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Food, water, housing top priorities for Haitians

A girl plays between rows of makeshift homes 
at a temporary camp in the soccer stadium at Leogane, Haiti. UMNS photos
 by Mike DuBose.
A girl plays between rows of makeshift homes at a temporary camp in the soccer stadium at Leogane, Haiti. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Jan. 26, 2010 | MELLIER, Haiti (UMNS)

Food. Potable water. Shelter.

A girl carries water 
from the well at the Methodist Church compound in Mellier, Haiti. A UMNS
 photo by Mike DuBose.
A girl carries water from
the well at the Methodist Church compound
in Mellier.

Those are the top needs a group of 29 church and community leaders told three executives from the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Asked which is the most important, the group said all three.

The Jan. 12 earthquake left Mellier, about 80 kilometers from Port-au-Prince, without safe houses, churches, schools, businesses and basic needs. Because most of the attention of the humanitarian aid has focused on the capital city, not much help has reached more than 3,000 in this town and another 7,000 in the surrounding area.

Community leaders met with UMCOR in the shade of an almond tree on wooden benches and pews salvaged from their destroyed Methodist church and school. Children played while adults and youth talked about the desperate state they are in since the earthquake.

Melissa Crutchfield and Sharad Aggarwal, executives with UMCOR, and the Rev. Edgar Avitia Legarda, executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, listened in an effort to assess needs and develop a plan to provide relief.

“The community participates from the very beginning,” Aggarwal said. “In Mellier they have told us what their priorities are so we are not imposing what we think they need on them. That is what we do in all our programming for UMCOR. The community helps us determine what their needs are.”

No jobs or food

Before the earthquake, 80 percent of the population was unemployed. Now it is 100 percent. There are also many more orphans and elderly people living alone, said Pierre Naccsae, a lay leader in the Methodist Church of Haiti.

Naccsae said about 10 people died in the disaster, but many more were injured. There is no medicine, doctor or clinic in the town.

There are no markets or vendors selling food.

One young man said before the earthquake most people ate three meals a day, but since then they are lucky to eat once a day. “Today my bag is empty,” he said. Everyone is sharing their food supply, but it is getting low.

Clifford Honore, 24, is an active member of the church. He is also a young man with no idea what the future holds for him.

Modna Lemsky samples an 
MRE donated by the U.S. military in a temporary camp in Mellier, Haiti. A
 UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Modna Lemsky samples a meal donated by the U.S. military in a temporary
camp in Mellier.

“I have finished with secondary school and it is not possible for me to go to a university,” said Honore. “I would like to become a mechanic or some technician, but there is no money. Everyday I just sit. This is a very difficult time.” Honore said he felt hopeful before the disaster, but now it is hard.

Working together

The United Methodist team has been in Haiti since Jan. 21. They have met with church leaders, visited several areas in and around Port-au-Prince and have met with other international humanitarian organizations helping in Haiti.

“Because of the particular circumstances of Haiti, sometimes relief kits and relief packages have some suggested items in addition to some of the minimum standards,” Crutchfield said. “We got some good technical information and we got connected to lots of good partners.”

Crutchfield said the team will meet with organizations throughout their time in Haiti this week and once a permanent office has been established, the meetings will continue.

“We realize the needs are great, and we have already done a few activities with our partners such as a water purification project with Global Medic. We are planning to set up a distribution of some relief supplies in Mellier before we leave Jan. 30.”

While UMCOR will work with the Methodist Church of Haiti, relief will go to the entire community, she added.

“If I could speak for all of Haiti, I would ask someone to help us build houses and offices,” Honore said. “Help us so we will be ready before the next earthquake comes.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service on assignment in Haiti.

News media contact: David Briggs or Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  


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