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Staying connected

Webinar updates Presbyterians on Haiti, suggests how to help

February 17, 2010

LOUISVILLE

About a month after the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Presbyterians are thinking about how to get involved in the necessary long-term recovery efforts.

On Feb. 11, about 180 people gathered for a webinar produced by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s World Mission. Featuring presentations from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the regional liaison for Haiti, the webinar provided updates on the current situation on the ground in Haiti and ways Presbyterians can help.

The Haitian government estimates there are 230,000 people dead from the earthquake, but the numbers continue to grow, said Randy Ackley, PDA coordinator. More than 1 million people are thought to be homeless, and there have been more than 1,000 amputations because of earthquake-related injuries, he said.

In addition to the damage in Port-au-Prince, surrounding communities are feeling the impact of the earthquake, Ackley said. Many people are leaving the city for rural areas, putting a huge strain on those communities’ resources and infrastructure.

Unemployment is also a big concern, Ackley said. Because many businesses have been destroyed, people aren’t able to go to work. The same applies to farmers.

“We are seriously concerned about the impact of the earthquake on Haitian agriculture,” he said.

Another huge concern is the protection of children, Ackley said. Estimates suggest that about 700 children were orphaned by the earthquake, but there are many more who are unaccompanied because they were separated from their relatives in the chaos. All of these children need protection, both from well-meaning people who want to help through adoption and from others who see the children as easy targets for human trafficking.

Through the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering, PDA immediately committed $1 million to Haiti, Ackley said. Through its partnerships with ACT International and Church World Service, PDA is also helping to distribute baby kits and hygiene kits. Kits that had been pre-assembled by PC(USA) congregations were immediately sent to Haiti — those supplies now need to be replenished. Check online for guidelines about assembling the kits.

U.S. congregations can also help by reaching out to local communities of Haitians. Many of these people have lost friends and family or know people who are still in Haiti, and having support would mean a lot.

In one of several polls of participants conducted during the webinar, only about 13 percent of the respondents reported that their churches have interacted with Haitians in their towns. To find out if your town has a Haitian population, check with refugee organizations, ethnic stores or language classes at a local college, said Pix Mahler.

Mahler is the regional liaison and partnership facilitator for Haiti and helps congregations connect with Haiti.

Presbyterians are connected, compassionate and committed, Mahler said.

“When the cameras go away, Presbyterians do not,” she said.

Mahler encouraged congregations to continue donating to One Great Hour of Sharing, trying to raise their goal amount by Easter.

In her presentation, Mahler also touched on mission trips to Haiti. Often, people’s first impulse is to go to an affected area right away, but this isn’t the best idea. PDA and its partners have first responders in Haiti now and are still working on assessing the damage. Any extra people on the ground would be a serious drain on the already limited resources.

Ensuring that Haiti builds a sustainable economy is also important, Ackley said. Because so many Haitians are out of work, they need to find jobs, and recovery work can provide them that chance. As much as possible, building Haiti back needs to be done by paid local labor, he said.

Other ways for people to help now: pray, give to PDA and join the Haiti mission network.

Hunger is a huge issue in Haiti, and it’s important to think about immediate relief as long-term solutions that get at the root causes of hunger, said Ruth Farrell, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

“Presbyterians have always responded to God’s call to feed the hungry,” she said.

Before the earthquake, Haiti owed huge debts to the International Monetary Fund and other organizations. Some of these debts have since been waived, and Farrell encouraged Presbyterians to get involved with the Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of religious denominations and community groups that works to cancel debts to fight poverty in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Farrell also promoted sustainable agriculture as long-term solution to hunger. When small farms produce food, the local economies are stronger, meaning there is less hunger.

Fasting is another way to think intentionally about hunger and the global food crisis. In its monthly fasts for 2009-10, the hunger program focuses on Haiti twice. To learn more about the monthly fast and to read the resources on Haiti, visit the Global Food Crisis Web page.

To hear a download recording of the webinar, visit the Mission Crossroad Web site.

To register for the next Haiti webinar, Feb. 22 from 1 p.m.-2p.m. EST, click here.

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