are the results of a seed loan program that has begun in the village, with help from the Brethren. "We're trying to do two things at once, not just a relief project but also a development project," he said. Farmers can get loans of bean seeds through a committee set up with the local church. Once the harvest comes in, the farmer pays back the loan in seed, with interest paid in seed as well. If the program goes well, the community will develop a store of seed that grows each year.

The needs are so great:

The needs are so great in Haiti, pastor Joseph Erimer Remy of the Delmas 24 congregation commented, "This is the most difficult moment in Haitian history."

The Haitian Brethren are receiving food through grants from the Church of the Brethren's Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) and Brethren Disaster Ministries. Pastor Remy explained, for example, that people at the Delmas 24 Church are receiving food supplies like rice, oil, sometimes canned fish--enough to make it. Getting water is still a problem for them, however.

The church at Delmas has a feeding program for school children, again funded by EDF, working at a school where some of the Brethren pastors are teachers and where Klebert Exceus, the Haitian consultant for Brethren Disaster Ministries, has a leadership role.

At the church members' suggestion, Pastor Remy said, last week they shifted the feeding program from one in which children could come to eat one hot meal a day, to children taking home an amount of food once a week. Not enough to feed their whole family for the week, but perhaps enough that the food goes a little farther into the surrounding community. And another reason for the change: it got too taxing to cook and serve daily hot meals for so long.

TheCroix des Bouquets youth group, and the tent city down the block:

While the last day's clinic was held at Croix des Bouquets Church--a house church that meets in the home of Sister Marie Ridore--the church youth group took me to see the tent city of some 3,000 people living on the grounds of Lycee Jacques Premier, a high school just down the block.

The youth have started a program for the children living there. They call it "Care of Children." The youth lead activities for some 250 to 300 children three days a week. The Brethren congregation also is working at providing food for the children. Sister Marie said that she and others in the church have been collecting food as they can. She said they feel responsible for the welfare of the children at the encampment.

One of the youth--17-year-old Marco--led me through an area where people were waiting for food distribution. It was easy to see why the children's program is so needed. At least hundreds if not thousands of the adults were packed into the line waiting for food. So packed that there was no space to be seen between the bodies in the line. There has to be very little time or energy to care for children in a place like that.

Even before we got into the classroom several children were running in ahead of us. They had seen the youth group's distinctive shirts as we walked up. The youth explained that this was not one of their regular days for the program--otherwise the wooden benches in the classroom would have been completely filled with children.

James, the youth group president, explained the objective of the work. Neither the youth nor the children have schools to go to, and the children have been stressed and traumatized by the earthquake. Bernard chimed in: "We got together just to work with the children, to give food and take care of them.... We want them to know that we think about them, and that they are still alive."

The youth are giving rudimentary education to the children, and providing something like a Sunday school. While I was there they led some very loud songs, had prayer, had the children repeat a memory verse, and invited some children to come up front and sing for the group.

Marco showed me a map of Haiti that he had drawn in a notebook, with the main cities penned in. This is how they have been teaching some geography. He displayed the section of the notebook where they are keeping careful records of their work, each child's name listed, page after page, each member of the youth group listed as well.

Meanwhile the children sat, not quietly or still by any means, but with perhaps more patience than a group of American children might have shown. The children obviously expected to receive some kind of attention...and finally when the discussion ended they did. It came in a style that might not be completely appreciated by US educators, an impromptu Sunday school lesson and then the calling up of of individual children to recite their memory verse in front of the whole group.

But the smiles on the children's faces and their obvious attentiveness and engagement spoke for the effectiveness of what was going on, as did the supportive clapping for each child who recited a verse.

Earlier, Marco had expressed the group's desire to be able to do yet more for the children. But they don't have the resources they need. "We would like to get some help for helping the children," he said. "What we have is not sufficient."

Source: 4/7/2010 Newsline Special

No comments: