Hoping to help heal Haiti

Published 7:27 pm Saturday, January 16, 2010

When local medical missionaries heard news that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake had ripped through Haiti Jan. 12, their first thoughts rushed to peers at their companion Haitian diocese.

Nurse C.J. Ross, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Indian Springs, began making trips to the country two years ago and has been back three times since to ease problems of malnutrition and disease. She said hearing minimal word from friends has been difficult.

“Obviously, it was heartbreaking. It’s a very visceral feeling,” Ross said. “You’re looking to hear that the people you know are okay. You want to be there with them and hold them, but you just can’t.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama developed a companion relationship with the Haiti church in 2006. This meant close relationships with Bishop Duracin and Rev. Fritz Valdema. Both men and their wives are confirmed to be okay, although the cathedral was destroyed, along with a church in the village of Gorman.

Judy Quick of Columbiana is the Diocesan representative for Episcopal relief and development.

She made the trip to Haiti just two years ago, meeting the bishop of the Haiti diocese. She said hearing the news of the earthquake devastated her.

“Your heart goes out to them,” Quick said. “You want every bit of help to get thee as fast as it can.”

The problem, said Rev. Deacon Dave Drachlis of the state diocese, is getting supplies and people into Haiti safely.

“What they need in Haiti right now are specially trained medical and rescue personnel who can come in fully contained and not create more of a pull on resources,” Drachlis said.

He said the diocese’s goal in the meantime becomes collecting resources.

They plan however to have a team on standby waiting for an opportunity to get into the country.

Quick said it is important for people to realize there are three phases after a natural disaster — rescue, relief and recovery.

“We are definitely in the rescue stage, which we have to leave to the government,” Quick said. “I think it’s always the natural reaction for someone who has a heart for this to want to be there.”

For Ross, it is incredibly difficult. She knows too well the need already in the country before the earthquake.

Ross said conditions were so dangerous the first time she traveled to Haiti, the mission team had to bribe people to get medicine into the villages surrounding the country’s capital of Port au Prince.

For a week straight, the team operated mobile clinics in Croix des Bouquets, just outside the capital. The team made the voyage with 16 suitcases of pre-natal vitamins, antibiotic creams and medicine. Even then they treated people for malaria, hypertension and a protein deficiency called Kwashiorkor that causes children’s bellies to swell when they are malnourished.

“This is only going to magnify things,” Ross said. “We will go, it’s just a matter right now of getting supplies to the people who need them and getting the roads opened. It’s a very frustrating and helpless feeling.”

What is comforting to Ross and Quick are the spirits of the Haitian people.

“With all of their struggles and all their suffering — they are the most hopeful people. They boldly proclaim their faith in every way they can,” she said.

If people want to contribute, both Drachlis said monetary donations really would help. Ross said members of the medical mission teams pay their own way so every bit of money goes toward food, water and medical supplies.

You may give funds to Haiti by writing a check to the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, with “Haiti Earthquake Relief” in the Memo line. You may send these checks directly to The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, Carpenter House, at 521 20th Street North, Birmingham, AL. 35203.