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Haitian Methodists, UMCOR assess volunteer needs

The Rev. Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church in Haiti, discusses the church's needs as Haiti rebuilds at the Methodist Guest House in Port-au-Prince.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Feb. 2, 2010

The Methodist Church in Haiti and United Methodist Committee on Relief are identifying “suitable projects and assignments” for volunteer teams wishing to assist with earthquake recovery in Haiti.

Both groups are asking volunteers to delay their arrival in Haiti until those assessments are complete.

UMCOR's Melissa Crutchfield (left) visits with Jean Rolex Joseph outside his home.

Evaluations in the six church circuits most affected by the earthquake are being made to determine the extent of the damage in church communities and beyond, according to the Rev. Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church in Haiti.

“Suitable projects and assignments for volunteer teams wishing to contribute to the recovery effort will not be identified until this process is complete,” he wrote in a Jan. 28 letter to The United Methodist Church.

UMCOR executive Melissa Crutchfield, who left Haiti on Jan. 31, says a new UMCOR team is there until Feb. 15 to conduct assessments and coordinate work both with international aid groups and with the Haitian church.

Team members are Kate Paik, a program officer with UMCOR’s nongovernmental organization who had oversight of the agency’s previous Haiti office, and Larry Powell, an UMCOR consultant and trainer for disaster preparedness workshops with both U.S. and international disaster experience, including work in Haiti.

UMCOR is now recruiting permanent staff – both local and international – for its Haiti office, and the agency is purchasing staff vehicles; donations are welcome. Crutchfield said she hopes the staff will be in place by the end of the month or sooner.

Priority projects in the spring

Paul estimates work teams for priority projects probably could schedule trips for late March and April, once the emergency relief and debris-removal phase is completed. Rehabilitation work also needs to be completed at the Methodist Guest House before the building can host volunteer teams again.

“Volunteer teams with pre-existing travel plans to Haiti are urged to reconsider the timing and nature of their trip, in order to allow for reassessment and prioritization of earthquake-recovery programs,” he said.

Paul expressed deep gratitude for the outpouring of love and support from United Methodists. “You have kept us in your prayers and we are grateful. You have sent donations through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. We thank you for your generosity. You have expressed your selfless interest in volunteering your time to come to Haiti to help with the recovery effort and we look forward to welcoming you.”

Once areas for relief and rehabilitation are prioritized, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission “will be integral in the long-term recovery of the church and communities in Haiti, and opportunities will soon be available to come and help in meaningful ways,” he wrote.

Initial need for skilled volunteers

Crutchfield expects medical personnel, structural engineers and architects will be among the skilled volunteers needed at the beginning of the recovery process.

She notes that while medical teams already have come to Haiti to address urgent earthquake injuries, long-term medical needs will remain. “There’s probably going to be a greater need for medical teams in the next couple of months,” she says.

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Haiti’s rainy season –– which starts in late February or early March –– could contribute to a spike in communicable diseases. Crutchfield says the relief agency will work with UMCOR Health and Haiti hospital partners through the United Methodist Advance to address the country’s health needs.

Debris removal must be done before rebuilding can begin and UMCOR and the Methodist Church in Haiti are among the groups organizing cleanup teams of local citizens in cash-for-work programs. “That’s a really good opportunity to empower the local community,” she adds.

Structural engineers and architects are among the skilled volunteers who can contribute to what most likely will be a national rebuilding plan, Crutchfield points out. “It’s critical that we have some experts to lay a solid foundation,” she says.

In time, however, many types of volunteers can partner with the Methodist Church in Haiti in both spiritual and practical ways through the earthquake-recovery period. “I believe there’s an opportunity for volunteers in the longer term for rebuilding not only the church structures but the church community,” Crutchfield says.

Donations to support UMCOR's Haiti Relief efforts can be made to Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325. You can donate online or write checks to UMCOR with "Advance #418325 Haiti Emergency" in the memo line. Checks can be put in church offering plates or mailed to: UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. The entire amount of each gift will be used to help the people of Haiti.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video: The Rev. Gesner Paul

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Photos from team in Haiti

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