As some of you already know I work in the not-for-profit sector, have been doing so for the past 8 years now. I have worked with hospital foundations, downtown missions and am now with The United Church of Canada. My passion in what I do is the international work that is done, the labor of love that goes in helping the most destitute and needy. We were able to respond right away after the January 12th earthquake in Haiti and have raised over $2.5million through the generosity of United Church members but the rebuilding of a nation can take decades and funding is still greatly needed. The following is an article written by Bill Steadman, Bill recently returned from Haiti as part of a pastoral visit to the people of that earthquake-ravaged country with four others, including The United Church of Canada Moderator (think the equivalent of the Pope for the Catholic church) Marti Tindal.
As a first time visitor to Haiti, I was struck by the barren hillsides that surround Port au Prince. Being a former resident of Manitouwadge following ordination in Sarnia in 1977, and being a frequent visitor to northern Ontario since that time, I have seen the results of clear cutting, Canadian style, in various parts of the north, not to mention the devastation caused by forest fire.
Around Port au Prince however, the hills are barren in a different way. These is almost no evidence of trees having ever been a part of the landscape. When I learn later in my trip that the country has 1% forest coverage, I was amazed it is that high. Deforestation has been rampant.
Recently I returned from Haiti where I met with partners of The United Church of Canada working to meet the acute needs of people there. Some are providing emergency shelter and food to those in tent settlements since the January 12th earthquake. Some are helping in the effort to re-establish schools and worshipping places destroyed by that event. Still others (through the Karl Levesque Cultural Institute, for one) are working with peasants in rural mountainous regions to find ways for them to market the food they grow in order to eke out a basic living.
People in Haiti need to know others care. Wherever I went as part of a delegation of five people from the United Church, including the church’s spiritual leader, Moderator Marti Tindal, I saw people of great hope working hard, supporting one another, and seeking a new beginning. Vendors set up roadside stands next to piles of rubble, while artisans offered their wares in hopes of meeting visitors who could provide a few dollars for their family.
Many people share horrific stories of being trapped in the rubble, or share the pain of losing a loved one. Others saw their lives altered through the loss of a limb, or the destruction of their modest business. The presence of the rubble everywhere, visible over many square miles, is daunting, yet it cannot break the spirit of the Haitian people.
It almost seems trite to say we visited the country to offer a caring pastoral presence for the people of this beautiful land. Our visit was not trite to those we met. Church leaders, pastors and members expressed their humble thanks that others cared about their well-being, willing to share their monetary gifts and, just as important, eager to remember them in prayer.
Community workers know that the people of Haiti need to determine their own future, but they also know as a nation they will need financial assistance from others even as they seek support for their self-determination. Those barren hills, etched in my mind’s eye, remind me that finding materials for the rebuilding will be a challenge.
During Sunday worship I presented a painting of the St. Martin’s Cross to the congregation of St. martin, a parish where both its school and church buildings collapsed (and where three women died who were attending a meeting the afternoon of the quake). I told them: “This painting is a gift of our Moderator, Mardi Tindal, to be hung in your new church, and it comes with her prayers and the prayers of the people of Canada to offer support and encouragement to you.” Spontaneous applause was their response, not so much for the gift (I sensed) as for the promise of prayer.
The generosity of Canadians touched by the needs of Haiti in the wake of the January 12th quake has made a difference. I saw the results of your care and concern. We also need to be aware that the prayers of all people can make a difference to those within Port au Prince, and indeed to all those located throughout our world — not just in our lifetime, but always.
I share this with you to encourage you not to forget our brothers and sisters in Haiti and to let you know that all your help does in fact make a difference.
Post written for The Broken Heel Diaries